A Brief History
On October 7, 1925, baseball great and Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson died of tuberculosis brought on by a weakening of his respiratory system due to accidental exposure to poison gas during World War I.
Born in 1880 in Factoryville, Pennsylvania, Mathewson grew up playing baseball, becoming a semi-pro player at only 14 years old. He went on to college at Bucknell University, where he was class president as well as playing on the football and baseball teams. At the age of 19, Mathewson won 21 games and lost only 2 in minor league baseball, and was on his way to the big leagues, one of the few college players going into the major leagues at that time. Christy also played for a short time in the NFL (Pittsburgh Stars) as a fullback and punter.
Mathewson went on to pitch for 17 seasons for the New York Giants, finishing his playing career with the Reds in 1916. He managed the Cincinnati Reds from 1916-1918, compiling a record of 164 wins and 176 losses. His trip to the Hall of Fame was earned as his a result of his fabulous pitching ability, winning 373 games and losing only 188 while compiling a lifetime ERA of 2.18! He also struck out 2502 batters.
Mathewson was a wonderful person as well as a great ballplayer, and was known by nicknames that reflected his decency, including “The Gentleman’s Hurler,” “The Christian Gentleman,” and “Big 6.” As a devout Christian, the appropriately named Christopher Mathewson would not pitch or play ball on Sunday.
During World War I, Mathewson joined the US Army against the wishes of his wife, although he was already 38 years old. Assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service, he was accidentally exposed to poison gas during a training exercise in France, damaging his lungs. As a result of damaged lungs, he became highly susceptible to tuberculosis, and contracted that disease, which eventually killed him at the age of only 45 years in 1925. In 1936, Mathewson became one of the first 5 inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame (along with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner).
Christy is remembered by numerous playing fields named after him, his jersey being retired by the Giants, his performance in the 1905 World Series picked as The Greatest Playoff Performance of All Time by ESPN, and a Liberty ship named the SS Christy Mathewson during World War II. The Hall of Fame calls him the “greatest of all the great pitchers of the 20th Century’s first quarter.”
As Major League Baseball begins its 2017 post season, we pause to remember this great player, patriot and great man.
Question for students (and subscribers): Are you familiar with any other professional athletes who served in the military during World War I? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Gaines, Bob. Christy Mathewson, the Christian Gentleman: How One Man’s Faith and Fastball Forever Changed Baseball. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.
Seib, Philip. The Player: Christy Mathewson, Baseball, and the American Century. Da Capo Press, 2003.