Astounded, the catcher asks Mathewson how he could call himself out. "I am a church elder," Matty replied.
Idolizing Mathewson was encouraged all the more because he was the first star to play in New York, center of American publishing (and dreams). He was identified, even confused, in the public mind with the sports paragon Frank Merriwell. It hardly mattered that Merriwell didn't exist.
The creation of a hack writer pen-named Burt L. Standish, Merriwell was a scholar-sportsman who won games, rescued damsels in distress and stood for fair play, sensitive masculinity and what was called "muscular Christianity." The dime novels sold in the millions at the turn of the century.
As much as any revered sports star, Mathewson walked a fine line, holding to his principles but never being a sanctimonious prig. While he was never guilty of "muckerism" (bad sportsmanship), it was not uncommon for a curse word to spill from his lips. He gambled, enjoyed liquor and smoked. He even endorsed Tuxedo tobacco, something not even Muggsy would do. "You'll find cigarette stubs...on the path to baseball oblivion," McGraw warned.
Mathewson, however, was neither afraid to take advantage of his fame nor a prisoner of it, though his was the best-known face in the country after those of three politicians: Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan. "I owe everything I have to the fans when I'm out there on the mound," Mathewson declared, "but I owe the fans nothing...when I am not pitching." He would draw the shades on trains when they stopped, even though he knew admirers had come to the station just for a glimpse of him. But then he reneged on a promise to his mother never to play ball on the Sabbath when he decided that it was selfish, unfair to the working-man whose long weekdays denied him a chance to see the national pastime (and its greatest hero) except on Sundays.
Then, too, as a friend confided, "Matty liked money." He shilled for razors as well as tobacco. In 1910, when he made $10,000 as baseball's highest-paid player, he spent 17 weeks in the off-season working in a vaudeville show for $1,000 a week. He starred in a one-reel film and lent his name as cowriter to a series of children's books as well as to a comedy, The Girl and the Pennant, which had 20 performances on Broadway. Matty, however, drew the line at allowing a Manhattan "drinking and dancing place" to be called the Christy Mathewson. As a man who walked only 1� batters per nine innings, Big Six had as much control over his life as he did of his pitches.
Indeed, through the wondrous Series of '05, Mathewson's life was nearly without defect. He had grown up on a farm in Factoryville, in northeastern Pennsylvania, a picture-book place. The Mathewson house rested in a valley, yea, with a bubbling brook that provided flat stones for young Matty to hurl at squirrels and blackbirds.
He was the eldest, born on Aug. 12, 1880, to Scots whose forebears had crossed to Rhode Island not long after the Mayflower. Gilbert and Minerva Mathewson would have five more children, and although Cyril died in infancy, Christine, Henry, Jane and Nicholas grew up as strong and healthy as their big brother. The boys were educated nearby at Keystone Academy, and then Christy—already a local legend pitching for the Factoryville nine—went to Bucknell, in Lewisburg, where he put on his blue freshman beanie and set about becoming the biggest man on campus.
Besides being a baseball star, young Matty was as good a dropkicker as there was at a time when that specialty was crucial to football. Rubber Leg, he was called. He was also a terrific student. Moreover, he wrote poetry, sang in the Glee Club, acted in campus dramatics and belonged to an honorary leadership society.
If no upbringing was more idyllic than Matty's, none was more different from it than what little Johnny McGraw endured. If Matty was the effortlessly blessed American, Muggsy was the bootstrap boy. What they shared, though, was more important: Both made the most of what they were given, and as sport became popular both became inspirations—different sides of the same American coin.