Monday, May 19, 2014

Pitching in a Pinch: Baseball from the Inside by Christy Mathewson

Christy Mathewson was one of the most important figures in early 20th century baseball. Not only was he a great pitcher and later an able manager, he was college educated and an important symbol for the proponents of a more gentlemanly game of baseball than had been played in the late 19th century. He was one of five great players honored with election to the first class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Knowing he could cash in on his fame, he "wrote" a column for the New York Herald with much assistance from sports writer John Wheeler, and from those pieces came his 1912 book Pitching in a Pinch: Baseball from the Inside. It was his moment, as he had been a star for slightly over a decade and his skills were just starting to decline. He had already witness and been part of many legendary games. His World War I disability and early death were yet to come.

The state of baseball in 1912 was far different in many ways from 2014. It was a dead-ball era when few hitters could clear the fences (hit a home run). Most players were paid poorly. Pitchers were frequently called "twirlers." The Chicago Cubs were a dominant team. But a 21st century reader of Pitching in a Pinch will find much familiar as well, especially in the descriptions of pitcher-batter encounters, which Mathewson describes with great clarity. Pitchers still need to get ahead in the count to be effective. Batter should still pick their pitch.

Penguin's 2013 republication of Mathewson's book is a must for baseball fans interested in the history of the game. Readers learn much about Giant's manager John McGraw, Mathewson's Giant teammates, and opponents, especially the Cubs Tinker, Evers, and Chance. Readers also get a foreward by novelist Chad Harbach and an afterward by famed sports writer Red Smith.

Mathewson, Christy. Pitching in a Pinch: Baseball from the Inside. Penguin Books, 2013. 178p. ISBN 9780143107248.

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