How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball
Frank Deford is one of our most beloved sports commentators, familiar to listeners of NPR and readers of Sports Illustrated
. Now Deford retells the story of one of the most unusual friendships between two towering figures in baseball history.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Christy Mathewson was one of baseball’s first superstars. Over six feet tall, clean cut, college educated (at a time when only a tiny fraction of Americans had even finished high school), he didn’t pitch on the Sabbath and rarely spoke an ill word about anyone. He also had one of the most devastating arms in all of baseball. New York Giants manager John McGraw, by contrast, was ferocious. Nicknamed “the Little Napoleon,” the pugnacious tough guy was already a star infielder who, with the Baltimore Orioles, helped develop a new, scrappy style of baseball, with plays like the hit-and-run, the Baltimore
chop, and the squeeze play. When McGraw joined the Giants in 1902, the Giants were coming off their worst season ever. Yet within three years, Mathewson clinched New York City’s first World Series for McGraw’s team by throwing three straight shutouts in only six days, an incredible feat that has never been surpassed by any pitcher and is invariably called the greatest World Series performance ever. Because of their wonderful odd-couple association, baseball had its first superstar, the Giants ascended into legend, and baseball as a national pastime bloomed.
The Old Ball Game
is a masterful chronicle of the early days of baseball from America
’s most beloved sportswriter.
Frank Deford on why the 1905 season is considered a turning point for modern baseball:
The 1905 World Series was really the first official championship. That the nation’s largest city, New York, qualified for the Series made it even more of a scintillating national event. There had been heavyweight championship fights that had attracted a great deal of interest in the past, but boxing, then as now, was distasteful to many citizens and banned in most states. In many respects, the Series of ought-five was the first entertainment phenomenon to captivate the whole sprawling country. After all, baseball was everywhere recognized as “the American National Sport.” Indeed, as immigrants piled into the United States, young boys in particular used baseball as the turnstyle to their new American identity. The showdown between the Giants and the American League champion Philadelphia Athleticswhom McGraw had earlier disparaged as a collection of “white elephants”was telegraphed to anxious crowds who assembled across the forty-five states.