Bobby Mathews

SABR 51: Bobby Mathews selected as SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend of 2023

Bobby MathewsJULY 6, 2023 — Bobby Mathews has been selected as SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend for 2023. The announcement was made on July 6 at the Nineteenth Century Committee’s annual business meeting held during SABR’s 51st Annual Convention in Chicago.

This spring, 201 SABR members submitted their votes for the 2023 Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend — a 19th-century player, manager, executive or other baseball personality not yet inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The ballot consisted of twelve candidates, three from each of four tracks: Players from the Major Leagues (1876–1900), Pioneers/Contributors, Managers/Executives/Umpires, and Black Baseball.

Previous Overlooked Legends were Pete Browning in 2009, Deacon White (2010), Harry Stovey (2011), Bill Dahlen (2012), Ross Barnes (2013), Doc Adams (2014), Tony Mullane (2015), Jack Glasscock (2016), Bob Caruthers (2017), William Hoy (2018), Jim Creighton (2019), Bud Fowler (2020), Charlie Bennett (2021), and Moses Fleetwood Walker last year. White became the first Overlooked Legend to be voted into the Hall of Fame in 2013. Fowler was also inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2022.

Robert T. Mathews, winner of 297 games (first all-time when he retired), was a pioneer pitcher in the development of both the spitball and the curveball. He was the winning pitcher in the National Association’s first game in 1871. In 1872, he joined Baltimore as their ace, winning 25 games and leading the league in strikeouts (57). Mathews joined the New York Mutuals in 1873, becoming their workhorse while leading the league in strikeouts in both 1873 (79) and 1874 (101), becoming the first pitcher to lead a league in strikeouts three years in a row. His 42 wins in 1874 was second only to Al Spalding’s 52 wins.

Despite the Mutuals being a subpar offensive team, Mathews managed to become the third winningest pitcher (131 wins) in the NA’s existence behind Spalding (204) and Dick McBride (149), and the league’s all-time leader in complete games (236) and strikeouts (329). From 1877 to 1882, Mathews bounced around from team to team, which ultimately cost him the three “major league” wins he needed for 300. He won just 39 games in those six seasons, although he was a key contributor as the change pitcher for the champion Providence Grays in 1879.

His career was rejuvenated in 1883 when he joined the American Association’s Athletics and led them to the championship. It was the first of three consecutive seasons of 30 wins for the hurler. Mathews finished his career with a record 4,956 innings pitched and a 2.86 ERA. Roger Clemens is the only pitcher with more career wins not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Mathews was an Overlooked Legend finalist in 2009, 2010, and each year from 2012 to 2022, finishing second last year. Here are the final election results, with their point totals:

  • Bobby Mathews: 444 points
  • Chris Von der Ahe: 360
  • Al Reach: 335
  • George Stovey: 323
  • Tommy Bond: 286
  • Grant “Home Run” Johnson: 254
  • Paul Hines: 244
  • Octavius Catto: 217
  • Cal McVey: 192
  • Joe Start: 182
  • Frank Bancroft: 96
  • Arthur Soden: 50

For an extended biography of Bobby Mathews see his SABR bio written by Brian McKenna.

Earlier this year, the SABR 19th Century Grave Marker Project placed a new grave marker at the site of Mathews’ burial at New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore/Babe Ruth Chapter of SABR will hold a dedication ceremony on August 26, 2023.

For more information on the Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends Project, visit or contact Project co-chairs Adam Darowski and Joe Williams.

Originally published: July 6, 2023. Last Updated: June 14, 2023.