Matty and the Federal League

3 Sep

Despite the controversy 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 Syndicate.”  The Wheeler Syndicate was the creation of John Neville Wheeler, a reporter for The New York Herald, and widely known to be the writer of Mathewson’s articles.

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Christy Mathewson with John McGraw

Shortly before the beginning of the 1914 season, Mathewson “wrote’ a story about the outlaw Federal League, and the attempt the nascent league’s president made to secure his services:

“Until I had definitely signed with the Giants again, I made no comment on the Federal League or the offer of that organization to me.  In fact, there was nothing definite in the way of an offer until I received a telegram from President (James A.) Gilmore a few hours after putting my signature to a National league contract…The proposition came out of a clear sky and was unexpected.  I have learned since that the Federals believed I was signed up all winter and that it was not until a New York newspaperman happened to mention the fact to Gilmore.”

James A. Gilmore

James A. Gilmore

A New York reporter (likely Wheeler) told Mathewson how Gilmore came to find out he wasn’t yet signed:

“’We were sitting around the Waldorf late one night, fanning and discussing the Federal League, when one of the boys said to Gilmore: “’Why don’t you make Matty an offer and get some publicity out of it anyway?

“’He’s signed isn’t he?’ asked Mr. Gilmore.

“’No more than I am.  His contract expired last season, and he has not signed the new one yet.’

“’Gilmore at once left the party and sent a telegram to you.  Then he announced his action to us newspaper men, and the story appeared in the papers the next day.’”

At the time of the offer, Mathewson was asked by a reporter from The Los Angeles Examiner whether he would consider joining the Federal League, and said, “he would consider the offer.”  He now claimed, “all the time I knew I would not desert the New York club which had practically made me in baseball.”

Mathewson also took the opportunity to deny another rumor; that he was in California working on behalf of National and American League franchises to help them protect their players from the Federal League said:

“I saw several reports in the newspapers during the winter and early spring months that I was the agent of organized baseball on the Coast and that I had been busy counterbalancing the bids of the Federal League agents for the players spending the winter there.  As a matter of fact, I kept clear of both baseball on the diamond and the politics of baseball last winter because I did not care to have it on my mind.   Was having too much fun playing golf, and it is not in my province as merely a player to try to influence others to take certain steps which some day they might regret and then blame me for their mistakes”

Mathewson used his former teammate, catcher Art Wilson, as an example of how he had not given any players advice about accepting Federal League offers—Wilson had jumped from the Giants to the Chicago Feds during the winter:

“(Wilson) received a big offer to go with the Federals with the promise of a large piece of advance money.  Wilson has been pining for the chance to work regularly with a big league club for two or three years now and was weary of sitting on the bench, absorbing information in this position about how it is done in the majors.  As I said in a previous article, Wilson even asked (Manager John) McGraw to transfer him to a minor league team this season so that he could have an opportunity to work daily.  Now, if the Federal League turns out to be a big success, and if I had advised Wilson to refuse its offer and stick with the Giants, he might have said to me some day:

“’Well, I took your advice and am still sitting on the bench.  If I had gone with the Feds, I might have been a star now.’”

Art Wilson

Art Wilson

The move did result in additional playing time for Wilson.  From the time he joined the Giants in 1908 until he jumped to the Feds, he had appeared in just 231 games over six seasons.  In 1914 and ’15 he appeared in 233 Federal League games, hitting .291 and .305.

Mathewson, who had been paid $9,000 by the Giants in 1913, would not reveal how much he was paid by the Giants for 1914: “It is at the request of the New York club that I do not state the terms.”  He did, however, say exactly what he was offered by Gilmore to jump.  He said after not responding to the initial telegram from the Federal League president—a telegram that did not mention terms–he received a second:

“’Newspaper reports state you do not take Federal League offer seriously.  Get acquainted with the Federal League officials and be convinced we are not four flushing.  I will give you $65,000 for three years service as manager of a Federal League club–$15,000 advance money.  If satisfactory, meet me at the Waldorf Thursday, at my expense.  Wire answer Chicago.’”

Mathewson said he “was torn with regret” for refusing the offer that would have more than doubled his salary.

“It would be like leaving home if I were to pass up the Giants now.  I don’t think I would feel right in any other uniform.”

Mathewson said “the Federals have been spending money very liberally,” but placed the credit for the success the league had in inducing players to jump with Joe Tinker.  Tinker had jumped the Cincinnati Reds to join the Chicago Feds as player-manager.  Mathewson said:

“At first there was little confidence in the backers of the new organization until Joe Tinker jumped…The ball players had faith in Tinker because he is rated as one of the shrewdest in the business.  If the Federal League lives and goes through, Joe should get credit for it, because he is the man who has collected practically all the players for it.”

Joe Tinker

Joe Tinker

Both 33-years-old Mathewson (24-13 3.00 ERA) and Tinker (hit .256 in 126 games and led the Chi-Feds to a second place finish) had their last productive seasons in 1914.

Mathewson continued to “write” articles for the Wheeler Syndicate until 1916 when Wheeler sold the operation to the McClure newspapers.  Almost immediately after the sale, Wheeler formed the Bell Syndicate, and occasional articles under Mathewson’s byline were distributed by Bell through 1919.

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One Response to “Matty and the Federal League”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “A Travesty on the National Pastime” | Baseball History Daily - August 12, 2015

    […] following day, Schlafly filed a formal protest with Federal League President James Gilmore, and told The Buffalo News he was aware of the mistake and “Knew as soon as Land went in to catch […]

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