It’s amazing how quickly we forget. Now I know it’s been a hundred years since Christy Mathewson pitched (well, 95) but it seems like he’s fallen off the edge of the world reputation-wise. I guess that’s true of most Deadball players not named Cobb, but it’s still a shame. If people know anything at all about him it’s that he won a whole bunch of games (373) a long time ago. But as impressive as that number is, I have another Mathewson number that is even greater, at least to me.
The number is 848. That’s the total number of men Mathewson walked in a 17 year career. That works out to 49.8 per season. If you leave out his rookie and final years (the only seasons he doesn’t pitch 100 innings), it’s 54. In his rookie season Mathewson walked 20 and struck out 15, the only season he’d walk more men than he struck out (Hey, anybody can have a bad rookie campaign). Between 1907 and 1914 inclusive he pitched 2597 innings and walked a total of 307, or 38.4 a season. In each season he led the NL in fewest walks per games, except in 1910 when he came in second to George Suggs (Cincinnati) 1.62 to 1.70. In 1913 he walked .62 men per game. Bert Humphries of Chicago was second all the way back at 1.19. Greg Maddux, known for never walking a batter, has numbers similar, but not better.
One hundred years ago in 1911 Mathewson threw 307 innings and walked 38 men. That’s great, but it’s not even his best. In 1912 he pitched 310 innings, walking 34. His 1913 line reads 306 innings and 21 (count ‘em, 21) walks, while 1914 shows 312 innings and 23 walks (guess those extra six innings must have gotten to him). In 102 World Series innings he gave up 10 walks (half of them in the 1912 Series). In the 1905 Series when he had three complete game shutouts, Mathewson walked one batter (Socks Seybold in game three).
These are great numbers to me because they go right to the heart of what a pitcher does. He keeps the other team off base. There’s frequently nothing you can do about a “seeing-eye single”, but a walk is the pitcher’s fault (unless it is intentional, and intentional walks aren’t well documented in Mathewson’s era). Mathewson, by walking almost no one, is doing one of the things most necessary to keep his team from losing a game, he’s minimizing the number of men on base by not making bad pitches.
I’m aware that knowing this isn’t going to suddenly return Christy Mathewson to the limelight. It’s been too many years for all but the most diehard fan to care, but it’s still worth noting. Heck of a pitcher, wasn’t he?