What kind of a pitcher was he? Where do you get that “was” stuff? When he’s through it’ll be time enough to talk about him like he was a dead corpse.

Oh, yes, I’ve heard all that junk they been pullin’, but wait till he comes acrost with four or five good games in a row! Then you won’t be able to find nobody that even suspected he was done. The boys that’s been writin’ subscriptions on his tombstone will pretend as if they was just jokin’ and really knowed all the time that he was the same Matty, only a little bit slow about gettin’ started.

He’s been all in a whole lot o’ times before this, if you b’lieved what you read. They was namin’ his pallbearers as far back as 1909, and they been layin’ him to rest every year since, but when they’ve drove back down-town from the cemetery they’ve always found him standin’ on Main Street, big as life and wonderin’ whose funeral it was. You’ve heard the old sayin’ that a cat’s got nine lives? Well, boy, Matty makes a cat look like a sucker.

They called in a special doctor to look him over last time their club was West. He couldn’t sleep and they was a pain in his left arm, and his neck kept stiffenin’ up on him. The special doctor says it was some kind o’ nervous trouble. Great stuff! If Matty was goin’ to be bothered with nervousness I guess it would of happened before this. If he was nervous every time he had a chanct to be, he’d of broke both legs ten years ago, knockin’ his knees together.

Besides, do you think a stiff neck and a pain in the left arm and unsomnia is goin’ to stop him from pitchin’? His brain ain’t diseased and he’s still got the same right hand he always used. And as for the not sleepin’, I never noticed him out there on the field with his eyes shut.

So give him a chanct. The year’s still young yet. Leave him get warmed up and then give him a good look. This spring was hard on old soupers. You can’t expect a bird that’s been hurlin’ the pill in the big show fifteen years to set the league afire in June when May mistook itself for Feb’uary. Don’t talk like he was gone and ask me what kind of a pitcher was he. If you want to know what kind he is, I’ll try and tell you.

You’re just bustin’ in, kid, and I don’t know if you’re there or not. But if you don’t want to be huntin’ a job as floor­walker or night watchman somewheres in a few years, the best thing you can do is find out all the bad habits Matty’s got and then get ’em yourself. It must be a awful strain on McGraw, handlin’ this bird. Unless he keeps his eye right on him, he’s li’ble to sneak up to his room some night and play a game o’ checkers. That ain’t all, neither. If McGraw is ast out to somebody’s house or to go to the theayter, he don’t enjoy himself on account o’ worryin’. How does he know that Matty ain’t smokin’ a see-gar or lappin’ up a dish of ice cream? Mac can’t never leave the hotel without bein’ a-scared that Matty’ll buy a magazine and read it. And I s’pose that oncet or twicet a season he goes all to pieces and chews a stick o’ gum.

I don’t know if the job o’ managing him is worse off the field or on. When he’s out there in the box he seems to lose his head entirely. With the bases loaded, they’s always a chance that Matty’ll make a guy pop out instead o’ whiffin’ him. Then, with a man on first base and nobody down and the batter sent up to bunt, he’s li’ble to forget he’s a pitcher and try to do a little fieldin’. You can’t never tell. Maybe he’ll run in and grab the bunt and force a man at second base, instead o’ standin’ still like a see-gar sign and hopin’ somebody else’ll do somethin’. Yes, sir, I bet McGraw don’t sleep a wink on the road, or to home neither, from frettin’ over this guy and wonderin’ how he can learn him somethin’.

They’s a flock o’ pitchers that knows a batter’s weakness and works ac­cordin’. But they ain’t nobody else in the world that can stick a ball as near where they want to stick it as he can. I bet he could shave you if he wanted to and if he had a razor blade to throw instead of a ball. If you can’t hit a fast one a inch and a quarter inside and he knows it, you’ll get three fast ones a inch and a quarter inside and then, if you’ve swang at ‘em, you can go and get a drink o’ water. He plays a lot o’ this here golf, and I bet if they’d let him throw at the hole instead o’ shootin’ with a club, he’d stick ’em in there just as often as he wanted to from sixty foot away.

I ain’t tryin’ to make you believe that he don’t never fail to pitch where he’s aimin’ at. If he done that, he wouldn’t be here; he’d be workin’ agin the angels in St. Peter’s League. But he’s got ten to one better control than any guy I ever seen, and I’ve saw all the best o’ them. If one o’ these here Af’can dodgers seen him comin’, he’d either quit his job or fix it up for a A.D.T. boy to notify his widow, ’cause even iv’ry’ll crack if it’s hammered steady enough.

I s’pose when he broke in he didn’t have no more control than the rest o’ these here collegers. But the diff’rence between they and him was that he seen what a good thing it was to have, and went out and got it, while they, that is, the most o’ them, thought they could go along all right with what they had. Well, you don’t see many o’ Matty’s schoolmates pitchin’ in the league now, do you?

Matty didn’t never take the trouble to tell me nothin’ about himself and how he got wise. Maybe he seen in the Bible where it says about you should not ought to ride a good horse to death. That’s it, ain’t it? He’s just like one o’ these here misers. They get a-hold of a lot of money and then they don’t let none of it go, except just enough to keep ’em from starvin’. Instead o’ money, Matty got a-hold of a curve ball and there here fadeaway and a pretty fair fast one and a slow one and a bunch o’ control, and then he locked it all up and took a little bit of it out to spend when nec’sary, only most o’ what he’s been spendin’ is control, which he’s got the most of, and which it don’t hurt him none to spend it.

Take him in a common ordinary ball game, agin a average club, and every day pitchin’, and what he’s tryin’ to do is stick the first one over so’s he won’t have to waste no more’n one ball on one batter. He don’t stick it over right in the groove, but he puts it just about so’s you’ll get a piece of it and give the Giants a little easy fieldin’ practice. If the Giants gets a flock o’ runs and goes way out in front, he’ll keep right on stickin’ that first one over, and maybe he’ll allow a little scorin’.

But if the guy workin’ agin him is air­tight, and the game’s close, and you get a couple o’ men on and a base hit’ll do some damage, he unlocks his safe and pulls out some o’ the real stuff he’s got and lets go of it. Maybe the curve he’ll show you ain’t as good as some you’ve saw, but it’ll come where you can’t get a good hold of it. Or if it’s a fast one you don’t like, that’s what you’ll get, and even if it ain’t as fast as Johnson’s, you’ll find that it comes past you a couple of inches higher or lower or this side or that side of where you could wallop it good. Or maybe you’ll see this fadeaway that he got up himself, and it’s about as easy to hit as this here Freddie Welsh.

That’s the way he works in a reg’lar game, when they ain’t much dependin’ on it. He don’t really pitch till he’s got to, and then he sure does pitch. The rest o’ the time, he’s puttin’ that first one where they either got to hit at it or have a strike called on ‘em, and leavin’ it to the guys back of him to take care o’ what’s hit. That’s why he’s been good so long and that’s why he’s goin’ to be good a whole lot longer. And McGraw’s smart enough to help him save himself. You don’t see Matty pitch one day and warm up the next. When he’s pitched his game, he’s through till everybody else has tooken their turn, except oncet in a while, when the race gets hot, and then maybe he works a innin’ or two and pulls out one o’ the other guy’s games, besides winnin’ his own. But that ain’t often. He ain’t never tried to make no Walsh out of him­self, and if he had tried, the Giants might maybe of win one more pennant, but they wouldn’t have no Matty round to keep ‘em in the race for another.

McGraw treats him just right to keep him a-goin’. But I don’t give Mac no credit for that. He’d be a sucker if he didn’t. It’s pretty soft for a manager to be able to set down by the fire in Janu­ary and say to himself: “Well, we got to win ninety-five games next season to cop. That means that Marquard, Tesh-er-eau and my young fellas must grab seventy between ‘em. Matty’s twenty-five is al­ready in.” When it comes to a World’s Serious, that’s diff’rent. If the Giants wins it, it means more dough, not only for the players but for the owners o’ the club. And as soon as it’s over, Matty’s got five months to rest up. So he’s in there about every other day, and he ain’t savin’ himself neither. He’s still tryin’ to get that first one over, but they’s a lot more stuff on it than when he’s pitchin’ a reg’lar season game. He ain’t so willin’ to let guys get on the bases and he’s ready to do more work himself and leave less to his club. Well, the Giants hasn’t set the world afire beatin’ the clubs in our league, but where’d they of been in any one o’ them Serious’s if ’twasn’t for Matty? And if you want to make them Ath-a-letics or the Boston Red Sox either one give you the horse laugh, tell ‘em Matty’s easy to beat.

He’s been beat in every big Serious he’s been in, except in 1905, when he was still a kid. You know what he done then, don’t you? He worked three o’ the five games and if goose eggs had of been worth a dollar a dozen, the Ath-a-letics could of quit playin’ ball and toured the world in a taxi. As I say, he’s been beat in all the other big Seriouses, but I seen the most o’ them and I’m tellin’ you that most o’ the games he lost was a crime.

You know, kid, I’m with our league all the while and pullin’ for ‘em whatever they’re up agin. But they’s been times when I felt like as if we should ought to be ashamed to take the money, when I couldn’t holler none over winnin’ because I was feelin’ so sorry for this big guy we’d beat and didn’t have no business to beat. A man can’t have no real time celebratin’ when he knows that if the luck had of broke even, he’d be payin’ off. At least, I can’t.

I wisht you could of saw him tryin’ to  hold a jubilee that night in Boston a couple o’ years ago. The Red Sox winnin’ give me a even two hundred bucks, but all the while I was spendin’ it, I felt like as if it didn’t belong to me. Honest, I’d of almost gave it back and seen the Boston club licked rather than to of saw ‘em win me the dough the way they did. If I’d of stayed in Chi and just read about it in the papers, it wouldn’t of been so bad. But to be right there and see him get robbed o’ that decidin’ game, and the honors that should ought to of been his’n, was enough to upset my stomach and take all the joy out o’ the two hundred.

You remember how it was: They’d win three apiece, and the Giants was full o’ the old con-feed-i-ence, while the Bos­ton club’s dauber was way down in their shoe. They’d had the Serious all but won, three games to one, and then New York had came along and evened it up. Mc­Graw has Matty ready and Stahl uses this young Bedient, who’d pitched a whale of a game a few days before, but was nothin’ but a kid and up agin a tougher proposition than a kid should ought to be ast to face.

Well, I’ll have to slip it to young Bedient. He was about as nervous as if he was pitchin’ to the batters in practice. You’d of thought, to watch him, that it was a exhibition game and that the only crowd there was a few hundred rubes from Jones’s Crossing. He wasn’t a bit scared, and he give ’em a awful battle. The Giants got a run off’n him; I don’t remember when or how they done it. Anyway, they done well to get a run and the bugs should ought to of throwed their money at him when he was tooken out.

 I think it was the eighth innin’ when Bedient got through. The run scored off’n him was the only one o’ the game, ’cause Matty was workin’ like they ain’t nobody else can work. With that “1” up on the score board, it looked all over. I didn’t think they’d tie it up in a thousand years. Well, in Boston’s half o’ the eighth, or seventh, maybe it was, Stahl or Wagner happened to get a hold of one and cracked it for two bases. They was down to the tail-end o’ the battin’ order and I think one was out before the ball was hit. Whoever the guy was, he was left there till they was two out and it come Bedient’s turn to hit. Stahl took him out and sent up this Henriksen. He was a new one on Matty, and it’s a good thing for him he was. The count come to two and two on him and then he reached outside the plate and cracked one down the third base line. It was a two-bagger and the score was tied up. Hooper went out and the innin’ was over. The crowd went crazy, but, honest, I figured that was the last run the Boston club would ever get and that it was just a question o’ time till the Giants grabbed another and settled it.

Stahl sticks Woodie in to pitch and they was no scorin’ did on neither side in the ninth. But in the tenth, Murray catched one o’ Woodie’s fast ones on the nose and drove it a mile into center field. It come near clearin’ the whole works and bein’ a  home run. It didn’t make no diff’rence, ’cause Merkle was there with a base hit and Murray scored. They was two down when Meyers come up, and he hit one just as hard as he ever did in his life. The ball come right at Woodie and hit him in the side. He was game enough to pick it up and throw it to first base, but I bet he couldn’t of pitched another ball if his life had of depended on it.

They helped him off’n the field and they was a pretty sad lookin’ gang. They figured just like me: That they’d been lucky to tie up the score in the seventh or eighth, or whenever it was, and that they had about as much chance as a rabbit o’ doin’ it again.

Then come the mess that spoiled my meals for a week, and me pullin’ my head off for Jake and the boys. Jake sends Engel up in Woodie’s place for two reasons: because he’s a better hitter, though Woodie ain’t no bum at that, and because Woodie prob’ly couldn’t of walked that far. Well, Engel sends a fly ball to center field and it should ought to have been the one out. But it wasn’t. Snodgrass drops it and Engel pulls up at second base. Now they’re playin’ for one run and Hooper goes up to sacrifice. I never seen no better pitchin’ than Matty done to him, and they was no more chance of him buntin’ the first two fair than they was o’ hittin’ ‘em out o’ the park. I think he missed one entirely and fouled the other one. Then Matty gives him one that he couldn’t meet right and he flies out to center. Snodgrass held onto this one. Well, I guess Matty must of gave Hooper everything he had, ’cause when Yerkes came up, the old control was gone. He walked him, and everybody went com­pletely nuts, ‘cause it was Speaker’s turn.

The Giants crowded round Matty to give him a chance to rest up, and when he begin pitchin’ to Speaker, he wasn’t wild no more. He slips Spoke one that he had to take a wallop at, but all he done to it was pop it up in the air. The ball was foul and I guess I could of jumped out o’ the stand and ran out and catched it. But Merkle thought Meyers was goin’ to get it, and Meyers thought Merkle was goin’ to get it and finally Matty seen they wasn’t neither one going’ to get it, so he started after it, but he was too late. The ball fell about fifteen feet this side o’ the coaches’ box, and when it come down they wasn’t nobody under it.

I could hear Spoke yellin’: “Pretty lucky that time, Matty! But I’ll crack the next one.” Speaker’s all right, but he should not ought to of called Matty lucky; not that day. If he was lucky that day, I’d hate to see him when things was breakin’ agin him.

This foul ball o’ Spoke’s was the third out by rights. The game should ought to of been over, and me settlin’ with the guy I made the bet with. But the way things had came off, they was one out, and men on second and first and Speaker up, and I don’t care who the pitcher is, he can’t fool this here Speaker all the time. Spoke done just what he said. He cracked one and before Devore could get it back to the infield, Engel was acrost with the tyin’ run, and another base hit would finish it.

I’d like to of knew what Matty was thinkin’ about. He could be excused if he said “Golly,” even if he don’t pitch on Sundays. But if he was sore, he kept it to himself, and he went out there and give Lewis what he had left. He was just as wild as when he was pitchin’ to Yerkes; that is, he wasn’t exactly wild, but he wasn’t given’ ’em no good balls to hit and he couldn’t bunk ’em into swingin’ at bad ones. Lewis stood up there just as patient as Yerkes, and Matty walked him, too.

That’s about all they was to it. The bases was choked and Gardner wound it up with a fly ball to Devore, which should ought to of been four out. Yerkes come in with the winnin’ run and I guess Devore’s throw is just about gettin’ to the plate now.

That’s how lucky Matty was in that last game in Boston, and that’s a fair sample o’ the luck he’s had in all these World’s Seriouses except the first one. If a rotten pitcher got a dose like that, I wouldn’t slip him no sympathy. But it sure does give me the colic to have them things happen to a guy that don’t have to take off his hat to nobody, and then see the bugs run round hollerin’, “Well, I guess we can beat the great Mathewson!” Yeh, they can beat him with a whole blacksmith’s shop full o’ horseshoes.

What makes him the pitcher he is? I been tellin’ you he’s got a lot o’ stuff, but so has other pitchers. They’s others that’s got pretty near as good con­trol, but they ain’t nobody that’s got the combination like him and knows how to use it like he does, he’s a tight-wad with his stuff, and they’re spendthrifts. Some pitchers can’t see Wagner come up with­out wantin’ to whiff him and hear the crowd cheer. Matty don’t want to whiff him. He’d a lot rather have him hit the first ball and pop it up in the air. Cheers won’t do them others no good when their souper’s gone. They can’t live on what the crowd thought about ’em that time they made the big Dutchman take a drink o’ water. Then, he’s got this fade­away that none o’ the rest has got; not like he’s got it.

His curve is somethin’ like Joe Wood’s, only now he ain’t as fast as Woodie; that is, not all the time. Maybe he’s got enough real speed left to cut loose a little of it two or three times a day, and he don’t never cut it loose till he’s got to. But goin’ along that way, he’ll have his fader and his curve and his speed when I and you is thinkin’ about who we’ll call on for pallbearers.

But his fadeaway and his curve and his fast one and his control wouldn’t none of ’em be worth near what they is worth if he didn’t know all they is to know about pitchin’. It’s the old bean that makes him what he is. When somebody cracks one off’n him, it ain’t because he guessed wrong; it’s because the ball come about a inch away from where he was goin’ to put it; maybe it slipped or somethin’. When this young Saier has pulled one over the fence on Matty,     McGraw don’t say:

“Why didn’t you keep it outside?” or “Why didn’t you do this or that?” He knows Matty was tryin’ to do the right thing and knowed what was the right thing to do. He don’t have to sit up nights with him, learnin’ him. And it ain’t nec’sary for Matty to buy one o’ these here books on “The Art o’ Pitchin’.” He could write a whole sacklapedia on that, and then not tell half he knows.

He’s just a little ahead o’ the rest o’ the gang in them things—stuff, when he wants to use it, and control and noodle. And besides that, he’s a ball player. They ain’t no danger of him hittin’ .400, but at that they’s a whole lot worse hitters right on his club. When he goes up there with a bat, it ain’t just to kill time or because it’s his turn. His intention is to get on, or to push somebody else round, or drive in a run, and he don’t swing at everything that’s pitched or keep his bat on his shoulder neither, like some o’ them pitchers. He’s been known to crack one when it counted, and you don’t often look in the papers and see “So-and-So batted for Mathewson in the ninth.”

He ain’t no speed marvel on the bases, yet I’ve saw him steal a base and slide into it, too, where most pitchers would be a-scared they might soil their pants. As for fieldin’ his position, he’s just as good as anybody, and to have him in there is just like havin’ five men on the infield. He can grab the bunts, and after he’s grabbed ’em he knows where to peg ’em. He don’t never fail to cover first base when he should ought to, and you’ll always find him backin’ up plays where some pitchers would be takin’ a afternoon nap. Yes, sir, he’s a ball player, and that’s a whole lot more’n you can say for a lot o’ guys that’s gettin’ by with a pitchin’job.

They tell me Matty is some golf player. I didn’t never have no golf bat in my hands, and I don’t know nothin’ about the game, but I bet all I got that if he plays it at all, he plays it good. Yes, sir, I bet he’s a whale of a golf player, and they tell me they ain’t no ball player can touch him in a checker game. Well, I’ve did some checker playin’ myself, and I know they ain’t no thick skull can get away with it. It’s a game that takes brains, and Matty’s the boy that’s got ’em. But if he was to tackle blind man’s buff instead o’ checkers or golf, he’d make a go of it. That’s the kind o’ guy he is. They’s nothin’ he’s tried that he didn’t keep tryin’ till he could do it and do it good.

It didn’t surprise me none when he turned down that trip round the world. I guess none o’ the boys that made the trip is any the worse off for it, but it wouldn’t of been in line with Matty’s dope to go along. It would just of meant spendin’ some o’ the stuff he’s savin’ up to keep him in the league. Every game he pitched would of been just one less game he’d of had left in him, and the games wouldn’t of got him nothin’ neither. And still, he’d of had to let himself out and do some real pitchin’, or else the crowds would of got sore on him. At that, I guess he’d of went if he hadn’t of made the first part o’ the trip with ‘em, the trip from Cincinnati out to the Coast. They tell me that he had to shake hands with two thirds o’ the population of every burg they stopped at. The bugs flocked round the train, and the hotels, all yelpin’ for Matty, and it was up to him to let ’em see him, or they’d of been a riot. Well, they all had to shake hands with him, and by the time a couple o’ million hicks has shooken your hand, you feel like as if your old souper was beginnin’ to go back on you. I s’pose that’s the way you’d feel; I don’t know, ’cause I wasn’t never pestered much with people tryin’ to slip me the glad hand. Matty prob’ly says to himself: “London and Paris and Egypt and Rome and them other towns on the schedule is all big towns with big populations. If half them populations shakes hands with me, I won’t have no more arm left than a angleworm.” So he scratched his entry, and you can’t blame him. And I bet McGraw didn’t coax him much.

When the Giants don’t want Matty no longer, he can make a world trip of his own, and go acrost the ocean in his own yackt. But I guess by that time they’ll be runnin’ trains acrost or maybe the oceans will of went dry.


By Ron Rapoport—from Frank Chance’s Diamond: The Baseball Journalism of Ring Lardner:

College man, war hero, Christian Gentleman (one of his actual nicknames), Christy Mathewson may have been the most beloved baseball player of his time. While  players like Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson were admired—Lardner, as we will see, did a similarly appreciative article on Cobb for The American Magazine in 1915—they were not adored in the manner of Mathewson.

Lardner’s hopes that Mathewson’s poor start in 1915 was nothing to worry about were not realized. He won only eight games and lost fourteen, a great comedown from his 24-13 record the year before. The following year he was traded to the last-place Cincinnati Reds, which inspired Lardner to write the following, which is sometimes mistaken for an obituary. Mathewson died in 1925 of tuberculosis, which he developed after a chemical gas attack during a World War I training exercise in France.

My eyes are very misty

As I pen these lines to Christy;

Oh, 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.

[Photo Credit: Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons]

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