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MATHEWSON INFLUENCED BASEBALL’S IMAGE

By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / February 27, 1998

In today’s paper, you will find our history tab with essays by local students on whom they admired most in history.

The contest got me thinking about what sports figure in history I admired most. When I first started following baseball, I read everything I could onthe sport. Among those players I considered my favorites were the likes ofLou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.

In more recent times, my favorites have been Dale Murphy, Ryne Sandberg, Kirby Puckett and Greg Maddux. I admired these players as much as howthey acted off the field as they perform on it.

The player I admired the most also had a clean-cut image off the field, but he had it at a much different time. When Christy Mathewson began playingin the early years of this century, baseball players were looked down upon by the general public. Rude, crude and often uneducated, players werelooked upon with disdain and called a bunch on bums who didn’t work for their money.

Mathewson probably did more than anyone at the time to change that image. One of the first ballplayers to have a college education, fromBucknell, Mathewson looked more like a lawyer than one of the best righthanded pitchers of all times. An “All-American” boy, Mathewson evenmarried his college sweetheart.

Of course, having a clean-cut image would have amounted to little if Mathewson had little talent for the game. But throwing his famedfadeaway pitch (now called a screwball), Mathewson dominated the game for the first decade of the 20th century with the New York Giants.

Mathewson would finish his career with 373 victories, tied with Grover Cleveland Alexander for the most all time in the National League. His mostmemorable performance came in the 1905 World Series when he tossed threw shutouts against the Philadelphia A’s, the only pitcher to record that feat.

While serving overseas in World War I, Mathewson inhaled poison gas. Thegas damaged his lungs which eventually led to tuberculosis. Mathewsondied in 1925, appropriately during the first game of the World Series. In1936, he became one of the charter members of the baseball Hall of Fame.

Rube Marquad, a teammate of Mathewson and a Hall of Fame pitcher in his own right once said of Mathewson, “I’ve seen every pitcher you can name for the past 70 years, but Matty was the only one who ever made me feel like a fan.”Players today talk about the “kwan,” the whole package of money and respect. Over 90 years before the term was coined, Mathewson gained bothfrom his peers and the public and helped the game become the national pastime.

Michael Kiral is a sportswriter for L’Observateur.

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