Christopher Mathewson is a familiar name around the Bucknell campus. A member of the class of 1902, "Christy" made a name for himself both at Bucknell and beyond. The Factoryville, Pa., native was one of the five original inductees in the National Baseball Hall of Fame — alongside Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Babe Ruth — after an impressive career bouncing back and forth between the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds. He was widely regarded as both the greatest pitcher of his time and the man who brought gentlemanliness to the sport of baseball. He set the standard for those who played after him in many ways.
Mathewson met his future wife, Jane Stoughton Mathewson, a student at the Bucknell Institute, while at his alma mater, and their son, Christopher Jr. '27, continued the Bucknell legacy. Though Mathewson played baseball and basketball at Bucknell, he was best known around campus for football prowess. Mathewson was always a leader and this was reflected in his time at Bucknell — as class historian his first year and class president his junior year. Mathewson also played bass in the University Band and sang with the glee club. His talent and versatility extended beyond his college years when he became a published author of several young adult novels, which focused on his beloved baseball. He also authored Pitching in a Pinch, which Bowling Green State University math professor Jim Albert '75 recently used to demonstrate a method of text mining. | Read his post on this topic here.
Mathewson unquestionably earned his spot in the Hall of Fame. Known as "Big Six" after being compared to the New York City Big Six Fire Company — the fastest responders — he is credited with inventing his iconic fadeaway pitch, now called a screwball. He started his career with a 20-win season and only got better from there. Between 1903 and 1905 he had three consecutive seasons with 30 wins. His best season came in 1908 with 37 wins, 11 of which were shutouts. Eventually Mathewson realized he was aging and quit while he was ahead. He remained involved as manager of the Cincinnati Reds and president of the Boston Braves.
The outbreak of World War I, and his subsequent enlistment as a captain in the Chemical Warfare Service, ultimately doomed Mathewson. He interrupted his baseball career to ship overseas to France, where he was exposed to mustard gas during a training exercise. Upon returning home in February 1919, he developed lung problems that were diagnosed as tuberculosis, likely a result of the gas exposure. He attempted to go on with life as usual, assistant managing the Reds and later managing the Giants, but he was unable to recover. On Oct. 7, 1925, Christy Mathewson died at age 45. The loss of this outstanding man was felt by friends, former classmates and baseball fans across the country.
His legacy is perhaps most palpable at Bucknell, where the football stadium is named the Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. Originally dedicated in 1924 to all Bucknell alumni who served in any capacity in World War I, the stadium was rededicated in 1989 to also honor Mathewson. The gateway leading to the stadium already had been constructed in his honor through donations from every Major League baseball team. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, led the dedication ceremony for the gateway in 1928.
Considering the Mathewsons' ties to Bucknell, it is no surprise that his wife Jane chose to have Christy buried in Lewisburg — her hometown and the setting of the start of their romance. Today, the whole Mathewson family is laid to rest beneath a large stone monument bearing their family name, just to the right of the main pathway in the Lewisburg Cemetery. Each family member also has a smaller, personal marker with his or her name and, in the case of Christy and Christopher Jr., a small metal ornament indicating their service in the armed forces. It seems fitting that Christy is buried a short distance from the stadium that now bears his name.
Just a few hundred yards from the Mathewson plot is Bucknell's basketball arena, Sojka Pavilion. In November a group of Bucknell athletics boosters gathered to pay tribute to Mathewson and Betty Cook, a Lewisburg resident who was a friend of Christy's wife, Jane, in her later years. Cook attended Baseball Hall of Fame inductions with Jane Mathewson and after Jane's death continued to be invited as a surrogate for the Mathewson family. Also attending the tribute event were Linda Ruth Tossetti, the granddaughter of Babe Ruth, whom Cook met through Hall of Fame events; and Sarah Jane "Salty" Sands Ferguson, who in the 1950s played for the Rockford Peaches, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team featured in A League of Their Own.