Ironically, by the time Mathewson arrived in France, the Germans were at their hope's end. His volunteered duty served little purpose. He was in the hospital on Armistice Day, and he never fully recovered. Cobb would say, "I saw Christy Mathewson doomed to die. The rider on the pale horse passed his way."
Back in the States, Mathewson was pasty, gaunt—even shrunken. He coughed often, lost his appetite and, according to Jane, "developed a strange lassitude." His condition was diagnosed as chronic bronchitis. At the McGraws', meanwhile, Blanche could hear Muggsy waking up nights, pacing the bedroom, muttering about Matty. He sensed it was something worse than bronchitis. In the summer of 1920 the new diagnosis was tuberculosis, the same disease that had killed his brother Henry.
The Mathewsons moved to upstate New York, to be near the sanitarium at Saranac Lake. The mail poured in, often addressed to just Big Six or Matty. He played a lot of checkers and studied horticulture, searching for his favorite wildflower, the blue gentian. McGraw would call regularly, and in 1924 Matty, despite his doctor's admonitions, went to the Giants-Senators World Series. It would be Muggsy's last as a manager. It would be Matty's last. He was stooped and so shriveled that people who had known Big Six turned away in shock.
He hung on for another year, but in Saranac Lake, on Oct. 7, 1925, the very day that Washington opened the defense of its championship in Pittsburgh, Matty whispered to Jane, "It's nearly over. I know it, and we must face it. Go out and have a good cry. Don't make it a long one. This is something we can't help." He died that night, barely into his 46th year.
The next day McGraw sat in a field box with Ruth and Cobb. The flag at Forbes Field was lowered to half-staff, and as the players from both teams, in black armbands, marched out in ceremony, many in the crowd spontaneously began to sing Nearer My God to Thee. Then The Star-Spangled Banner was played, but muffled.
After the game, McGraw left for New York, where he met Blanche. Together, they went to Saranac Lake, and then, with Jane, they brought Matty's body back to Lewisburg, where he had gone to college.
His son, John Christopher Mathewson, was a student there at the time. He watched with his namesake, who, of course, was one of the pallbearers, as they lowered his father's body into the earth.
It was the first time America had lost a national sports hero, so it didn't embarrass anybody to think only good thoughts of the man and to remember only the good times gone, when, together, Matty and Muggsy had given the pastime a leg up.