Historical Markers
Christy Mathewson Historical Marker
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Christy Mathewson

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
US 6 & 11 in front of Keystone College, E. end of Factoryville

Dedication Date:
August 8, 1998

Behind the Marker

"Matty was the greatest pitcher who ever lived. He had knowledge, judgment, perfect control, and form. It was wonderful to watch him pitch - when he wasn't pitching against you."
- Connie Mack

Mr. Mack would know. From his dugout domain, the venerable field general of the Philadelphia Athletics witnessed the wonder that was Christy Mathewson for three unforgettable, if not harrowing, October afternoons in 1905. The occasion was baseball's second World Series. Mack's American League champions were battling the New York Giants but their fight was really against Matty. Mathewson faced them three times, and the "Big Six" as Matty was known, deep sixed his opponent each outing. Across a six-day span, he tossed three complete game shutouts (two against future Hall of Famers markerEddie Plank and markerChief Bender), yielding a miserly fourteen hits and one walk in pacing his Giants to the championship.
A portrait of pitcher Christy Mathewson in 1905.
A portrait of pitcher Christy Mathewson in 1905

Such is the stuff of which baseball legends are made. And in the first decade of the twentieth century, no baseball legend shone quite like Mathewson. Indeed, his legend seemed spun from golden fleece. A Giant on the field, he was a giant off of it as well, a man of character and quality, well-schooled and well-spoken. Standing a shade over six feet, one inch tall, with blond hair, blue eyes, and the good looks of a matinee idol, he was the prototype of the All-American boy. But even that image isn't quite strong enough. In the rough-and-tumble baseball era, wrote famed sports columnist Frank Graham, Matty stood out as "a Greek god in flannels."

His story began in Factoryville, north of Scranton, where this son of a gentleman farmer was born in 1880. Sports were his first love. When he wasn't in school, you could find Matty on a ball field, and by the time he was thirteen, he was pitching and winning for Factoryville's town nine. His strong right arm - and leg - propelled him to football and baseball stardom at Bucknell University. Still, there was more to Matty than sports. He sang in the glee club and participated in the literary society. His classmates even elected him their president.

Matty turned his post-graduate eyes to the National Pastime. In 1899, his first professional season, he began to experiment with an arm-twisting delivery that evolved into his signature pitch - the devastating screwball he called his fadeaway, a pitch that broke in the opposite direction of a curveball. A year later, the Giants and Philadelphia Phillies went after him, agreeing to let Matty choose his own destiny. He opted for the doormat Giants. Why? Because he figured they needed him more.
Baseball card, full length, in wind-up.
Christy Mathewson Full-Length Baseball Card

But with three quick losses, he wasn't much help. When the Giants sent him down to the minor team for seasoning, Matty took the demotion constructively. "You can learn little from victory," he later said. "You can learn everything from defeat." And Christy Mathewson was a fast learner.

When he came back up to the majors again in 1901, Matty was a major leaguer for good. He won an impressive twenty games that first full campaign, but a mild sophomore slump led Giants manager Horace Fogel to toy with turning his potential young ace into an infielder. The mid-season arrival of manager John J. McGraw put an end to such foolishness, and Matty went on to establish baseball pitching marks that still stand almost a century later.

His 373 career victories tie him for tops in the National League, and his 37 wins in 1908, remain the league season standard. He won at least 20 games during thirteen seasons (twelve consecutively) and 30 games during four seasons (four times, three of them in a row). His control was amazing: he averaged fewer than two walks per game, a fact that made catcher Chief Meyers crow, "You could sit in a rocking chair and catch Matty." And with younger brother Henry, whose lifetime ledger was 0-1, he set a record for career wins by brothers that stood for six decades.

Year after year, the Mathewson myth grew - and a good deal of it was even true. He did, in fact, once beat the reigning world's champion at checkers. He wasn't quite as clean living as his polished image holds - he drank, he smoked, and in 1905, he jumped into the stands at markerBaker Bowl and punched a kid selling lemonade because Matty claimed he was razzing him - but he never pitched a game on the Sabbath. Burt Standish, the era's most popular writer of fiction for boys, used Mathewson as the role model for his most heroic character, Frank Merriwell. And even his teammates thought him bigger than life; they called him "Big Six" after New York's most famous fire engine.

The final chapter of Mathewson's All-American legend is a sad one. Though thirty-seven years old and manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he nonetheless volunteered in 1917 for service in World War I. Commissioned as a captain in the Army, he shipped out to France. While on duty there, he inhaled the poison gas that contributed to his death from tuberculosis at age forty-five in 1925. His passing led the usually dyspeptic Ring Lardner to pen a sentimental eulogy:

"My eyes are ever misty
As I pen these lines to Christy;
My heart is full of heaviness today.
"May the flowers ne'er wither, Matty
On your grave in Cincinnati
Which you've chosen for your final fadeaway."

In 1936, Christy Mathewson, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, markerHonus Wagner, and Walter Johnson, was named as one of the first five inductees into baseball's Hall of Fame.
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