As a young newspaper reporter, Mark Twain was warned by his editor about enhancing stories and was told never to state as fact anything he could not personally verify. Following this instruction to the letter, Twain wrote the following account of a social event:
“A woman giving the name of Mrs. James Jones, who is reported to be one of the society leaders of this city, is said to have hosted what purported to be a party yesterday for a number of alleged ladies. The hostess claims to be the wife of a supposedly reputed attorney.”
I mention Mark Twain’s words because I want to make sure I am politically and journalistically correct when I say that baseball, once known as America’s favorite pastime, appears to be going the way of other professional sports and the entertainment world. The latest scandals involving Major League Baseball players’ use of steroids – and then “allegedly” lying about it – are replacing the image of “Take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd…”
So maybe it’s time to recall a story regarding a man once known as the “Christian Gentleman of Baseball.” A pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 1900s, Christy Mathewson was one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. After playing seventeen seasons, he retired with an earned run average of 2.13, along with 2,502 strikeouts, 373 wins and only 188 loses. He posted 37 wins in 1908.
Mathewson is remembered as one of the game’s greatest pitchers, but perhaps more importantly he is remembered as a man of character. It is said that his honesty and integrity influenced the game as much as his domineering pitching. Writer Tom Meany of The New York World Telegram wrote of him, “Christy Mathewson altered turn of the century conceptions about men who played the game. Through him, the public learned that a professional ballplayer doesn’t need to be a hayseed or a tough-talking, tobacco-chewing, whiskey-guzzling refugee from the pool rooms of the teeming cities.”
The most famous story about the respect Mathewson gained involved a game in which he was pitching and the Giants’ first baseman fielded a ground ball hit deep in the hole. Mathewson raced the runner to the bag, took the toss from the infielder and tagged the bag with his foot. It was a close play. The umpire was momentarily motionless as he sought to make the right call. It is said that he quickly asked Mathewson, “Safe or out?” Mathewson replied with conviction, “He was out!” Supposedly, the umpire then flung up his hand with the signal and yelled, “You’re out!” With no argument, it is said that the runner trotted to his dugout and play continued.
Is this a true story? I don’t know. But it was commonly said that Mathewson had so much respect from everyone connected with the game that other players, managers, coaches and, yes, even umpires, sought his valued opinion on things. It is common to see managers get in the faces of umpires and verbally attack them, while players have to be restrained by teammates from assaulting umpires as well as other players. It is said that Mathewson had some discussions but never really argued. Playing in 635 games, he was never ejected. He was known as a cool-headed player and man. He was a calm leader who knew how to win.
Mathewson served in World War I, was gassed, contracted tuberculosis and died seven years later. The news of his death was announced prior to the 1925 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators. Players on both teams wore black armbands, paying homage to an icon of honesty and integrity.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on www.carlmays.com (PayPal Secure) and Amazon.com.
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