Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rare Christy Mathewson photo in tomorrow’s Sports Auction: A portrait for the ages of a player for the ages

April 22, 2009
Posted by Noah

Let’s just say that modern day major league baseball could use a few more men like Christy Mathewson. Not even just baseball, really. The world in general could use a few. Make that a few million. Mathewson may have been the greatest pitcher of baseball’s dead ball era at the turn of the 20th century, and he was probably the most intelligent pitcher to ever pick up the hard ball. More than that, though, Matty was a tremendously upstanding man. He was honorable, polite and dignified no matter what the situation. His reputation was beyond impeccable and his moral authority unimpeachable. By any standard he was a gentlemen’s gentleman. I only wish I could have been around to shake his hand.

He died way too early, at the age of 45, from complications from inhaling chlorine gas in the trenches of Europe in World War One. It’s a shame MLB was denied at least a good 20 years of his further influence.

People universally venerated Mathewson. His dominance on the field, and his conduct off of it, made women all love him, men all want to be his friend and children absolutely worship him. One look at the amazing Mathewson portrait at auction in tomorrow’s Sports Collectibles auction captures the man perfectly. As the catalog says, it is easily the finest Mathewson portrait extant. It portrays the future inaugural class Hall of Famer standing on the mound, surveying the still infield against – as the catalog puts it – “the ghostly expanse of the empty grandstand.”

Both Mathewson’s stature as an athlete, and his measure as a man, are perfectly defined in this amazing photo. To boot, it’s got an un-personalized autograph, which is unheard of in the very small realm of existing Mathewson sigs. Simply put, this is an extraordinary thing.

It’s also another lot in this deep auction that works equally well as a piece of Americana, or even fine art photography. The composition is so clear, and the subject so expertly and artistically presented that I wouldn’t doubt it will draw some interest from outside the sports collectibles spectrum. Astute collectors of Mathewson memorabilia, however, are not likely to let this disappear into other hands. Between us chickens, I’d like to see this thing end up in Cooperstown. A lot of things are labeled as Cooperstown quality, but this thing really fits the bill. It’ll bring at least $20,000. As there’s never been a photo like this show up on the block, it’s hard to tell where the wheel will stop.

Mathewson was truly one of the greats, and he is missed even now, more than 60 years after his death. He was voted one of the 100 Greatest Athletes of All-Time by ESPN, had a career record of 373-188, an ERA of 2.13, struck out more than 2,500 batters and pitched an outstanding 79 shutouts. He was as handsome as he was humble, and no one ever wanted to get on his bad side. He would have been a great President had he chosen to go that way, or lived long enough to realize that he would have excelled at such a thing.

Here’s another look.

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