A few days ago, I walked inside a local book shop and was delighted to discover a brand-new edition of an old classic: Christy Mathewson's Pitching in a Pinch. I thought, "Hey, I should write something about that! For the good ol' Hot Corner Book Club.
Alas, Luke Epplin beat me to it. And it's a good thing, too, because Epplin writes about something I never knew or maybe knew once but forgot: In addition to the well-known Pitching in a Pinch, Mathewson also authored -- or co-authored, or reputedly co-authored -- a series of books for children.
An even more entertaining distillation of Mathewson’s philosophy can be found in the series of young-adult novels that he wrote with the New York Herald writer John Wheeler, from 1910-17. Mathewson’s unparalleled fame—Wheeler remarked that schoolboys across the country were “acquainted with the exact figures which have made up Matty’s pitching record before they had ever heard of George Washington”—helped them find a large audience. Long since out of print, these novels sought to convince young readers and parents alike that baseball was an edifying pursuit that fostered character and intellect.
Perhaps the most radical idea that Mathewson advanced in these books—especially in his début novel, “Won in the Ninth”—is that uneducated players soon would no longer be able to compete with their cerebral peers. For Mathewson, the rising percentage of college-educated players entering the big leagues was irreversible, and dimwitted free swingers and fireballers would shortly go the way of the gloveless catcher. Of course, this scholarly revolution never came to pass in the majors—in 2012, only 4.3 per cent of big-league players had earned a four-year college degree—but Mathewson nonetheless helped change the perception of the game. His writings advanced the idea that baseball players aren’t empty vessels in the field, operating primarily through instinct and raw talent. They are analytical thinkers who must be able to execute and amend strategies on the fly in order to outsmart their competitors.
All of which is quite interesting, and Epplin also references George Will's Men at Work, one of Babe Ruth's novels for chrildren, and Larry Ritter's classic and essential The Glory of Their Times. The whole piece is worth your time. But my real message today is to keep an eye on Luke Epplin. I hope he keeps writing about baseball and literature, because he does it as well as anyone.