SABR

Henry Mathewson

This article was written by Mike Piazzi.

Even the most casual of baseball fans are aware of Christy Mathewson’s on-field accomplishments, but the baseball career of his younger brother Henry Mathewson is less than common knowledge. And while the events leading to the death of the famous “Matty” have been told several times, few know of the tragic life of Henry or of the depth of tragedy in the Mathewson family.

Factoryville, Pennsylvania, is a mostly agricultural area located 15 miles north the bustling coal mining area of Scranton in the northeast corner of the state. It was here that Gilbert and Minerva Mathewson settled to raise their family. Gilbert, a civil war veteran, was a barkeeper. Minerva Capwell was the daughter of a Baptist minister and had been engaged to marry Gilbert’s brother, but her intended suffered a tragic death while travelling in the American west. Gilbert gave up the bar to appease Minerva, who was the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union leader.

Christopher was the first-born child in 1880, and was named after an uncle. Cyril was born in 1881, but did not survive infancy. The Mathewsons had their first daughter, Christine, in 1882. Henry arrived on Christmas Eve in 1886 and was named after Gilbert’s father. A second daughter was born in 1888 and given the name Jane. The youngest child, Nicholas, was born in 1890. All of the Mathewson children were raised stressing the ideals of religion, chores on the family farm, education and athletics. Several newspaper and magazine articles that detail the raising of young Christy tell of Minerva’s urgency that the children honor the Sabbath, but these accounts may be more anecdotal than factual.

It is said that it was Minerva who taught the Mathewson children how to throw. Gilbert was away for extended periods of time serving as the post master at the U.S. Senate. Minerva taught the children a game called “Halley Over”, in which a child threw a ball over the roof of the barn while another child waited to catch the ball on the other side of the barn.

Henry followed his older brother’s example in all facets of life. He was a constant “tag-along” for his older brother, and as a result he often played with boys who were older than he was. He played baseball in the towns around Factoryville, including playing for Keystone Academy, a Baptist preparatory school that was built on Minerva’s father’s estate land. Henry went on to attend Bucknell University as had Christy. At 6’3” and slightly taller than his brother, “Hank” was more jovial than Christy and was quick to make friends. Henry was not as graceful as Christy, nor did he have the work ethic that Christy was known for. Like Christy, Henry was a right-handed pitcher and about to break into the major leagues as the youngest player in both leagues at the age of nineteen.

In the spring of 1906, the Chicago National League Base Ball Club desired Henry as a member of their team, but “Hank” refused the offer, preferring to join his brother with the New York Giants. Perhaps with some twisting of his arm by Christy, Manager John McGraw extended an invitation to Henry to join the Giants’ spring training camp in Marlin, Texas. It may also have been that Christy was ill with diphtheria for a good part of the season, and McGraw figured that he needed a Mathewson in the ranks to sell tickets.

Hank’s young battery mate was a different “Matty,” Matthew Fitzgerald of Albany, New York, who appeared in 11 games over 2 years with the Giants in 1906 and 1907 before being released. With Henry’s name inked to an agreement with the Giants, the newspapers took notice of the younger Mathewson. Headlines, the like of which proclaimed the coming of the next “Matty”, started appearing in New York and were taken up by other papers across the country due to the popularity of the elder Mathewson. This attention from the press would continue to follow Hank throughout his career.

While there may not have been much excitement in the southern portion of spring training, Henry certainly found excitement upon his arrival in New York. Henry and fellow young pitcher Cecil Ferguson were captivated by the New York skyline as seen from the New Jersey shore. The veterans on the team had to corral the youngsters to make sure that the two made it onto the ferry safely. A few nights later, after seeing their names in the city’s newspaper and feeling a little cosmopolitan, Cecil and Hank decided to head to the bright lights of Broadway from their quarters on 126th Street. Upon their return home, they got off the subway at 125th Street and Broadway. Not seeing any recognizable landmarks, the pair started walking aimlessly and became hopelessly lost. They had to hire a cab to deliver them to their home. Arriving home, they discovered that their teammates had noticed the disappearance of the boys, and sounded the alarm to begin a search. As a result, McGraw assigned chaperones; with catcher William “Doc” Marshall being in charge of handling Henry and pitcher Joe McGinnity responsible for Cecil’s passage through the streets of New York until the two could be educated as to how to navigate the subway system.

The younger Mathewson was largely ineffective in the exhibition games, even against college competition. As a result, Hank was assigned to the Giants’ bench to observe and gain experience. Family in high places among the Giants apparently had its privileges. The members of the 1905 championship team were photographed for a series of cabinet cards bearing the images of the players at the Polo Grounds with the words “World Champions” printed across the bottom of the cards. Hank was photographed for this series even though he spent 1905 back in Factoryville.

Although he did not make the Giants, Hank gained experience playing in the New York boroughs. In May of 1906, he was pitching for the Newburgs, reported to be one of the “fastest” of the semi-professional teams in Greater New York. Matthew Fitzgerald, the young catcher working out with the Giants in Texas, was Henry’s battery mate. “Hank” also took the mound for the All-Nationals, a team based in Brooklyn composed of young men trying to make the majors leagues and men who had been cut from major league squads and were trying to cling to a living in baseball. The press, particularly the Brooklyn Standard Union, made steady practice of announcing the locations of Mathewson’s appearances, referencing Henry’s relationship with the famous Giants twirler, and gave predictions for Henry’s future with the Giants. The Auburn Citizen proclaimed on July 25:

“Mathewson has not been pitching any ball for the Giants recently, but he has not been idle by any means. On the contrary, he has been very industriously engaged in pitching good ball against men who know how to hit and play a game that is second only to that of the big leaguers. Mathewson has been pitching for the strong semi-professional teams in this vicinity, and his work has been excellent in all respects. He has been letting his opponents down for five and six hits to a game, and has shown a command of the ball, a speed and an assortment of shoots that have baffled the hitters he has faced.

“In the Philadelphia Quaker Giants, Mathewson has faced about as dangerous a lot of hitters as can be found outside of the major leagues, and the youngster had little difficulty in deceiving such good hitters as Patterson, the team captain, and Munroe, the great third baseman.”

Manager McGraw made sure that Henry had some oversight from someone who understood young pitchers. He procured the services of a veteran who not only knew how to handle young pitchers, but how to handle young Mathewsons. Alexander Smith was a teammate of McGraw’s when McGraw was the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. “Broadway Aleck” had handled Christy when he got off to his slow start in 1900, and McGraw asked Smith to work with Hank as well as Cecil Ferguson. Although he was 35 and appeared in only 16 games, Smith was considered a smart acquisition as he was a good utility player and popular with the other players.

In September, with the local semi-pro circuit finished for the season and the Giants firmly entrenched in second place with no hope of overcoming the leaders, Henry Mathewson was summoned to join the Giants. On September 28, the older Mathewson held the Cardinals to one run over eight innings while the Giant batters pounded rookie Fred Beebe for 8 runs. McGraw sent Henry to the mound to finish off the game. In what must have been a thrill for the Mathewson brothers, Henry closed out the game allowing an unearned run in an 8 to 2 victory.

October 5 was the last game of the season and McGraw handed the ball over to “Hank” to start his first major league game against Fred Tenney’s men from Boston. Broadway Aleck Smith completed the battery. The Giants had few regulars in the lineup and did not field well behind Mathewson, while Boston was almost flawless. The main story of the game was Mathewson’s inability to throw strikes. The New York Press reported, “Young Matty was hit only five times, but that was because he didn't get the ball near enough to the plate for the Beaneaters to reach it.” Mathewson gave up a record 13 walks in a 7 -1 complete game loss.

To keep in shape over the winter, Mathewson participated in an indoor baseball game. He joined a New York-based team captained by Tim Jordan, first baseman of the Brooklyn Superbas, versus Johnny Evers’s Albany, NY team. Cubs owner Charles Murphy was Evers’ guest at the event, where he witnessed what was described as a “hot game,” with Evers victorious over the pitching of the young man that Chicago had coveted.

Even with his poor performance to end the season, Henry was placed on the Giants’ reserve player list for the 1907 season. McGraw chose to take his team to Los Angeles for spring training, believing that the warm southern California weather would more than offset the difficulties of traveling 8,000 miles by rail. Twenty-four players who had been issued contracts, including the Mathewson brothers, made the trip to the west coast. After two weeks of hard practice, exhibition games were arranged between inter-squad units and collegiate teams. The rainy weather and delayed trains on an excursion to San Francisco cost the Giants some needed practice time, and illness sidelined several players, including Henry. In Los Angeles, Mathewson gave a colorful interview to the Los Angeles Herald in which he boasted of a way to ensure his financial security. He told the Herald of his plans to teach baseball by correspondence. “It’s a sure money maker. There are lots of young fellows who think that all they need is a little coaching in order to break into league baseball. You send them an attractive circular, with a full prospective of your plans, announcing that you’ve got a full staff of league players for your faculty- why there’s nothing to it. They’d just reach out and grab it. And then all you’d have to do is rake in the coin. You could give ‘em their money’s worth, too. All you’d have to do would be to keep ‘em practicing, and that’s all anybody could do for ‘em anyway.”

The return trip back east involved several stops across the south where the Giants played exhibitions games against teams of the Southern League. The biggest impression that “Hank” made was on Roger Bresnahan, but it was not a positive one. Henry swung a bat and hit Bresnahan in the jaw, knocking out four teeth. It was on the trip east that McGraw announced that several of the young Giant hopefuls, including Henry, were to be farmed to the minor leagues.

Although he was about to be released, Mathewson did appear in one game for the Giants in 1907 before McGraw could work out a deal to move the young player. On May 3, George Wiltse pitched 8 near-perfect innings against the Superbas, giving up only one infield hit. Wiltse gave way to Hank for the ninth inning. After giving up a leadoff hit, Mathewson retired the next three batters without incident to finish a 10 - 0 win. Hank’s major league career closed out with appearances in 3 games for a total of 11 innings. He allowed six earned runs on eight hits, but his fatal flaw was his lack of control resulting in 14 walks. The Macon Telegraph announced Henry’s sendoff with the humorous quip, “After faithful and valiant service to the Giants, Hank Mathewson, brother of Christy, has been turned loose. Hank was a very valuable pitcher for New York, and was indispensable consulting time-tables on a railroad train.” Regarding Henry’s release, Manager McGraw stated, “Pitching talent was hardly an inherited Mathewson trait.”

After he cleared waivers, several minor league teams negotiated for Mathewson’s services, including Nashville of the Southern League and a Connecticut State League team. Mathewson was released to the Wilmington Peaches, a Delaware member of the Tri-State League, with the hope that after some improvement, Hank could be recalled to the Giants. Unfortunately, he failed to excel and he was released by Wilmington. He made appearances that summer with Pottsville of the Atlantic League and the Orange Valley Athletic Club in New Jersey. The Evening Times reported, “Hank failed in only three leagues last season- the National, the Tri-State, and the Atlantic.”

Frustrated by his poor performance, Mathewson decided to give up baseball at the conclusion of the 1907 season. He returned to Factoryville and took a position in the automobile industry in Scranton. But he did not return to Factoryville alone. Henry had married Marie Egan on October 23 in Manhattan. On April 1, 1908, the couple greeted the arrival of their first child, a daughter which they named Minerva after Henry’s mother.

By spring of 1908, Mathewson had a change of heart. He signed a contract with the Giants, except this time it is with the Sharon, PA affiliate of the Ohio-Pennsylvania league. The season got off to a rocky start. In May, Mathewson was off the mound due to a wrist sprain incurred while sliding. In late June, Mathewson was forced to return to Factoryville to recover from malaria. In early July, the owners of the Sharon team were at odds with each other and the team was at risk of disbanding. Ownership patched the team back together and recalled Mathewson from Factoryville, where he had been working to stay in shape. However, on July 12, the team gave Mathewson his release. It was his lack of control that again caused his demise. Mathewson finished the summer in the Bronx with various independent teams, including the All-Professionals, which played teams such as Holland’s Colored Giants.

As the summer of 1908 was coming to a close, the Savannah Indians of the South Atlantic League signed Mathewson to pitch for them next year. A return to an organized league may have been just the break he needed. Unfortunately, tragedy was about to strike the Mathewson family.

Nicholas was the youngest Mathewson sibling, and at one time had been considered a more promising pitcher than both older brothers. Nicholas was a favorite of John McGraw, who would send used uniforms and equipment to Nick. Being able to distribute these items around Factoryville made Nick a popular fellow with Factoryville’s youngsters. Nicholas was also a right-handed pitcher and the star of the team at Keystone Academy, but after that his path diverged from that of his brothers. The Detroit Tigers, under McGraw’s friend Hughie Jennings, were interested in obtaining the youngest Mathewson pitcher with an offer of $3,000, but Gilbert Mathewson turned down the offer, thinking that his son was too young. Instead of attending college at Bucknell, Nick went off to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. During his first fall at Lafayette, Nicholas became ill and returned home before the semester ended. While recuperating at home, he became anxious that he was falling behind in his work at school. His family did not realize how much he was suffering mentally. One afternoon shortly after the turn of the New Year, Nick headed out of the family home. He climbed into the loft of the barn, wrote a cryptic note, and raised a pistol to his head. As the day became late, his concerned family began to search for him. Gilbert discovered his son’s body in the loft. Nicholas was rushed to a hospital in Scranton, but too much damage had been done and his life could not be spared. News papers confused the Mathewson brothers; some papers had reported that it was Henry who had committed suicide.

Come spring, the Mathewsons turned to baseball to ease their grief. Christy turned in his career-highest winning percentage and lowest ERA. Henry’s season would be another futile battle. He signed with Savannah and got off to an ominous start when he missed the steamship from New York to Savannah. Once arriving in camp, Hank’s season progressed well as he arrived in good form. It was not too long, however, before he sustained an injury and was missing playing time in early June. He subsequently had an operation in a Savannah hospital for varicose veins, after which he was expected to miss a couple weeks of play. He was unable to recuperate at a rate that satisfied the Savannah team, and they gave him his release. In late June, Mathewson had recovered sufficiently to be signed by the Jackson Jays of the South Atlantic League. It is not clear if he ever played a game for the Jays.

Henry finished the 1909 season in a different type of uniform. President Jones of the South Atlantic League was in need of an umpire, so Mathewson took the position to earn a salary. On one occasion, Mathewson’s decisions seem to have gotten the best of his former team, Savannah. The Augusta Chronicle gave the following details: “The ground was sloppy, the field under water and the bases under water; and Hank Mathewson, who was the assistant umpire, was worse than the bases. He took the wind out of Savannah’s sails on one decision that night that might has resulted disastrously for Castro and left the Savannah team with the feeling that follows the purchase of a gold brick.”

Mathewson found himself back in a player’s uniform following the 1909 season. In January 1910, he made a tour of upstate New York cities including Rochester and Ogdensburg. Christy, George Wiltse, Hal Chase, along with other major league players and several players from the minor ranks, rounded out an indoor team and took on military teams in armories in front of sizable crowds.

That summer, Henry found positions in the Cactus League affiliates in Douglas, AZ and El Paso, TX. While playing in Texas, Mathewson was scouted by Alexander Downey, manager of the Oklahoma City Mets of the Texas League for the 1911 season. At this time, Mathewson had given up on pitching and played as an outfielder. It was his batting that attracted the attention of Downey, as Hank had the second highest batting average in the Cactus League. Henry and Marie welcome a second daughter, which they named Grace, on September 2, 1910.

In the winter between his stints of playing in the west, Mathewson again joined in some indoor baseball. This time the contests were held in the 71st Regiment Armory of the New York State Militia in New York City. This was the first time that outdoor baseball rules applied to an indoor game. The participants were the New York Nationals and the Newark Eastern League team. The players included George Wiltse, Fred Merkle, Larry Doyle, Hal Chase, Heinie Zimmerman, Joe McGinnity and several players from the Newark minor league club. The players were dispersed between the units so that major and minor leaguers were on both teams. Hank Mathewson played for the Nationals. Arlie Latham acted as the arbiter for the contests.

The United States Census information for 1910 indicates the extent to which Henry Mathewson moved according to where employment opportunities were. He was listed in Factoryville, PA, living with his parents and two sisters. He was listed in Douglas, AZ, rooming with another professional ball player named Redford who was age 29.  Henry was also listed in the Bronx, NY, living in his widowed mother-in-law's apartment at 1338 Franklin Ave. The household consisted of Henry, his wife Marie, age 23; daughter Minerva, age 2; Marie's three siblings, and his mother-in-law, Mary Egan. All three listings have him as 23 years old, married for three years, and with the occupation of professional ball player.

In January 1911, Mathewson again played indoor ball, this time joining promoter John J. McGrath’s All-Star indoor team. The All-Stars was composed of several of the same players as the previous teams, including Wiltse, Zimmerman, and Rube Waddell, who didn’t fail to amuse the onlookers. The opposition on January 18 was Company L of the Elmira, NY Armory. On January 19, they were opposed by the 42nd Armory team in Niagara Falls.

Henry was unable to secure a position with Oklahoma City. As a result, he had to settle for finding work with multiple semi-pro teams in the New York City area. Among these was Joe Wall’s All-Leaguers. Wall had been a teammate of Christy’s with the Giants in 1901 and 1902. When Mathewson returned to New York, he resumed his customary position on the mound.

Another team that featured Mathewson in the summer of 1911 was Dan Brouthers’ Colts. Brouthers, after a 19-year big league career, had organized a semi-pro team that used Saratoga Park on the corner of Broadway and Halsey Streets in Brooklyn as its baseball home. The Colts (who also used the name Dexters when they played at Dexter Park on Jamaica and Drew avenues in Cypress Hills) drew large crowds as a result of headlines such as “Mathewson Pitching Today”. But the attention received from having a Mathewson on the mound was not enough to save the team. The Colts folded after the 1911 season, and Saratoga Park was formally closed in 1912.

It’s unlikely that Henry made enough money playing baseball for these semi-pro teams. Being young and of substantial strength, he may have had a job as a laborer in order to support his family. It is possible that he found work digging holes for fence posts or telephone poles. It is worth noting that the advertisements for the games in which he appears indicate that the contests are held on Sundays since the players were under obligation with their employers on the other days of the week. Henry’s only option to play ball was to ignore his mother’s wishes that he not play on the Sabbath. The following advertisement appeared in the September 2, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Standard:

HANK MATHEWSON OPEN
FOR TWIRLING ENGAGEMENTS

Hank Mathewson is available for any
Engagements Sunday and Labor Day.
Henry Mathewson, 969 Fox Street, Bronx

Besides advertising his own services for any team willing to hire him, Henry was also known to field his own team.

Mathewson was again engaged in semi-professional baseball in 1912. He had engagements with the Haverstraws as well as the New York Edisons. The Edisons competed with some of the best semi-pro teams within 100 miles of New York City. Several utility companies fielded teams to compete in this league, including the Brooklyn Edison Company, Philadelphia Electric Company, United Gas and Improvement Company of Philadelphia, and the General Electric Company of Schenectady, NY. Mathewson’s Edison team was victorious in the championship of the league. The Mathewson household was joined by a third daughter, Regina, on August 29, 1912.

In 1913 Henry bounced around several leagues. In the winter months, he played with McGrath’s Indoor Giants in Rochester, NY. He made a return to organized baseball when he was signed by Rome, NY of the Empire League, but the team was short-lived due to financial failure. He was then signed by Kingston of the New York-New Jersey League to play first base. Kingston cut Mathewson in early August. He returned to New York City and rejoined the New York Edisons in defending their title from the previous summer, and when able he would play for the New Lots and the Haverstraws. If the previous teams did not have an engagement, he would field the Hank Mathewson’s All-Nationals, which consisted of players like him looking to make a living playing ball. He was scraping out a meager living and trying to play as much as possible.

Henry’s fourth daughter, Helen, was born in 1914. At this time, newspapers stated that Henry was signed by the New England League affiliate in Lowell, Massachusetts, along with the brother of Smoky Joe Wood, but Mathewson never reported to Lowell. Instead, he stayed in New York making appearances with the Bronx Minor Leaguers, which competed in the same league as the Edison team Henry had previously played for. He also appeared with the Heinie Batch’s Rustlers. Emil Batch was with the Brooklyn Superbas from 1904 to 1907, performing mostly as an outfielder and third baseman. The Rustlers would take on all challengers, including the New York Colored Giants. Another team that Mathewson would appear with was the New York Professionals, which included several former Giants, including Art Devlin.

The 1915 New York census stated that the Mathewsons had their own household in New York City. Henry’s occupation on the census is listed as “railroad inspector’. This year Mathewson found himself with Larry McLain’s All-Stars. This team appeared in indoor and outdoor games in the New York City area. Henry was also a member of the Hunts Point Athletics, so named because their home field was located in the Hunts Point neighborhood of a peninsula in the South Bronx. At the close of the 1915 season, Mathewson was awarded a silver cup for his performance as the best player in the Inter-borough Baseball League. The cup was presented to him by Harry N. Hempstead, president of the New York Giants and son-in-law of John T. Brush.

The fall of 1915 found Mathewson performing in a slightly different capacity. Henry took to the stage at the Regent Theater Airdrome on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Halsey Street in New York City. His role was to impersonate Grover Cleveland Alexander’s movements in the World’s Baseball Series that was taking place between Philadelphia and Boston. It was the 1915 version of “live-feed,” with events of the games telegraphed to the theater and the actions of each batter and fielder reproduced on the stage. Admission to the performance at the 1,000 seat theater was twenty-five cents.

Mathewson faced a more vicious opponent off the baseball field in 1916. Tuberculosis, also called consumption at the time, had reached an epidemic state in the 19th and early 20th century, and was known mostly as a disease of the urban poor. Henry, feeling the effects of the respiratory ailment, moved his family to Arizona to take advantage of the fresh air as was common practice. Letters home to Factoryville are full of hope for recovery, but also show an element of desperation as the struggling family asks for financial help in order to purchase land to work. The Mathewsons returned to Factoryville in late June, 1917. They were back in Pennsylvania for a week before Henry succumbed to tuberculosis on July 1 at the age of 30. Henry’s death certificate listed his occupation as “electrician”. His wife, Marie, passed from the same ailment on February 13, 1918 in New York City. Their girls were divided between houses in the family, with Minerva and Grace going to Mathewson family households in Factoryville and Helen and Regina going to Egan family households in New York. Minerva died of tuberculosis on February 11, 1920, and was buried in Factoryville. Grace was taken in by her aunt, Christine. Uncle Christopher provided assistance in making sure that Grace could afford to attend Bucknell and Syracuse Universities. Grace married and died in Florida in 2002. Regina and Helen also lived long, married lives, with Helen passing in Massachusetts in 1990 and Regina in New York in 1993.

Christy Mathewson contracted tuberculosis as a result of his service in Europe during World War I. He died from the disease in 1925. The family endured more tragedy when Christopher Jr., survived a crash in a plane that he was piloting in 1933, but his new bride was killed. He died in 1950 when a spark triggered a butane gas explosion that destroyed his house in San Antonio, Texas.

 

Acknowledgements

The author is thankful to SABR member Eddie Frierson for information that generously shared.

 

Sources

Robinson, Ray. Matty, An American Hero, Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993

Auburn Citizen

Augusta Chronicle

Brooklyn Standard Union

The Daily Herald

Duluth News-Tribune

The Evening Star

Evening Times

Jackson Citizen Patriot

Las Angeles Herald

Macon Telegraph

New York Press

New York Times

New York Tribune

Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle

Sporting Life

Tucson Daily Citizen

Waterville Times

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

Ancestry.com was used to confirm birth, death and marriage information.

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