Christy Mathewson Biography

Christy Mathewson notched at least 20 wins in 12 straight seasons as he established himself as one of baseball's all-time great pitchers, armed with a repertoire of a half-dozen pitches. In addition to 373 career wins, he posted a 2.13 career ERA and a 0.97 ERA in 11 World Series starts. Though his pitching achievements earned him an induction with the first class into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, his demeanor might have been a greater asset for the game. Armed with good looks, a college education and a deep moral code, "Big Six" helped instill integrity into the game at a time when it was sorely lacking.

Early Years

Christopher Mathewson was born on August 12, 1880, in a village called Factoryville in northeastern Pennsylvania. In his early years, an older cousin taught him the art of throwing stones, a skill in which he developed a great proficiency. At the age of 10, he became bat boy for the local baseball team and, a few years later, was given the opportunity to pitch for the club when the Factoryville pitcher became ill. When he was 15, a team from nearby Mill City offered him a dollar a game to pitch for them.

Mathewson was larger than the rest of the students at his high school, Keystone Academy and, during his tenure there, practiced drop-kicking footballs as well as captaining the baseball team. After he graduated from Keystone, he accepted an offer from the Honesdale Reds to pitch for $20 a month.

He also attended Bucknell University, serving as the football team's regular punter and starred as their drop-kicker and fullback. Academically he excelled, and he joined the band, literary societies and fraternities and even served as class president.

Professional Career

Minor league career

After his freshman year, Mathewson signed a professional contract with Taunton, Mass., in the New England League, but the club declared bankruptcy and Mathewson's pitching for them was less than impressive. Regardless, he attracted the attention of the manager of the Portland club -- "Phenomenal John" Smith -- a former big-league pitcher who signed Mathewson after he went to manage for the Norfolk club of the Virginia League the following year.

With Norfolk, Mathewson went 20-2 and pitched a no-hitter by mid-sesaon. Both the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Giants approached Norfolk with similar offers to purchase Mathewson, but Mathewson chose the Giants on the basis that they had a more desperate need for pitching.

New York Giants (1900-16)

Mathewson was nothing more than a batting practice pitcher his first year. In the 1900 season, he appeared in only six games and went 0-3 with a 5.08 ERA. The Giants themselves were no better, finishing the year in last place with a 60-78 record.

In 1901, Mathewson went 20-17 with a 2.41 ERA. He also pitched a no-hitter on July 15 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite his 336 innnings, the Giants still went 52-85. The Giants were so lacking in 1902 that at times the team used its towering 6'2" right-hander at first base and in the outfield.

In 1903, John McGraw began the season as the Giants' fulltime manager. Under new leadership, Mathewson and the Giants flourished. The Giants went from a 48-88 club in 1902 to an 84-55 record in McGraw's first year. Mathewson led the league in strikeouts with 267 and went 30-13. No National League pitcher would eclipse Mathewson's 267 strikeout mark until Sandy Koufax in 1961.

Mathewson won the pitching triple-crown in 1905, with an ERA of 1.28, 206 strikeouts and a 31-9 record. It was also his third straight season of at least 30 wins. On June 13 of that year, he pitched his second no-hitter, against Chicago. With 105 wins, the Giants won the pennant and faced the Philadelphia Athletics for the World Series. In the opener, Mathewson shut down the Athletics with a four-hit shutout.

Mathewson pitched the third game on two days rest and responded with another four-hit shutout. Two days later, Mathewson took the hill for Game 5 and closed out the series with a five-hit shutout. In just six days, Mathewson had pitched 27 innings, won three games and surrendered zero runs on 13 hits, winning his first championship. His stunning post-season performance in the heart of a media mecca, coupled with his fresh appearance, college education and proper manner, made him a superstar.

John McGraw boasted that the team would repeat as champions in 1906 and even had the words "World Champions" stitched on their uniforms. Unfortunately for the coach, Mathewson caught a serious case of diphtheria and was unable to pitch for the club until May. His numbers suffered even after he recoverd -- he went 22-12 with a 2.97 ERA. The Giants failed to win the pennant, unable to compete with the Cubs and their 116 wins.

In 1908 Mathewson pitched arguably his greatest season. In a whopping 390.2 innings, he threw 11 shutouts and 259 strikeouts, going 37-11 with a 1.43 ERA. It was the second time he won the pitching triple crown. The Giants were poised to win the pennant until Mathewson had a victory snatched from him in a late-season game against the Cubs. During the game, the Giants' Fred Merkle failed to advance to second base from first in the bottom of the ninth on a hit that should have sealed the victory. Merkle was called out, and the game was marked as a tie. In the one-game playoff against the Cubs, Mathewson lost to his rival pitcher, Mordecai Brown, 4-2.

Matthewson had career bests in ERA (1.14) and winning percentage (.806) in 1909 and, in 1910, led the National League with 27 wins.

The Giants won three straight pennants starting in 1911. While all three times the Giants failed to win the World Series, Mathewson was hardly to blame. Despite his 2-5 post-season record during that span, Matthewson only surrendered 11 earned runs and nine walks in 74.2 innings.

Though Mathewson went 24-13 in 1914, his effectiveness began to come into question. The previous season he led the league in ERA with a 2.06, but in 1914 it ballooned to 3.00 as he led the league in home runs surrendered (16) and earned runs (104). In 1915 he struggled to go 8-14 as the Giants returned to the form of a last-place team.

With his playing days almost entirely behind him and a thirst to manage, Mathewson received some help from his coach. McGraw traded his former stud mid-season to the Cincinnati Reds, for Buck Herzog, on the condition that he could take over as player-manager.

Post-playing career

Mathewson couldn't immediately turn around the fortunes of the struggling Reds club, and his club went 25-43 in the remainder of the 1916 season. That year, Mathewson did make his only major league start not in a Giants uniform -- against his old rival, Mordecai Brown, in Chicago. Despite giving up 15 hits and eight runs, Mathewson was victorious, notching his 373rd and final major league victory.

The following year the Reds went 78-76 as Mathewson guided the club to its first winning record since 1909. In 1918, the Reds were 61-57 before Mathewson headed to France to captain the Army's Chemical Warfare Division. During a training exercise, he was accidentally exposed to mustard gas.

Mathewson returned as an assistant to John McGraw, but he was soon diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Mathewson fought the disease valiantly for years, even beginning a stint as president of the Boston Braves in 1923, but, on Oct. 7, 1925, Mathewson finally succumbed to the disease.