A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

1. Robert Mathews was born in Baltimore in 1851.

2. In 1869 he became both a professional and the main pitcher for the Marylands of Baltimore, one of the first professional clubs in Maryland.

3. With the forming of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, Mathews joined the Keokuk Westerns in 1871. On 4 May he threw the first pitch in a fully professional league (and to some people’s thinking, the first Major League) game. His team won 2-0 making him the first pitcher to win a game in the National Association.

4. After one season at Keokuk, he joined the Baltimore Canaries as their primary pitcher in 1872, then joined the New York Mutual where he pitched from 1873 through 1875.

5. In the NA he won 131 games, lost 112, gave up 2593 hits in 2221.2 innings, struck out 329 men while walking 196. His ERA was 2.69 with an ERA+ of 107 and a WAR of 39.7 (all stats from Baseball Reference dot-com and WAR is BR.com’s version).

6. He stayed with the Mutual in 1876 when they joined the newly formed National League. With the Mutual being tossed out of the league at the end of 1876, he joined Cincinnati in 1877.

7. In 1878 he pitched for the independent Brooklyn Chelseas until tossed from the team for public drunkenness (a recurring problem for Mathews throughout his career). He was later reinstated.

8. In 1879 he got a chance back in the National League with Providence as the backup pitcher to John Montgomery Ward. Mathews won 12 games and Providence won the pennant by five games. In  1880 he went west to play in the Pacific League (not the Pacific Coast League of later fame). The league folded before the year ended. In this period the NL was not considered, by many players, to be significantly superior to other leagues, some of which paid better. So Mathews’ actions in 1880 were not uncommon.

9. He was back in the National League in 1881 pitching for Providence and later for Boston.

10. With the establishment of the American Association, Mathews jumped to Philadelphia in 1883 where he stayed through 1887, his final season. He helped Philly to the AA pennant in 1883.

11. During the offseason Mathews, with no college education and a serious drinking problem, became an assistant coach for the University of Pennsylvania. Some sources credit him as the first college pitching coach.

12. By 1895 he was working for Joe Start (Providence first baseman in the 1870s and 1880s) at a “roadhouse” near Providence. His drinking was catching up with him and he died in 1898 at age 47.

13. For his career (NA, NL, and AA combined) Mathews won 297 games, lost 248, gave up 5601 hits in 4956 innings. He walked 532, struck out 1528, had an ERA of 2.86, an ERA+ of 104, and a WAR (BR.com version) of 62.2. He’s never gotten a lot of backing for the Hall of Fame. Primarily because he is 60-75 in the National League, 106-61 in the AA, and 131-112 in the NA. The latter two leagues are almost totally forgotten today with MLB not even recognizing the NA as a Major League.


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8 Responses to “A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Bobby Mathews”

  1. William Miller Says:

    297 career wins in an era when they didn’t play as many games as they did in later years is very impressive. As for John Montgomery Ward, whom you also mention, someone needs to do a biography of that man. He had quite a diverse and interesting life.
    Nicely done,

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    A roadhouse is not the easiest place for an alcoholic to be working. However, I remember in “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” the great TV soap opera parody that was on TV from 1976 to 1977, Tom Hartman, Mary’s wife, took a job as a bartender as a way of combating his drinking problem, in other words going cold turkey the hard way. I don’t remember if it worked or not.

    Bobby Mathews obviously had a difficult life. I found that interesting. Thanks, V.



  3. Precious Sanders Says:

    Given their reputation, I do wish the AA would have lasted longer than it did. Alas, it was not meant to be.

  4. steve Says:

    This is turning into a great intro for me about players I never knew anything about. Enjoying this. The Mathews numbers are mind boggling. How he managed to keep an ERA under 3.00 with all those hits allowed and not too many strikeouts. Amazing.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Don’t forget that it’s an era of a lot of errors so a lot of runs were unearned, hence a low ERA. Glad you liked the article.

      • steve Says:

        but still, all those hits allowed and so few strikeouts. I guess the other team made even more errors and allowed even more runs. His stat line reminds of Pete Vukovich from 1982 when he won 20 games, the Cy Young with an incredibly high whip. I love watching pitchers like that. Nothing spectacular, except what really counts; getting out of jams. I guess it’s like being exhausted at work and reaching inside for one more hour of strength. Your HOF series has me rereading a book I hadn’t opened in a while; Baseball in America by Robert Smith. One of my favorites.

  5. verdun2 Says:

    Haven’t read the book. Thanks for the reference. How’s about reviewing it on your blog?

    • steve Says:

      v, that’s a great idea and since i creased the corners of pages the first time through, i have some highlights to go on. Thank you.

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