Let others sing of motorcars
Extol the record run;
But let me sing, oh,
Stripes and Stars,
Of Christy Mathewson.
NEW YORK HERALD, OCT. 10, 1905
As good as the Giants became under McGraw that season in 1903, they could not catch Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, McGraw envisioned a lucrative postseason series with the Pirates. But to his absolute horror, what did the owner of the Pirates do but consort with the enemy? Instead of playing the New Yorks, runners-up in the true league, the Pirates agreed to play the Boston Pilgrims, champions of Ban Johnson's upstart American League. As if that wasn't revolting enough, Pittsburgh actually lost the so-called Inter-League Series to the wannabes, the future Red Sox.
So, for McGraw, victory in '04 would mean more than just the championship. It would be the chance to stick it to fatso Ban Johnson.
And that is exactly what happened. With the Polo Grounds' capacity expanded to 24,000, with refurbished offices and locker rooms complete with electricity and steam heat, the Giants drew an incredible half-million cranks and ran away with the pennant, going 106-47 Mathewson was 33-12, but McGinnity's 35-8 was even better. Still, McGraw made it plain that he would not lower himself to play Ban Johnson's champs in any postseason scrum.
It was not easy being so principled. McGraw was everywhere labeled a coward, and his own players desperately wanted a postseason payday. But, hey, money isn't everything. "We are not a lot of grafters looking for box-office receipts at the expense [of the honor] of our club," Muggsy said.
The players, sensible grafters almost to a man, were not happy about this (Matty kept his own counsel), and rules were soon adopted mandating that pennant-winners face off. Thus was the stage in place for Matty in '05 to give still the grandest performance in any Series.
By 1905 Mathewson, who turned 25 in August, had attained preeminence as a slab man. "My salary wing," as he termed his right arm, accounted for 31 wins against only nine losses. He walked 64 batters in 338 2/5 innings, had an ERA of 1.27 and pitched eight complete-game shutouts, including his second no-hitter. Matty had command of a half-dozen pitches: a fastball, a changeup, a drop ("My very best, and a surprise for all the batters"), a curve, an underhand curve and, on rare occasions, a spitter.
His signature pitch, though, was the fadeaway, which broke away from lefthanded batters, like a modern-day screwball. He threw it using the same grip as his fastball, but with "a peculiar snap of the wrist," as Matty described it. As famous as the fadeaway was, though, it could be "killing on the arm," so he used it only a few times a game.
To be sure, Matty came along just as rules were changed to benefit pitchers. In 1901 the plate was widened from 12 inches and four-sided to 17 inches and five-sided, and foul balls became strikes (except, of course, when the batter already had two strikes).
Was there ever a pitcher whose mere presence was so mesmerizing? Here he comes, marching to the mound, with just a touch of human blemish—a slightly knock-kneed gait—wearing a long white linen duster, removing it to stand there tall, broad-shouldered and square-jawed, and then starting to toss effortlessly, with consummate grace. McGraw called every pitcher's pitches...except Mathew-son's. Matty's was the one mind in all of baseball that Muggsy deferred to.