As I entered through the gates of Lewisburg Cemetery, I was relieved I had directions to the grave I sought. Although I had passed the cemetery numerous times while traveling on Route 15, I never realized how big it was. I drove slowly along the roadway until I arrived at the first paved intersection.
As I was making the turn, I could see the stone marking the family plot of the gentleman I had arrived here to visit. I stopped in the middle of the roadway and stepped out of the vehicle – the plot for the Mathewson family was located just steps from the left side of the roadway. I stood at the edge of the roadway and studied the family plot. I was surprised that neither the family stone nor the individual stone held any hints to the identity of the man resting here. His plot marker recognized him as serving in the military, but nothing marks this family plot as being the resting place of one of the greatest baseball players of all time: Christy Mathewson.
Christopher “Christy” Mathewson was known by a number of nicknames over his career: “Matty,” “Big Six,” “The Gentleman’s Hurler” and “The Christian Gentleman,” which was derived from his Christian beliefs, which included not pitching on Sundays. In a time when baseball players were known for being rough and rowdy, Mathewson’s beliefs brought respect to the game of baseball -, Christy was known for his soft-spoken ways, for his intelligence, and for his avoiding cursing. Mathewson was also known to take care of his body, avoiding the things his teammates loved: alcohol, tobacco, and fighting.
The blond haired, blue-eyed Christy was born August 12, 1880, in the community of Factoryville in Wyoming County. After graduating high school he enrolled at Bucknell University where he majored in forestry. While attending Bucknell, Mathewson played on the school’s football team as a fullback and punter, the basketball team as a center, and baseball team as a pitcher. In addition to playing on the Bucknell teams, Mathewson also played semi-pro baseball.
In 1899, Mathewson signed his first professional baseball contract with the New York Giants. The following year he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds and then back to the Giants the same year. The right-handed Mathewson was known for his control of the ball and his two pitches: a fastball described as average and a “fadeaway” pitch, which in now referred to as a screwball. Mathewson made his Major League debut in 1901 and won twenty games that season. From 1903 to 1905 Mathewson won a minimum of thirty games each season. In the 1905 World Series, Christy pitched three shutout games in his three starts — an accomplishment that has never been repeated.
From 1903 to 1908, Mathewson led the National League in strikeouts with the 1908 season being one of best for any pitcher. In the forty-four games Mathewson started, thirty-four were complete games and thirty-seven were wins and eleven were shut-outs. That season saw Mathewson pitching 259 strike-outs and five saves, but that season also saw him leading the leagues in allowing 281 hits.
In 1916, Mathewson was traded back to the Cincinnati Reds and ended his baseball career on September 4 of that year. In the seventeen seasons he played, Mathewson finished with 373 wins, 188 losses, with 2,507 strike-outs. He appeared in 636 games and pitched 435 complete games with 79 shut-outs.
Mathewson also had a very brief professional football career. In 1902 Mathewson played fullback for the Pittsburg Stars, which was the same position he played for the Bucknell Bisons. Mathewson would play half of the season before he disappeared from the team roster. The exact reason Mathewson left the team is not clear, but it is believed he left because the Giants had discovered their star pitcher was playing football and did not want him injured.
Note: When the Pittsburg Stars were formed in 1901, it was during the time when Pittsburgh was spelled without the “H” at the end of the name (1891 to 1911), but most modern references refer to the team the Pittsburgh Stars. The Stars were a part of the National Football League (not the NFL of today) which consisted of three teams: the Philadelphia Athletics, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburg Stars. The Phillies and the Athletics were both sponsored by the baseball teams of the same name, which many of the players on both the baseball and football teams. It is believed the Pirates had sponsored the Stars, but there seems to be some debate if this is true or not.
The Stars played their games at North Shore Coliseum, while the Philadelphia teams used their respective baseball stadiums. The teams played each other twice and when they weren’t facing off against each other they would play against colleges and athletic clubs around Pennsylvania and southern New York.
The championship of the league was played Thanksgiving Day between the Athletics and the Stars. The two teams played to a scoreless tie. It was decided that there would be a second game the following Saturday and the Stars won 11-0. The following week, the Athletics would beat the Phillies to secure a second place win and the city championship. The Stars’ members didn’t take much notice of their championship: they would spend the next couple of months suing to get their promised pay for playing on Thanksgiving.
In 1918, Mathewson enlisted in the U.S. Army as a captain in the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson was joined in this unit by two more baseball players: Branch Rickey and Ty Cobb. The Chemical Warfare Service was a plan to use deadly gases against the enemy to bring the war to an end, but the plan never saw action due to World War One ending November 11, 1918.
While serving in France during the war, Mathewson was accidentally gassed during a training exercise. He would spend the rest of his life fighting infections and on October 7, 1925,Mathewson died of tuberculosis. Exactly when he contracted tuberculosis has been debated. Most sources claim that he contracted it as a result of the accidental gassing. However some sources believe Mathewson contracted it from his brother who died from it and the gassing only made it worse.
Christy Mathewson had the honor of being one of the first five players elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. The other four of that first class were: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.
A gentle wind blew across the garden of stone as the sound of crickets filled the air. I finished playing my respects to the baseball player and left him to rest in the cool summer evening’s air as I walked the short distance to another baseball player resting nearby.
Continued in Moose McCormick.
Note: Christy met his future wife, Jane Stoughton while attending Bucknell. The couple only had one son, Christopher Jr. Christopher attended Bucknell like his father before him, and then joined the United States Army Air Corps. On January 8, 1933, he survived a horrific crash that killed his bride, the former Miss Margaret Phillips, when the plane he was piloting slammed into a muddy field near Shanghai shortly after takeoff. Her remains were brought to Frackville, Pennsylvania, and buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
The accident cost him a leg and he had to struggle to regain the use of his arms, but he eventually recovered and remarried. This marriage ended in divorce and he took Lola Finch as his third wife. On August 16, 1950, Christopher was installing an electrical dishwasher in the basement when a spark set off a gas explosion. He managed to crawl out of the basement, but would die later that day from his burns. The disaster claimed most of the memorabilia that had belonged to his father. His wife was away at the time of the explosion. Christopher Jr.’s body was laid to rest next to his mother and father in the Lewisburg Cemetery.