Big Six versus The Hoosier Thunderbolt

6 Aug

Christy Mathewson had only pitched five full seasons when Sam Crane of The New York Journal said in January of 1906 “there is a great diversity of opinion” regarding whether Mathewson or Amos Rusie was the better pitcher.

Crane said “Old-time lovers of the game” said Rusie, “The Hoosier Thunderbolt”, whose career ended in 1901 after being traded to Cincinnati for “Big Six” Mathewson,  was the best ever, “and refuse to acknowledge that the young college man who won the world’s championship so easily last fall…is his superior.”   While, “the younger generation of enthusiasts say there was never but one Mathewson and point to his wonderful record to prove their point.”

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

Crane said two famous New York baseball figures—and future Hall of Famers– disagreed on the point:

George Davis, the crack shortstop of the Chicago White Sox, and one of the best players who ever wore ‘New York’ across his shirt front, met Clark Griffith, manager of the Yankees (Crane was one of the earliest to call the then “Highlanders” the “Yankees”), yesterday at the headquarters of the New York American club, and argued over the much mooted questions of pitching superiority between the two crack box artists.  Both Davis and Griffith agreed that Mathewson and Rusie were two of the best, but differed as to which was entitles to the premier position.”

Davis thought Mathewson was better.

“Both have excelled all other Boxmen.  I have never batted against Matty in a game, but I have met his curves in practice and I want to say that he has just as good control of the ball as Rusie.  Matty’s most effective ball is a straight drop, but his speed is a great factor as well as a wonderfully controlled slow ball.  He uses his forearm and elbow and winds up in such a manner that a batsman is sure to be puzzled.  Rusie, on the other hand, depended on an out drop, which he controlled with remarkable skill, in addition to his fast ball; but he had very little preliminary motion and used his shoulder almost exclusively.  Rusie probably had the better physique, but in head work and vitality Mathewson outclasses the big Hoosier.”

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Griffith disagreed:

“Rusie in his prime was the best twirler that ever stepped into the box.  His curves, speed and control were the best assortment I ever looked at, and no pitcher has ever approached him in class since he made his departure from baseball.”

Crane cast the deciding vote, declaring:

“Rusie never had a peep in with Mathewson as a box artist.  Rusie relied mostly on brute strength until his arm began to show symptoms of crystallizing, then he accumulated a good slow ball; but for head work, pure good judgment, with a delivery or series of deliveries to back up his well-balanced brain, Mathewson is superior to any pitcher who ever wore shoe plates.”

Crane’s analysis was prescient.

Rusie’s greatness is undisputed—his speed was primary reason for moving the pitching distance from 50‘ to 60’ 6”—but his best days were behind him before he turned 24-years-old.  His season-long holdout in 1896 and the arm injury that effectively ended his career at 27 after the 1898 season (except for three games he pitched for the Cincinnati Reds in 1901) make him one of baseball’s great “what ifs?”  He still finished his career 246-174, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

Mathewson won twenty games for nine straight seasons after Crane declared him “superior to any pitcher.   He finished 373-188 and was part of the Hall of Fame’s first induction class.

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3 Responses to “Big Six versus The Hoosier Thunderbolt”

  1. Cliff Blau August 6, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    The pitching distance was never fifty feet, in the sense that it is now sixty feet six inches. The pitcher’s rear foot was moved back 4 feet 3.5 inches in 1893. Anyway, Cy Young was better than either of those two.

    • Thom Karmik August 7, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

      Some things haven’t changed in more than 100 years; New York reporters don’t think most players outside of New York deserve a mention. Crane was a real New York homer.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Matty and the Federal League | Baseball History Daily - September 3, 2014

    […] during 1913 over ghost-written articles appearing under the bylines of major league players, Christy Mathewson continued to  “write” articles that were distributed to newspapers by the “Wheeler […]

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