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The rocketing fast balls of two young American League pitchers—Bob Turley of the New York Yankees and Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians—have aroused an eager sense of anticipation in those baseball fans who are ever hungry for new variations of baseball's limitless dramatic possibilities. What they anticipate, perhaps over-optimistically, is a latter-day revival of The Duel—a whole series of Turley-Score pitching battles that would be renewed each time the Yankees and the Indians meet over the next who-knows-how-many years. Memory, or a warm knowledge of baseball history, helps to excite that anticipation.
For instance: ask any real oldtime baseball fan about Christy Mathewson and Mordecai Brown. His eyes will light up. "Those were the days," he'll say. "Matty and Three-Fingered Brown! Whenever the Cubs and the Giants played you'd have Matty against Brown. What games they pitched!"
What games, indeed, with two great pitchers going against each other, the two best pitchers in the league pitching for two of the best teams in the league, time after time, and each time with the eventual pennant race at stake.
Mathewson-and-Brown, Hubbell-and-Dean—they are the prototypes of The Duel in baseball. In each instance and over a number of years one of the pair was the Big Pitcher on one of the dominant teams in the league at the same time that his rival was the Big Pitcher on another dominant team.
It's all in the books. The Chicago Cubs—Brown's team—and the New York Giants—Mathewson's—between them won every National League pennant but one from 1904 through 1913. In six of those years, from 1906 through 1911, Mathewson won 22, 24, 37, 25, 27 and 26 games, while Brown won 26, 20, 29, 27, 25 and 21. Imagine seeing a 37-game winner and a 29-game winner pitching against each other! Yet that is what the baseball fan saw in 1908. Mathewson had great seasons before and after those years, but it was during that period that Brown reached the peak of his form, pacing the greatest of all Cub teams to four pennants in five years and pitching against Mathewson in some of the most memorable games in the annals of baseball. Cub fans still claim that Brown could consistently outpitch Matty in the clutch. In the famous play-off game for the National League pennant in 1908, for instance, Brown beat Mathewson 4-2 before an estimated 35,000 people, the largest baseball crowd ever up to that time. When Matty and Three-fingered Brown were scheduled to pitch against each other, baseball fans went into the Polo Grounds or West Side Park in Chicago tingling with anticipation.
A generation later, fans experienced much the same feeling in the 1930s when they went into the Polo Grounds or Sportsman's Park in St. Louis to see Hubbell and Dean. Like Mathewson, Hubbell had fine years both before and after his rival's comparatively short stay in the sun, but Dean's big years—1933 through 1936 and the first half of 1937 (until he broke his toe in the All-Star Game in July)—were years when the Giants, with three pennants and a second, and the Cardinals, with one pennant and two seconds, fought tooth and nail every time they met. (Once, early in 1937, they fought in the literal sense of the word, with players from both teams wrestling each other to the ground and trading punches all over the infield in a melee that came to be known as "The Battle of St. Louis.") Hubbell won 23, 21, 23, 26 and 22 games in those five years while Dean took 20, 30, 28, 24 and, in 1937, 12 before getting hurt in mid-season.
You can find other pitchers in baseball history—Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Grover Alexander and Lefty Grove, to name some of them—who were equal or superior to Mathewson and Brown and Hubbell and Dean as pitchers. But nowhere else will you find two great pitchers meeting repeatedly over the years in games that meant so much to so many pennant races.
All this may make more understandable today's anticipation of Turley-and-Score. The Yankees and the Indians are undeniably the dominant teams in the American League, and they seem likely to remain so. And Turley and Score, if you respect the enthusiasm of sound baseball men, are likely to become the Big Pitchers on those big teams surprisingly soon.