Matty Changes his Style
As often happens when great pitchers age, their decline is abrupt, rather than gradual. In 1914, Christy Mathewson had a 42-13 record, winning more than 20 games for the 12 th year in a row. In 1915 he struggled against Father Time with an 8-14 mark, as he turned 34. On August 9, 1915 Damon Runyon comments on Mathewson's battle to stay on top of his game, and the spitball had become one of his weapons.
"When the sinews of his renowned right arm first began to creak a little a few years ago, Ol' Chris Mathewson devised ways and means of easing up the strain. He saw the 'smoke' that used to curl from his meteoric slants, back in the halcyon days of his youth, fading to a mighty thin vapor; the jump to his fast ball [sic] fell away to an anemic skip, ands the whiz of his old-time speed died out to a quavering squeak.
"And so Mathewson changed his style. We would not say that he abandoned speed, because speed probably abandoned him first, but he began using an altogether different system than that which he employed in the time when he was the pitching marvel of the baseball world. He adopted a change-of-pace style, and he began letting his fielders do some of the work in the game of baseball, tightening up only when he was in danger.
"There was a period in his career when Matty was just as anxious to strike out all his opponents as [pitcher and New York Giant teammate] Ferdinand Schupp. There was a period when he was mighty proud of his fast ball and loved to throw it past the batsmen. He liked to see just how few hits he could allow the other fellows, and he always pitched at high tension. He had speed to burn in those days and he burned it, but that was a long time ago. For years he has been pitching in ways calculated to carefully husband his slowly waning resources, and he has made craft succeed where once he would just turn on the throttle and watch the haze rise.
"Now it seems, Mathewson has again changed his style. Stories from the correspondents with the Giants in the West indicate that the Old Master has lengthened out his stride in hurling and is using a spitball to some extent. The result is apparently an increase in efficiency. The lengthening of his pitching step is not new, as Matty has simply gone back to a style in that respect which he formerly employed, but the spitball is an innovation with him so far as its use in a championship game is concerned.
"In the Spring training camp at Marlin and in exhibition games Matty is constantly experimenting with spitters and all manners of freak deliveries, and he has often said that he would some day use the moist ball as part of his hurling repertoire, but he never carried out his announced intention until recently. It is claimed he used a spitter against Cincinnati Saturday.
"It has always been a source of wonder to old baseball men that Mathewson has been able to go so many years with his pitching style, which is one of the most wearing styles that ever taxed a hurling frame. He pitches in a manner that requires the greatest possible physical exertion, yet he has lasted twice as long as men who were supposed to have the perfect 'form.' There was 'Bugs' Raymond, for instance, who was pronounced by John J. McGraw and numerous other baseball men as the perfect pitcher in point of style.
"Raymond seemed to pitch from his heels, with a follow-through motion that puts little tax on the frame. He worked as smoothly and as easily as some perfectly adjusted machine. 'The head of Mathewson, the speed of Johnson, the grace of Raymond and the motion of Rube Marquard with men on bases'—there you have one old-timer's summing up of pitching perfection.
"'The head of Mathewson' has been about all that was left of 'Big Six' in some games of recent years, but his consummate craft has risen superior to the grind of time, the wear and tear of his style and everything else. Now that he tucked a few experiments in among his delivery, his admirers hope that they will add another bunch of years to his pitching existence."
For more on Mathewson and his spitter, see the article in the Spitball section of this web site, entitled, "Famous Pitchers Dabbling in the Spitter."