List Price: $ 14.00
Save 16 % off List Price
The Old Ball Game : How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball
"Thank heaven for Frank Deford. . . . Written with the deft touch and the huge vocabulary of a great author, The Old Ball Game is worth reading--twice, just to pick up all the details." --David King, San Antonio Express-News
Frank Deford is one of our most beloved sports commentators, familiar to listeners of NPR and readers of Sports Illustrated. Now Deford retells the story of one of the most unusual friendships between two towering figures in baseball history.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Christy Mathewson was one of baseball's first superstars. Over six feet tall, clean cut, college educated (at a time when only a tiny fraction of Americans had even finished high school), he didn't pitch on the Sabbath and rarely spoke an ill word about anyone. He also had one of the most devastating arms in all of baseball. New York Giants manager John McGraw, by contrast, was ferocious. Nicknamed "the Little Napoleon," the pugnacious tough guy was already a star infielder who, with the Baltimore Orioles, helped develop a new, scrappy style of baseball, with plays like the hit-and-run, the Baltimore chop, and the squeeze play. When McGraw joined the Giants in 1902, the Giants were coming off their worst season ever. Yet within three years, Mathewson clinched New York City's first World Series for McGraw's team by throwing three straight shutouts in only six days, an incredible feat that has never been surpassed by any pitcher and is invariably called the greatest World Series performance ever. Because of their wonderful odd-couple association, baseball had its first superstar, the Giants ascended into legend, and baseball as a national pastime bloomed.
The Old Ball Game is a masterful chronicle of the early days of baseball from America's most beloved sportswriter.
Frank Deford on why the 1905 season is considered a turning point for modern baseball:
The 1905 World Series was really the first official championship. That the nation's largest city, New York, qualified for the Series made it even more of a scintillating national event. There had been heavyweight championship fights that had attracted a great deal of interest in the past, but boxing, then as now, was distasteful to many citizens and banned in most states. In many respects, the Series of ought-five was the first entertainment phenomenon to captivate the whole sprawling country. After all, baseball was everywhere recognized as "the American National Sport." Indeed, as immigrants piled into the United States, young boys in particular used baseball as the turnstyle to their new American identity. The showdown between the Giants and the American League champion Philadelphia Athletics--whom McGraw had earlier disparaged as a collection of "white elephants"--was telegraphed to anxious crowds who assembled across the forty-five states.
At the turn of the 20th century, "every American could want to be Christy Mathewson," Deford writes, and "every American could admire John J. McGraw." For a generation of fans in the era before Babe Ruth, Giants pitcher Mathewson was the best baseball had to offer and the epitome of good sportsmanship. By contrast, McGraw was a hard-drinking player/manager frequently ejected from games for attacking the umps. When McGraw came to New York (after wearing out his welcome elsewhere), though, the two became so close that they moved in together along with their wives. Deford, expanding on an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated, provides an entertaining string of anecdotes peppered with his own observations, focusing on one player and then looping back to address the other. An NPR Morning Edition weekly commentator, Deford has a thoughtful eye for the details of a century past, but he also points out how much early 1900s baseball culture shares with today's, as when he compares early gambling scandals to the contemporary steroids controversy. Though not quite a full biography of either player, this lively volume offers great diversion for any baseball fan. B&w photos.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
March 01, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Old Ball Game by Frank Deford
A lthough neither one of them ever seems to have mentioned it for posterity, John J. McGraw and Christopher Mathewson must surely have first encountered each other on the warm afternoon of Thursday, July 19, in the year 1900, at the Polo Grounds in the upper reaches of Manhattan on an occasion when, as was his wont, McGraw made an ass of himself.
Inasmuch as people at that time were more correct and less impatient than they would be a hundred years later, that summer of 1900 was taken as the last year of an old century rather than the first of a new one. For purposes of symbolism this was good, for it wouldn't be until two years later, in the genuinely new twentieth century, that McGraw and Mathewson would start to work together in New York, there to have such a profound effect upon their sport that they would raise it to a new eminence in the first city of the land, and then beyond, into Americana.
How odd it was, too, how much Mathewson and McGraw achieved together, for never were two men in sport so close to one another and yet so far apart in ilk and personality. Well, maybe that was why they were good for baseball, because they offered us both sides of the coin. Mathewson was golden, tall, and handsome, kind and educated, our beau ideal, the first all-American boy to emerge from the field of play, while McGraw was hardscrabble shanty Irish, a pugnacious little boss who would become the model for the classic American coach--a male version of the whore with a heart of gold--the tough, flinty so-and-so who was field-smart, a man's man his players came to love despite themselves. Every American could want to be Christy Mathewson; every American could admire John J. McGraw.
Nevertheless, that midsummer's day at the Polo Grounds, when the two young men first saw each other, it was not a formal meeting. McGraw might not have even noticed Mathewson, who was what was then called a "debutante"--a raw rookie, just arrived in the National League only a week or so beforehand. Still only nineteen years old, the pitcher had enjoyed an absolutely spectacular tenure at Norfolk in the Virginia League. There, in barely half a season, he had won twenty games while losing only two. The Giants had paid the princely sum of fifteen hundred dollars to purchase young Mathewson, but his initial appearance two days previous, on Tuesday, July 17, had been an abject disaster. At Washington Park in Brooklyn, against the defending champion Superbas, he was sent in to relieve Ed Doheny who, according to one unforgiving newspaper account, "hardly had the strength to get the ball to the plate." Well, to give the devil his due, it was estimated to be 110 degrees down on the diamond. Notwithstanding, the last straw for Doheny was when he allowed a Brooklyn runner to steal third "while he was collecting his thoughts and looking for a breeze."
Out went the call to bring in the "phenom" from the bull pen. Several reporters noted that Mathewson showed some speed, but alas, nothing else. In his first full inning, he gave up five runs. Altogether, in a bit more than three innings pitched, he hit three batters, threw a wild pitch, and allowed four hits while watching his woebegone teammates "go up in the air," butchering various routine chances.
The latter was, however, standard procedure for the Giants. Of special note was the third baseman, "Piano Legs" Charley Hickman, who set a season's record for errors at the hot corner--ninety-one--a mark in ignominy that survives to this day. But then, the New-Yorks were an all-around terrible team, a "baseball menagerie," in last place with a 23-43 record. Newspapers seemed to all but keep in type such headlines as: NEW-YORKS BEATEN AS USUAL and SECOND CLASS BASEBALL IN HARLEM. Indeed, Mathewson had been given a choice by the Norfolk owner--who also had offers from Philadelphia and Cincinnati for his young star--and Matty had chosen New York precisely because the Giants were so weak. Indeed, so dreadful was the team that few observers could bring themselves to call such diamond pygmies Giants. More often they were referred to as the "Harlemites," in recognition of their locale, or the "Tammany Hall team" in honor of their owner, Andrew Freedman, who was an important operative in that corrupt machine. Thus, while Mathewson had correctly concluded that his chances to play would be better in New York, the Harlemites were far worse and more star-crossed than he could possibly have bargained for.