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Most of the base-ball population of the town gathered to see me get my tryout, and I pitched for two hours, while the critics stood around and watched me closely, to discover what I could do. They sent their best batters up to face the curves I was throwing, and I was "putting everything that I had on the ball.” After a full hour's dress rehearsal, and when, at last, I “fanned” out the captain of the team, he came up, slapped me on the back, and said:
“You 'll do. We want you to pitch this afternoon.”
That, I am sure, was the very proudest day of my
life. We had to drive ten miles to the opponent's town, and all the other
boys watched me leave with
the men. And you can imagine my pride while I watched them, as they
stood on one foot and then the other, nudging one another and saying, “‘Husk' is going to play with the men " They called me “Husk” in those days. It was a big jump upward for me, and I would hardly look at the other youngsters as I climbed into the carriage with the captain. If the full truth were told, however, I felt almost “all in" after the hard session I had been through in the morning. I can remember the score of that game yet, probably because it was such an important event in my life. Our team gained the victory by the count of 19 to 17 —and largely by a bit of good luck that befell me. With my hands awkwardly crossed on the bat, as usual, I just happened to swing where the ball was coming once, when the bases were full, and I knocked it over the leftfielder's head. That lucky hit won the game; and that was really my start in base-ball. This happened toward the end of the summer season; and in the fall I went to the Keystone Academy, after having completed the publicschool course, there being no high school in Factoryville at that time. I played on the Keystone team during my first year at the academy, but I was still young, and they thought that it was up to some older boy to pitch, so I covered second base. I was playing ball with boys sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen years old at this time, and I was only fourteen. The next year, however, I was captain of the team, and pitched (the natural result of being elected captain, as any of my readers know who may have led base-ball clubs'). While I was the captain of this team, I hit upon a brilliant idea, which really was n't original, but which the other boys believed to be, and so it amounted to the same thing. When we were playing a weak team, I put some one else into the box to pitch, and covered second base myself, to “strengthen the in-field.” We had a couple of boys on the team who—like certain twirlers in every league—could pitch, but could n't bat or play any other position. I caught this idea from reading an article in a newspaper about McGraw and the Baltimore “Orioles.” I worshiped him in those days, little thinking that I should ever know him; and it was beyond my fondest dreams that I should ever play ball for him. I was still batting cross-handed on the Keystone team; but, in pitching, I had good control over my out-curve, which was effective against the other boys. During the vacation of that sum
mer, I pitched for the Factoryville team, until it disbanded in August, which left me no place to play ball. And, remember, at that time I still would rather play ball than eat, and, big, growing boy that I was, I was decidedly fond of eating ! But one fine day, the captain of a team belonging to a town about five miles away came to me and asked if I would pitch for his nine. “We 'll give you a dollar a game !” he said in conclusion. “What ' How much P” I asked, in amazement, because it was such fun for me to play ball, then, that the idea of being paid for it struck me as “finding money.” “A dollar a game,” he repeated; “but you 'll have to walk over, or catch a ride on some wagon.” There was no trolley route connecting the two villages then. I told him he need n't mind how I got there, but that I would certainly come. So, for a time, I went regularly over to the other town–Factoryville's old rival—and pitched every Saturday; and often I had to walk both ways. But they always gave me my dollar, which was a satisfactory consolation and a good antidote for foot-weariness. By this time, I was far ahead of boys of my own age, in pitching, and was “showing them how to pitch,” and rather regarding them as my inferiors, as any boy will, after he has played with men. In 1898, I was graduated from Keystone Academy, and as I had played foot-ball there, and was a big, husky, country kid, I was regarded as a desirable student by several colleges, and urged by friends at the University of Pennsylvania and by others at Lafayette College to enter one of those institutions of learning. But I finally decided to go to Bucknell. During that summer, I happened to be in Scranton, Pennsylvania, soon after school closed. It looked a big city to me then, and the buildings seemed to be very high. As I was only there for the day, I made up my mind that I would make sure of seeing the Y. M. C. A. team play ball, which it did every Saturday. At the hour appointed for the game, I was sitting in the grand stand munching peanuts, when it was suddenly discovered that the Y. M. C. A. pitcher was missing, and they began to look around for some one to twirl. One of their players, it seems, had seen me pitch in Factoryville, and, having recognized me in the stand, he went up to the captain of the team, and said: “There 's a kid up there who can pitch.” “Where 's he from ?” asked the captain. “Factoryville,” replied my friend. “I don't think he 'll do,” said the captain. “Those small-town pitchers don't make good when they stack up against real ball teams. But I'll remember him, and I may have to try him if the regular pitcher does n't show up.” The regular pitcher did n't “show up,” and the result was that the two players came over to me, some ten minutes later, where I was still munching peanuts in eager anticipation of the game, and began a conversation in this wise: “Can you pitch?” the captain asked me. “A little,” I replied. “Want to work for us this afternoon P” I was startled. Then, “Sure I do " I exclaimed, and promptly climbed down over the front of the stand, leaving quite three cents' worth of peanuts on the seat, which was no compliment to my natural country thrift, and indicated that I was excited. They handed me a uniform, very much too big for me, the one that the regular pitcher usually wore, and as I was putting it on in the dressing-room, I began to wonder if the job would be as much too large. When I came out and the crowd got a look at me, everybody began to ask who the big country boy was, with the misfit uniform. But I “had something” that day, and struck out fifteen men. “You 're a pitcher!” said the captain to me after the game, and he ordered a uniform made to fit me. I was seventeen at that time, and was
still playing with teams whose members were all much older than I. And that was the second opportunity to pitch that came to me through a “break in the luck,” as ball-players say. At midsummer of that year, I went to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where I was given twenty dollars a month and my board, to pitch for the team there. This seemed to me then a princely salary, and I began to speak of “J. P. Morgan and me.” In 1898, I matriculated at Bucknell, and played foot-ball there. It was then a college of less than two hundred male students, but the class of men was generally high. The next summer I went back to Honesdale, after having played on the Bucknell base-ball team. And, in the middle of the season, I was offered ninety dollars a month to pitch in the New England League, a salary which turned out to be only on paper, for the Taunton club disbanded before I was ever paid, and I received only an occasional five or ten dollars, which promptly went to the landlady. Honesdale proved to be an important mile-post in my base-ball journey. Two things I learned during my stay there, and both have been of great value to me. First, and most momentous, I discovered the rudiments of “the fadeaway”; and, second, I stopped batting cross-handed. This correction of my hitting style was the result of ridicule. I was very large by this time—almost as big as I am now—and when I came up to the bat, with the wrong hand on top, and swung at the ball, I looked awkward. The players on the other teams and the spectators began to laugh at me and “guy" me. “Look at that big kid trying to hit the ball !” they would shout as I missed one. I made up my mind to change my style, and I started to try to hit with the right hand on top, standing up to the plate right-handed. It was very hard for me at first, and for a long time I could n't hit nearly as well that way as I could with my hands crossed; but I stuck to the new style, knowing that it would be a big improvement in the end. I had batted the other way so long that it was hard for me to correct it. That is the reason I advise all boys with a tendency to hold a bat with the wrong hand on top to change immediately, because the longer they keep on hitting in that way, the harder it will be for them to adopt a new style. No one will ever be a hitter, swinging in this awkward manner, because the hands cannot guide the bat accurately. Since I changed my batting form, I have developed into a fair-hitting pitcher. In Honesdale, there was a left-handed pitcher named Williams who could throw an out-curve to a right-handed batter. Now the natural curve for a left-handed pitcher is the in-curve to a right-handed batter, and Williams simply exhibited this curve as a sort of “freak” delivery, in practice, over which he had no control. He showed the ball to me, and told me how he threw it, and I began to wonder why a right-handed pitcher could n't master this delivery, thus getting an in-curve to a right-handed batter on a slow ball, which surely seemed desirable. Williams pitched this ball with the same motion that he used in throwing his in-curve, but turned his hand over and snapped his wrist as he let the ball go. He could never tell where it was going to break, and therefore it was of no use to him in a game. He once played a few games in one of the Big Leagues, but lasted only a short time. He did n't have enough control over this freak ball to make it deceptive, and, as far as the rest of his curves were concerned, he was only a mediocre pitcher. But it was here that I learned the rudiments of the fadeaway, and I began to practise them with great diligence, recognizing the value of the curve. I also started to pitch drop balls while I was in Honesdale, and mixed these up with my fast one and the “old roundhouse curve.” I only used the drop when the situation was serious, as that was my very best, and a surprise for all the batters. Few pitchers in that set, indeed, had a drop ball. The part of the summer with the Taunton team apparently did me little good, beyond teaching me the style of base-ball played in the New England League, and proving to me that there is sometimes a great difference between the salary named in a contract and that received. As a matter of fact, however, that portion of a season spent in the New England League was going to have a great influence on my future, although I could not foresee it at the time. I returned to Bucknell in the fall, where I played full-back on the foot-ball team; and, oddly enough, I was much better known as a foot-ball player at this time than as an exponent of baseball. Probably this was because I developed some ability as a drop-kicker, and, at college, foot-ball was considered decidedly the more important sport. Moreover, I received poor support on the college base-ball team; and no pitcher can win games when his men don't field well behind him, or when they refuse to bat in any runs. In the fall of 1899, the Bucknell foot-ball team went down to Philadelphia to play the University of Pennsylvania eleven, and this proved to be one of the most important trips that I ever took. While our players were waiting around the hotel in the morning, a man named John Smith, known
in base-ball circles as “Phenom John” Smith, came around to see me. He was an old pitcher, and had picked up the name of “Phenomenal (shortened to “Phenom”) John” in his palmy days in the box. He had been the manager of the Portland club in the New England League during the previous season, and had seen me pitch with the Taunton nine. “Mathewson,” he said to me, “I 'm going to Norfolk in the Virgina League, to manage the club next season, and I 'll give you a steady job at eighty dollars a month. I know that your contract called for ninety dollars last season, but you will surely get this money, as the club has substantial backing.” I signed the contract then and there. The colleges were n't as strict about their men playing summer ball at that time. Now I would advise a boy who has exceptional ability as a ball-player, to sign no contracts, and to take no money for playing, until he has finished college. Then, if he cares to go into professional base-ball, all right. “I 'm going out to see you play foot-ball this afternoon,” said Smith, as he put the contract in his pocket. I was lucky that day, and kicked two field goals against Pennsylvania, which was considered to be a great showing for a team from a small college, in an early season game, regarded almost as a practice contest. Field goals counted more then— five points each—and there were few men in the country who were good drop-kickers. Hudson, the Carlisle Indian, was about the only other of my time. Those two field goals helped to temper our defeat, and we lost by about 20 to Io, I think. When I got back to the hotel, “Phenom John” was there again. “You played a great game this afternoon,” he said to me, “and, because I liked the way in which you kicked those two field goals, I 'm going to make your salary ninety dollars instead of eighty dollars.” He took the contract, already signed, out of his pocket, and raised my pay ten dollars a month before I had ever pitched a ball for him ' That contract is framed in Norfolk now, or rather it was when I last visited the city with the “Giants” on a spring-training trip. The old figures remain, with the erasure of the eighty and the correction of ninety just as “Phenom John” made them with his fountain-pen. As you will easily believe, I went back to Bucknell very much pleased with myself, with two field goals to my credit in foot-ball, and in my pocket a contract to play base-ball for ninety dollars a month. The rest of my Minor League record is brief.
I went to Norfolk the next summer, and won twenty-one games, out of twenty-three, for the team. And on a certain day in the midsummer of
(SEE PAGE 609.)
1900. “Phenom John” Smith came up to me, smiling in the friendliest way. “Matty,” he began, “I’ve never regretted changing that contract after it was signed. You have played good ball for me, and now I have a chance to sell you to either the New York National League club or the Philadelphia club. Which team would you rather be with ?” This came to me as a great surprise, the oppor
tunity to “break into the Big League”—the dream of my life. Only one year before, I had stood outside the players' gate at the Polo Grounds, on my way to Taunton, and had lingered to watch Amos Rusie, the great pitcher of the Giants, make his exit, so that I could see what he looked like in his street clothes, and also contribute a little hero-worship in the way of cheers. Now I was going to be a member of a Big-League club myself! “I 'll let you know in a couple of days,” I told Smith, in reply to his question about my choice of the two clubs. Then I began to study the list of pitchers with each team. The Giants were a vastly different organization then from that of to-day, and were usually found near the bottom of the list toward the end of the season. But they were in need of pitchers, and so I decided that, if I went with New York, I, a youngster, would have a better chance to pitch regularly. They had n't much to lose by making a thorough trial of me, and they might give me an opportunity to work, was the way I reasoned it Out. “I 'd like to go to New York,” I told Smith; and, needless to say, I have never regretted my decision. That is how I became a Big-League pitcher, in the middle of the summer of 1900, at the age of nineteen years. George Davis was the manager of the New York club at the time, and the first thing he did when I reported for duty was to summon me for morning practice. “Now,” he said, “I 'm going to order all our fellows to go up to the bat, and I want you to throw everything you 've got.” He started off himself, and I was nervous enough, facing the manager of a Big-League team for my tryout. I shot over my fast one first, and I had a lot of speed in those days.