Christy Mathewson: The First Face of Baseball
The Museum’s latest addition to the PASTIME online collection features the Class of 1936, including Mathewson.
The son of a farmer, Mathewson attended Bucknell University on scholarship for three years where he was an A student, class president, a member of literary societies, and a star on the football and baseball teams.
When Matty began his Major League career with the New York Giants in 1900, he had it worked into his contract that he wouldn’t pitch on Sundays (it was a promise he made to his mother and one he always kept), and he carried a Bible on the road. He was known for his honesty and integrity (one umpire said he would know if he got a call right if Mathewson confirmed it). He was bright; he excelled at bridge and checkers (he could play multiple games at a time, sometimes blindfolded, and once beat a national champion).
Charles Conlon, photographer of many classic baseball images from the first half of the 20th century, took his very first baseball portrait of Christy Mathewson. Over the years, Matty became Conlon’s favorite subject and a friend. He recalled that once day he saw Mathewson from across the field. It was after practice on a hot afternoon, and Mathewson was sweaty and tired. But he knew Matty wouldn’t say no. The resulting image – with his smile maybe not quite as pronounced as usual – is one of the most iconic portraits in baseball history.
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Down in Florida for spring training in 1925, he caught a cold that worsened quickly. He returned to Saranac. He fought for several more months, his body getting weaker, his pain getting worse, until he knew the time had come. He told his wife that it was over. “Go into the other room and have a good cry,” he said to her. “But don’t make it a long one. This can’t be helped.” He died later that week, on Oct. 7, 1925.
Earlier, while recovering at Saranac Lake, he had played catch with some boys. A reporter asked if he had any advice for them. He stopped his throwing and said they should play baseball and learn from it. Then he ended with six words that epitomize his own character: “Be humble and gentle and kind.”
Larry Brunt is the Museum’s digital strategy intern in the Class of 2016 Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development. To support the Hall of Fame Digital Archive Project, please visit www.baseballhall.org/DAP