Christy Mathewson and the New York Giants enjoy synonymity—you can’t think of one entity without the other. It wasn’t always that way, however.
Big Six, as Mathewson became known, began his major league tenure with the Cincinnati Reds. John Brush owned part of the Reds and the Giants—a formerly permitted financial arrangement in the paradigm of the major leagues—and devised the plan to send Mathewson to New York.
The article “What if Christy Mathewson had remained a Red?” on the Cincinnati Reds official web site explains, “Brush had long had designs on owning the Giants and was actively negotiating to take control when Christy Mathewson was signed by New York in 1900. Mathewson struggled in six games with the Giants and was summarily sent back to the minor league club he had been acquired from. The Reds jumped at the chance to sign him and did so for $100. Brush knew what he had in Mathewson and also knew that he wanted him to be pitching in New York when he took over the Giants.”
Brush’s plan involved trading Mathewson to the Reds for Amos Rusie, nicknamed the “Hoosier Thunderbolt.” Rusie’s Hall of Fame plaque states, “Generally considered fireball king of nineteenth-century moundsman, notched better than 240 victories in ten-year career, achieved 30-victory mark four years in row and won 20 or more games eight successive times. Led league in strikeouts five years and led or tied for most shutouts five times.”
Rusie, towards the end of his career, invoked the rare device of holding out. Consequently, he did not play in 1896, 1899, or 1900; an 0-1 record in 1901 finished his tenure in the major leagues.
In the 1979 Sports Illustrated article “When Amos Rusie Was on the Mound Cathers Didn’t Get the Lead Out,” Al Rainovic extolled Rusie’s prowess. “Rusie was easily the fastest pitcher major league baseball [sic] had seen,” declared Rainovic. “Even though a pitcher in the 1890s had to get three untouched strikes to record a strikeout, Rusie marched them back to the benches at the then imposing rate of one every two innings. In 1889 when the National League decided to drop Indianapolis and Washington and go with eight clubs instead of 10, Rusie and seven other players were sold for an estimated $60,000 by Indianapolis to New York.”
It was a curious trade, given Rusie’s waning years. In his 1988 book The Giants of the Polo Grounds: The Glorious Times of Baseball’s New York Giants, Noel Hynd examined the circumstances. “Why, then, did Brush want Rusie? He didn’t,” posited Hand. “Brush already knew he was on his way to New York and that was where he wanted Mathewson. In the meantime, however, he wished to safeguard Matty’s contract before [Giants owner] Andrew Freedman could double-cross him.”
In the first season after the trade, Mathewson flourished with the Giants, compiling a 20-17 record, striking out 221 batters, and notching his first of two no-hitters. Mathewson’s endurance manifested as well; the hurler completed 36 of 40 games—this, after going o-3 with the Giants in 1900.
Mathewson’s 1901 season forecast greatness, which resulted in a career win-loss record of 373-188, more than 2,500 strikeouts, and membership in the first group of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in 1936.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 11, 2016.