In honor of Memorial Day back in May, I shared information about Eddie Grant, the MLB player with the most appearances who was killed in World War I. Another player — an even bigger superstar — died as a direct result of World War I even though he was not killed in action. Christy Mathewson is one of my favorite ball players of all time and certainly one of the more interesting ones.
Mathewson was one of the greatest pitchers of the early 20th century, and still ranks as one of the best of all-time. His playing career ended in 1916 and he went on to be a manager in 1917 and 1918. He left his managerial job during 1918 to enlist in the Army and fight in WWI. He served with fellow baseball great Ty Cobb (pictured, Matty at left and Cobb at right) in the Chemical Service, a regiment dealing with both defensive and offensive poisonous gas materials. During a training in France he was accidentally gassed and developed tuberculosis. He was discharged in 1919 and tried to return to coaching but was too ill. He moved to the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where the clean and crisp air was thought to improve lung performance for TB patients. Mathewson tried for years to battle back from tuberculosis, but ultimately died in 1925 at the age of 45.
How good was Christy Mathewson? When he died, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators, neither of which had an affiliation with him, wore black armbands for the entirety of the World Series. In 1936, he was one of the first 5 players elected to the new Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson. Cy Young’s name lives on today because of the award named in his honor, even though he got just 49.1% of the Hall of Fame vote in 1936 compared to Mathewson’s 90.7%. In his time he was a highly-regarded, college-educated intellectual who refused to pitch on Sundays due to his strong faith background.
Today, “Matty” is mostly forgotten except for by diehard baseball fans. But his name still lies toward the top of many pitching leaderboards, more than a century after his retirement: for career ranks, he is 10th all time in WAR for pitchers, 3rd in wins, 9th in WHIP, 14th in complete games, and 3rd in shutouts.
If you’re interested in Mathewson cards, well…get ready to pony up. Matty has lots of issues, but due to his stature as one of the original HOF members and his presence in some of the most popular sets of all time, prices are high. Entry-level offerings might include “beater” condition cards or strip cards, which typically have a lower price point.