SI Vault
Jonathan Yardley
November 07, 1977
It has been a notable season for baseball, and for baseball books as well. First came Roger Angell's Five Seasons and Roger Kahn's A Season in the Sun. And now we have a wholly unexpected bonus: Christy Mathewson's Pitching in a Pinch (Stein and Day, hardcover $10, paperback $3.95).
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 07, 1977

Christy Mathewson's Book Is Back, After 65 Years Of Gathering Dust

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

"In most Big-League ball games, there comes an inning on which hangs victory or defeat. Certain intellectual fans call it the crisis; college professors, interested in the sport, have named it the psychological moment; Big-League managers mention it as the 'break,' and pitchers speak of the 'pinch.'

"This is the time when each team is straining every nerve to win or to prevent defeat. The players and spectators realize that the outcome of the inning is of vital importance. And in most of these pinches, the real burden falls on the pitcher. It is at this moment that he is 'putting all he has' on the ball, and simultaneously his opponents are doing everything they can to disconcert him."

His college education notwithstanding, Matty was as superstitious as his simpler teammates. In a chapter called "Jinxes and What They Mean," he says, "A really true, on-the-level, honest-to-jiminy jinx can do all sorts of mean things to a professional ballplayer. I have seen it make a bad pitcher out of a good one, and a blind batter out of a three hundred hitter, and I have seen it make a ball club composed of educated men carry a Kansas farmer with two or three screws rattling loose in his dome, around the circuit because he was accompanied by Miss Fickle Fortune. And that is almost a jinx record."

The language is dated but the baseball is not. Every player and every fan today will recognize the basic game situations that Mathewson described three-quarters of a century ago. Throughout the book, Mathewson's baseball is absolutely sound and pertinent to today's game. It proves Roger Angell's point, that "baseball's time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors" (The Summer Game, page 303).

That's reason enough why Pitching in a Pinch reads just about as well in 1977 as it must have in 1912. But what is really likely to draw readers to it now is its sunniness, its innocence, its heroic demeanor. Matty's bright sun shines.

1 2