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Christy Mathewson

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New York Giants 1900-16
Cincinnati Reds 1916

He was handsome, educated, talented and played in New York. If he were only born a century later, there's no telling how many television commercials, magazine ads, and billboards we would see Christy Mathewson's face plastered on.

Christopher Mathewson was born on August 12, 1880 in Factoryville, PA to a farming family. He left the farm in the late 1890s to attend Bucknell University where he excelled in both football and baseball, and was elected class president.

In 1899, Mathewson left behind his academic pursuits to play professional baseball. The young righthander began his pro career with Tauton of the New England League before gaining a promotion to Norfolk of the Virginia League, where he went 20-2 in 1900 before the New York Giants purchased his contract for $1,500.

Mathewson debuted with New York on July 17, 1900 and was not impressive. In six big league games that season, he went 0-3 with a 5.08 ERA. The impatient Giants then sent him back to Norfolk, voided the deal, and demanded their money back.

Next, Mathewson was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, who paid just $100 for his rights. Instead of holding onto the 20-year-old prospect, Cincinnati dealt him back to the Giants for Amos Rusie. A future Hall of Famer himself, Rusie had starred for the Giants in the 1890s but due to arm problems, hadn't pitched since 1898. (Rusie pitched in just three games for Cincinnati in 1901, posting a 0-1 record with a 8.59 ERA before retiring).

Under manager Horace Fogel, Mathewson went 20-17 with 2.41 ERA in 1901. Fogel however, still wasn't sold on Mathewson as a pitcher and had him practice at firstbase, shortstop, and the outfield. It was one of many questionable decisions made by Fogel who was replaced by John McGraw during the 1902 season. Under McGraw, Mathewson was able to focus exclusively on pitching and, as a result, never won fewer than 22 games over the next 12 seasons.

After struggling to 14-17 mark in 1902, Mathewson began a stretch of dominance that included a three year period in which he won 94 games (30, 33, 31). In 1905, after posting a 31-9 record and leading the NL in strikeouts (206) and ERA (1.28), Mathewson saved his best for the World Series.

In that Fall Classic against the Philadelphia Athletics, Mathewson pitched a complete game shutout in Game 1, Game 3, and Game 5, as the Giants won the Series 4 games to 1. The three shutout performance has never been duplicated.

After two seasons in which he won 22 and 24 games, Mathewson was primed for his finest season in 1908. The 28-year-old led the NL in every meaningful pitching category -- wins (37), strikeouts (259), ERA (1.43), saves (5), innings pitched (390 2/3), shutouts (11), games (56), games started (44), and complete games (34).

Off the field Mathewson looked to be the perfect role model, he didn't drink or smoke, and he was always portrayed as the perfect gentleman. Although his integrity was never questioned, his attitude was. He was known as having a high opinion of himself, and was often rude to fans and others around him.

Whatever the case, one thing is for sure -- he could pitch. In 1909, Mathewson went 25-6 and led the league with a career best 1.14 ERA. In 1910, he paced the league with 27 victories, and in 1911 he led the NL with a 1.99 ERA (his fourth straight season with a sub 2.00 ERA).

The Giants meanwhile won three straight NL pennants from 1911-13, but lost in the World Series each time. Although Mathewson pitched well in each series (12 earned runs in 74 2/3 innings), the Giants couldn't muster up enough offense to make him a winner.

By 1915, Matty's days as a productive pitcher were over. He expressed the desire to manage, but with John McGraw entrenched in New York, it wasn't going to happen with the Giants. On July 20, 1916 Mathewson was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds along with Ed Roush and Bill McKechnie for Buck Herzog and Red Killefer. Mathewson took over as Reds manager the following day.

On Labor Day of that year, Mathewson agreed to close out his playing career with one more game against his longtime rival Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown of the Chicago Cubs. The two aging hurlers were years removed from their prime, but Mathewson did manage to pick up a win in the wild 10-8 affair.

All told, Mathewson won 373 games (tied for third all time with Grover Cleveland Alexander) against 188 losses. He struck out 2,502 batters and posted an amazing career 2.13 ERA. He is universally regarded as one of the top five pitchers of all time.

Mathewson remained the Reds manager until August of 1918 when he resigned to enlist into the Army as a captain. While serving in the chemical warfare branch of the Army, Mathewson was exposed to some poisonous gas in a botched training exercise. As a result, his lungs were permanently damaged and he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

The former ace hurler returned to the Giants organization in 1919 as a part time coach, but his illness kept him home much of the time and he resigned from the position in 1920. In February of 1923 Mathewson put together a group of investors and purchased the Boston Braves.

Mathewson acted as president of the club until his death on October 7, 1925 in Saranac Lake, NY. After battling tuberculosis for nearly seven years, Mathewson finally succumbed to the fatal disease. He was just 47 years old.

Although he had been gone for over a decade, in 1936 the Hall of Fame inducted Mathewson, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson, in its' inaugural class.

-David Zingler, June 2004

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