He was the first great pitching star of the modern era, and is still the standard by which greatness is measured.
Christy Mathewson changed the way people perceived baseball players by his actions on and off the field. His combination of power and poise – his tenacity and temperance – remains baseball’s ideal.
Born Aug. 12, 1880 in Factoryville, Pa., Mathewson attended Bucknell University and played on the school’s baseball and football teams. He signed his first pro baseball contract in 1899 – a rarity for a college-educated player in that era – and in 1900 went from the New York Giants to the Cincinnati Reds and back to the Giants in a round of deals that included a trade for future Hall of Fame pitcher Amos Rusie.
Using his famous “fadeaway” pitch – what today would be called a screwball – the 6-foot-1, 195-pound right-hander baffled batters with pinpoint control. He won 20 games in his first full big league season in 1901, posted at least 30 wins a season from 1903-05 and led the National League in strikeouts five times between 1903 and 1908.
He set a modern era record for wins by an NL pitcher with 37 in 1908, a year when he completed 34 of his 44 starts en route to more than 390 innings pitched.
In the postseason, Mathewson pitched three shutouts in three starts in the 1905 World Series.
“He could pitch into a tin cup,” said Hall of Fame second baseman Johnny Evers.
From 1903-14, Mathewson never won fewer than 22 games in a season and led the NL in ERA five times.
As his career wound down, Mathewson was traded back to the Reds in 1916, finishing his career on Sept. 4 of that year in a match-up against longtime rival Three Finger Brown. In 17 seasons, Mathewson finished with 373 wins against just 188 losses – a figure that leaves him tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander for the most wins in NL history and third-most all-time.
In 1918, Mathewson enlisted in the Army during World War I. While serving as a captain in France, he was accidentally gassed during a training exercise. He spent the next seven years battling tuberculosis and passed away on Oct. 7, 1925.
He was one of the first five players elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936.
“He had knowledge, judgment, perfect control and form,” said Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack of Mathewson. “It was wonderful to watch him pitch – when he wasn’t pitching against you.”