Longtime rivals Christy Mathewson and Mordecai Brown face off one last time

Written by: Andrew Kivette

They combined for 612 career wins – a pair of Hall of Famers regarded as two of the best pitchers of their era. The names Mathewson and Brown conjure up thoughts of dominance and supremacy, as the two pitchers are synonymous with success.

Pitching in the majors at the same time, Christy Mathewson and Mordecai “Three-Fingered” Brown developed quite the rivalry. It was the early 1900s equivalent to matches between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, playoff gridiron battles featuring Tom Brady and Peyton Manning or famous bouts between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

This rivalry was different than the others, though. The longevity set it apart. The match-ups were always fierce, but there was also a great deal of respect, too. “He was a wonderful pitcher and a square fellow,” Brown said. “He and I hated each other out there on the field, but off the field we were good friends. Heck, that’s the way it goes."

Mathewson echoed the sentiment, “Brown is my idea of an almost perfect pitcher – it will usually be found at the end of the season that he had taken part in more key games than any other pitcher in baseball.”

Brown and Mathewson squared off 24 times before their final meeting on Sept. 4, 1916. A rivalry that stretched over 12 years, there was never a shortage of drama – and dominant pitching. The games always attracted a crowd and drew fan interest.

Both pitchers were renowned in their own right – Brown for his effective curveball, and Mathewson for his vast arsenal of pitches, including his famous “fadeaway” or the modern screwball.

The 1916 season marked each of the future Hall of Famers’ last season. This was, in all essence, the final round. The last bout. Winner take all.

Taking place in early September in Chicago, the last meeting of the two heralded pitchers would not have been possible without a transaction earlier in the season. Christy Mathewson – a career-long New York Giants star – was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in mid-July. He had not pitched since July 4 – entering a quasi-retirement of sorts – but Mathewson toed the rubber one last time Sept. 4.

Fittingly, this duel would turn out to be the last pitching performance of Brown and Mathewson’s career. Mathewson advertised the fact that, indeed, he would be pitching one last time against his old rival. “You can positively count on my pitching against Brown on Sept. 4th,” he said.

The game had about as much fanfare as a World Series. “[it] was probably the most sentimental hurling duel [that was] ever staged,” baseball historian Lee Allen said.

In the 25th meeting between the two foes, both Brown and Mathewson went the full nine innings. However, the final showdown was a far cry from the pitching battles that came earlier in the rivalry.

A promotional poster advertising the Sept. 4, 1916 matchup between Mordecai Brown and Christy Mathewson. This game would be the last time they'd face each other, after squaring off 24 times previously. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Mathewson earned the win, giving up eight runs in nine frames, while Brown also pitched a complete game, giving up 10 earned runs.

Rivalry aside, two of the greatest pitchers of an era of great pitchers combined for 612 career wins, 3,882 strikeouts, 134 shutouts, 706 complete games, 7,961 innings pitched with 19 20-win seasons in 31 total seasons pitched. Mathewson had a career ERA of 2.13, while Brown’s ERA was 2.06.

Mathewson was elected to the Hall of Fame with the inaugural class of 1936. Brown joined him in Cooperstown in 1949.

“They were both idols of the fans and ideal ball players,” New York sportswriter Sam Crane said. “They were a credit to the game.”

Andrew Kivette was a public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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