Tinker vs. Matty: A Study in Rivalry

This article was written by Art Ahrens

This article was published in 1974 Baseball Research Journal

From an article on Christy Mathewson in the 1963 Turkin-Thompson Baseball Encyclopedia, we read that “Matty was anathema to most hitters in the league but to the weak hitting Joe Tinker he was just another pitcher.”  And Samuel Weller, a sportswriter of the early 1900’s, had this to say in the Chicago Tribune of September 29, 1911:

    If Joe Tinker had decided to stay in Kansas instead of playing professional ball, Christy Mathewson would have been a still greater hero.  Joe has spoiled many a record for the great New York twirler, probably more than any other three clouters in the National League.  Matty would rather pitch a game against a whole team of Wagners than against the Cubs with Tinker in the lineup.

How was it that a .262 lifetime batter remembered chiefly for his fielding ability could seemingly hit so well against a pitching genius who won 373 games, posting 20 or more victories 13 times?  Or was Tinker’s alleged ability to hit Mathewson really more of a legend than fact?  Matty himself explained it this way in Pearson’s Magazine of May 1911:

    Joe Tinker, the clever little shortstop of the Chicago club, is a man with whom I have fought many battles of wits, and I am glad to acknowledge that he has come out of the fuss with flying colors on many occasions.  There was a time when Tinker was putty in my hands.  For two years he was the least dangerous man on the Chicago team.  His weakness was a low curve on the outside, and I fed him low curves so often that I had him looking like an invalid every time he came to the plate.  Then Joseph went home one night and did a little deep thinking.  He got a nice long bat and took his stand at least a foot farther from the plate, and then he had me.   If I kept the ball on the inside edge of the plate he was in a splendid position to meet it, and if I tried to keep my offerings on the outside, he had plenty of time to `step into `em.’   From that day on, Tinker became one of the most dangerous batters I have ever faced, not because his natural hitting ability had increased, but because he didn’t propose to let the pitcher do all the `out-guessing.’

Research into the subject tends to bear out the accuracy of Matty’s contention, as well as providing beneficial insight into what was probably the best-known pitcher versus batter rivalry of the pre-World War I era.

Joe Tinker joined the Cubs, at that time still more commonly known as the “Colts”, at the start of the 1902 season, at which time Christy Mathewson was beginning his second full season with the Giants, three months before the arrival of John McGraw.  The two first played opposite each other on May 7 of that year, in a game at Chicago.   In three at bats before the “Big Six”, Tinker made one single which did not figure in the scoring.   The iron-armed Jack Taylor over-powered the Giants 4-0 in a game which was later invalidated after league officials upheld a Giant protest that Taylor had been pitching from in front of the rubber.

During the Chicago shortstop’s first four years in the National League, the New York ace was more often than not in command of the situation.   By 1904 the Giants had become the moat powerful club in the league and the Cubs their primary rival.  It was at this time, also, that Christy’s mastery over Tinker reached its peak, as the latter scraped out but two hits in 30 times at bat against him in 1904, and none in 16 tries the following year.   On June 13, 1905, Matty no-hit the Cubs, Tinker included, by a 1-0 score over Mordecai Brown.

In 1906, however, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction and fortunes improved not only for the Cubs but for Tinker as well.   By this tine the Cubs, under Frank Chance, had put together a juggernaut which even McGraw’s mighty New Yorkers could not stop as the lean and hungry westerners rang up a record 116 wins, leaving the Giants 20 games behind in second place.  But even more humiliating to John McGraw was the fact the Chicago team had taken 15 of 21 decisions against “his boys”, Tinker’s .400 batting average against Mathewson being no small factor in the record.    During an 11-run Cub first inning on June 7, 1906, it was Joe’s double which sent Matty to the earliest shower of his career, as Chicago went on to humble New York by a 19-0 score.

The next season witnessed much of the same thing as Tinker knocked Matty’s curves for a .364 pace as Chicago took its second flag in succession.   This time the Cubs pushed the Giants to third place in the standings, whipping them in 16 of the 22 season contests.    Only once that year could Mathewson hold Tinker completely at bay.  That was on July 20,  1907, when he edged the Cubs 1-0 on a sparkling three-hitter,  the shortstop going hitless in three trips to the plate.

In the meantime, Mathewson had also developed a going rivalry with Cub pitcher Mordecai Brown, this coming as an inevitable offshoot of the Cub-Giant struggle for supremacy during these years.   Many of their confrontations became classics among ballfield dramas in which, needless to say, Tinker played many a vital supporting role.   One of the finest of these (from Tinker’s standpoint at least) occurred at Chicago’s West Side park on July 17, 1908, the year in which both Brown and Mathewson reached their top effectiveness.   In this contest the Cubs’ three-fingered genius shut out the Giants 1-0 on six scattered safeties while Matty, who allowed only 7 hits to the Cubs, made but one mistake, that coming in the fifth inning when he served s soft one to Tinker. He promptly walloped it out to centerfield for an inside-the-park home run, beating Cy Seymour’s throw to the plate.

The hectic 1908 pennant race, of course, is a story in itself.   Every school kid knows how, in the ninth inning of the September 23 Cub-Giant contest, Fred Merkle’s failure to touch second base as Moose McCormick crossed the plate on Art Devlin’s single deprived the Giants of an apparent 2-1 victory as Cub second baseman Johnny Evers, having retrieved the ball hit by Devlin (or one just as good, anyway), tagged second base to force Merkle (who had long since headed for the Giants’ clubhouse) and end the inning.   By this time, however, it was impossible to continue playing as an angry Polo Grounds mob had swarmed the field, ready to hang Evers and umpire Hank O’Day to the nearest lamppost.   The game was ultimately ruled a 1-1 draw, to be replayed later if it were to be a determining factor in the outcome of the pennant race.

The event mentioned above, of course, is common knowledge.   What is not generally remembered, however, is that Tinker’s fifth inning home run off Matty had given Chicago its only run.  Had it not been for this blast, the game may well have ended in a 1-0 New York victory.

Came October 8, 1908.   By this time Pittsburgh had been eliminated from the race, while Chicago and New York had finished the season in a dead tie, necessitating the replay of the tied game in what was, in effect, baseball’s first pennant play-off.   Once again the scene was the Polo Grounds and once again John McGraw gave the pitching assignment to Christy, hoping that he could at last shake the Tinker jinx and re-capture the championship and all its glory for New York.  But such was not to be the case.

The affair began well enough for the Giants, McGraw’s men taking a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.  But Matty could hold it only until the third frame, when with one away, Tinker smashed one of his fastballs to centerfield for s triple.  The Cubs rallied, of course, and the rest is history as Chicago won the game 4-2, and the pennant along with it, thanks in no small part to Tinker’s timely drive.

As the years went on, Tinker continued to use Matty for a clay pigeon, hitting him for a .556 average in 1910 as the Cubs snatched up their fourth pennant in five years.  But, perhaps ironically, Joe was not to enjoy his most productive day against Christy until 1911, by which time the Cubs, their brilliance beginning to tarnish with age, dropped to second place as the Giants, with a young and speedy squad, brought New York its first flag in six years.

But the Giants’ monumental drive meant nothing to Tinker when they pulled into Chicago on August 7, 1911.  On that long since forgotten afternoon, Tinker, in four times at bat, singled twice, doubled and tripled, driving in four runs and scoring three as the Cubs beat Matty 8-6.  To pile insult upon injury, he stole home once and executed two double plays, the Chicago Tribune commenting the following morning that “Tinker broke all his own records for breaking up games with New York. . .”  Incidentally the winning Cub pitcher was Matty’s other greet rival, Mordecai Brown.

Thereafter, however, the feud became more or less anti-climactic.  By 1913 the Giants were on their way to their third consecutive league championship and Mathewson on his way to his 11th straight 20-game winning season.  Tinker, by now, was player-manager of the then hapless Cincinnati Reds, having been traded to that club during the previous winter.  In a new uniform, Joe still hit Matty as if he owned him, but even Tinker’s bat could not prevent him from taking five out of five against the Reds that season.

By going undefeated against Tinker’s Reds in 1913, the Bucknell University gentleman had, in one sense at least, gained a bit of revenge against the Kansas farm boy who had so often befuddled him, for they were never to face each other as pitcher and batter thereafter.  Jumping to the Chicago Whales of the Federal League the following year, Tinker managed and played shortstop (his Whales finishing second and first in 1914 and 1915, respectively.  But his first season with the Whales was to be his last as a regular, his playing ability never fully returning after he suffered a broken rib.  In the meantime, Mathewson, after winning 24 games in 1914, fell to 7-15 the next season.   His star too, was beginning to set.

By 1916 Tinker, at age 36, was back with the Cubs as player-manager while Matty, also 36, had been traded to his one-time patsies, the Reds.  Three-Finger Brown, like Tinker, had also returned to the Cubs after a four-year absence, including two seasons in the ill-fated Federal circuit.  Adding a final postscript to their feud, Mathewson faced Brown in Chicago on September 4, 1916 as a gate attraction for the second match of a Labor Day double-header.   Tinker, however, did not play, choosing to watch from the bench as Matty outlasted Brown, 10-8 in the last game either one of them would ever pitch.  Appropriately, it was to be the last season for Tinker as well, Joe hanging up his spikes after his Cubs finished a poor fifth.

Between the years 1902-1912 inclusive, when Tinker was the heart of the Cub infield, Matty’s record against the Chicagoans totaled 33 wins, 32 losses, and two ties.  In the 1902-1905 period Christy won 16 of 24 decisions from the Cubs, during which time Tinker could only hit his pitches for a .146 average; from 1906 through 1913, however, Joe blasted him for a .379 mark.   During this time Matty was 17-24 against the Cubs from 1906 through 1912, and 5-0 against the Reds in 1913.   Listed below is a yearly summary of Tinker’s batting totals (at bats, hits, and averages) against Mathewson, compared to his yearly averages against the league as a whole from 1902 through 1913.

Against Mathewson


Against League


































































































































When the famous 1894 Philadelphia NL outfield is mentioned, the one gardener who played the full schedule frequently gets ignored because he had the lowest batting average.  Billy Hamilton played 129 games in the outfield and batted .404. Sam Thompson played 99 games and batted .407; Ed Delahanty, who played 88 games in the outfield and also filled in at first base, batted .407; and Tuck Turner, the substitute outfielder, played 78 games in the garden and batted .416.  A fabulous collection of hitters!