Baseball at the turn of the century was a sport with a tarnished image. It was a sport known for the lazy and uneducated, men who spent their time gambling, boozing, or womanizing. Little did anyone know that a young man was being raised in Factoryville Pennsylvania that would enhance the image of the professional baseball player.
Christy Mathewson was educated, intelligent, and the perfect gentleman. He was a clean-cut, intellectual collegiate. Team owners to ball players, employees to fans, east coast to west coast and everyone in between looked up to him and kept him in high regard. He never pitched on Sundays, a promise he made to his mother to respect his Christian faith.
Mathewson began playing semi-pro ball when he was only 14 years old. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds for $100 but later traded to the New York Giants. In 1901 at the young age of 20 he earned a starting spot in the rotation. His career didn’t really take off until 1903 that’s when he developed a good fastball with outstanding control. He had the uncanny ability to put the ball where ever he wanted. Johnny Evers, second-baseman for the Chicago Cubs said,
“He could throw a ball into a tin cup at pitching range.”
Along with his pinpoint accuracy was a pitch that was unhittable! A new pitch he called the “fade-away,” which later in baseball became better known as the screwball. He mastered this pitch and attributes most of his success to it.
He was nicknamed “The Big Six,” Some say it was because of his 6 foot 1 inch height (really doesn’t seem that tall to me). But legend says, he was given that nickname after New York’s fastest fire engine, known for putting out fires all over Manhattan. New Yorker’s say, he was just as effective at putting out baseball fires with that nasty fade-away pitch of his.
His most impressive stats. To me anyways. Is his accomplishments in the 1905 World Series vs the Philadelphia Athletics: he pitched in Game 1, gave up four hits in a complete game shutout. Three days later in Game 3, he pitched another four hit complete game shutout. And two days later in Game 5, he pitched a six hit, you guessed it, complete game shutout. If that doesn’t impress you I want you to drive to the nearest pharmacy and get your blood pressure checked! To be that dominant at that level of competition is phenomenal.
Equally impressive was his 1908 season. He recorded 37 wins that year and only 11 losses. A 1.43 ERA along with 259 strikeouts earning him his second Triple Crown, which is one of the most prestigious awards a professional baseball player could earn. 1909-1911 Mathewson continued to dominate, each of these years his level of dominance gained more and more momentum and the Giants made it to the World Series again in 1911. Ironically, they lost to the same Philadelphia Athletics they defeated in the 1905 Championship.
Christy Mathewson Career Numbers: Win/Loss 378-188 | ERA 2.13 | Strikeouts 2,502 | No Hitters 2 | 2x Triple Crown | 5x Strikeout Leader | 5x N.L. ERA Leader
Did You Know
- In 1936, he was voted into the first Baseball Hall of Fame as on one of its first five inductees, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner. He was the only one of the five who didn’t live to see his induction.
- He served in World War I in the Chemical Warfare Service and was accidentally exposed to chemicals that gave him a deadly disease. It weakened his respiratory system and was the cause of his death in 1925.
- ESPN selected his pitching performance in the 1905 World Series as the greatest playoff performance of all time.
- During World War II, a 422 foot Liberty Ship was named in his honor, SS Christy Mathewson, was built in 1943.
ROOKIE CARDS OF HALL OF FAMER CHRISTY MATHEWSON
1909-1911 T206 (shop eBay)
The T206 is the most collected set of the prewar era. It’s a 524 card set and features many Hall of Famers. The cards were inserted into packs of 16 different brands of tobacco all owned and manufactured by the American Tobacco Company. This is a benchmark set in the world of sports card collecting. Iconic and Americana and because of its many variations has lots of hobby appeal.
This portrait photo/painting of The Big Six is considered his rookie card and one of the rarest cards to find in average to above average condition. I really like the colors of this card, a true pre-war classic!
As of the date of this post low end grades have sold between $250-$700, mid grade in the $1300-$3500 range, and high end grades have sold between $32,000-$126,000. Note: Collectors have found 5 different variations of this card, all depends on which tobacco company is stamped on the back. Prices here reflect the Piedmont & Sweet Corporal which seems to have the most sells activity.
1909-1911 T206 – Variant (shop eBay)
There is a second card of Mathewson featured in the T206 set and this one has a variant. There are subtle differences and at first glance they seem identical. But if you look closely you’ll notice: the color of ball cap, hair color, and eye position are all different. The biggest difference however can be seen on the jersey, one version has logos on the jersey and the other one doesn’t. Collectors claim the one with the logos on the jersey is the easiest to find and the one without jersey logos is the hardest of all three to find. Not sure why this happened back in 1909 but I know today variants could happen due to an error caused at printing, licensing/contractual obligations, or by design to give collectors more variety.
As of the date of this post low grade copies, without logos on jersey and white cap, have sold for $300-$600 for lower grades, $1000-$3200 for the mid grade, and $10,000-$14,000 for high end grades. Note: Collectors have found 25 different variations of this card, all depends on which tobacco company is stamped on the back and which variation of the card front you have. Prices here reflect the Piedmont & Sweet Corporal which seems to have the most sells activity.
As of the date of this post low grade copies, with NY logo on jersey and black cap, have sold between $250-$500 for lower grades, $675-$4600 for the mid grade, and $8500-$52,000 for high end grades. Note: Collectors have found 25 different variations of this card, all depends on which tobacco company is stamped on the back and which variation of the card front you have. Again, prices here reflect the Piedmont & Sweet Corporal which seems to have the most sells activity.