Christy Mathewson (True) Rookie Cards

Baseball at the turn of the century was a sport with a tarnished image. It was a sport known for the lazy and uneducated, men who spent their time gambling, boozing, or womanizing. Christy Mathewson has three cards inside the 1909 T206 set but only one official rookie card.

Christy Mathewson a Man of Virtue

Baseball’s era of the tarnished image was soon to change.

Little did anyone know that a young man was being raised in Factoryville Pennsylvania that would enhance the image of the professional baseball player.

Christy Mathewson was educated, intelligent, and the perfect gentleman. He was a clean-cut, intellectual collegiate.

Team owners to ballplayers, employees to fans, east coast to west coast, and everyone in between looked up to him and kept him in high regard.

He never pitched on Sundays, a promise he made to his mother to respect his Christian faith.

Mathewson began playing semi-pro ball when he was only 14 years old. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds for $100 but later traded to the New York Giants.

Christy Mathewson a Generational Talent

In 1901, at the young age of 20, he earned a starting spot in the rotation. His career didn’t really take off until 1903 which’s when he developed a good fastball with outstanding control.

He had the uncanny ability to put the ball where ever he wanted. Johnny Evers, second-baseman for the Chicago Cubs said, “He could throw a ball into a tin cup at pitching range.”

Along with his pinpoint accuracy was a pitch that was unhittable! A new pitch he called the “fade-away,” which later in baseball became better known as the screwball. He mastered this pitch and attributes most of his success to it.

He was nicknamed “The Big Six,” Some say it was because of his 6-foot 1-inch height (really doesn’t seem that tall to me).

But legend says he was given that nickname after New York’s fastest fire engine, known for putting out fires all over Manhattan.

New Yorkers say, he was just as effective at putting out baseball fires with that nasty fade-away pitch of his.

Christy Mathewson’s Mark in Baseball History

His most impressive stats. To me anyway. Is his accomplishments in the 1905 World Series vs the Philadelphia Athletics.

He pitched in Game 1, gave up four hits in a complete-game shutout. Three days later in Game 3, he pitched another four-hit complete-game shutout. And two days later in Game 5, he pitched a six-hit, you guessed it, complete-game shutout. Amazing!

If that doesn’t impress you I want you to drive to the nearest pharmacy and get your blood pressure checked. To be that dominant at that level of competition is phenomenal.

Equally impressive was his 1908 season. He recorded 37 wins that year and only 11 losses.

A 1.43 ERA along with 259 strikeouts earning him his second Triple Crown, which is one of the most prestigious awards a professional baseball player could earn.

1909-1911 Mathewson continued to dominate, each of these years his level of dominance gained more and more momentum and the Giants made it to the World Series again in 1911.

Unfortunately, they lost to the same Philadelphia Athletics they defeated in the 1905 Championship.

A Life Honored In & Out of Baseball

Mathewson served in World War I in the Chemical Warfare Service and was accidentally exposed to chemicals that gave him a deadly disease.

It weakened his respiratory system and was the cause of his death in 1925. During World War II, a 422 foot Liberty Ship was named in his honor, SS Christy Mathewson, was built in 1943.

In 1936, he was voted into the first Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its first five inductees, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and Honus Wagner.

He was the only one of the five who didn’t live to see his induction.

ESPN selected his pitching performance in the 1905 World Series as the greatest playoff performance of all-time.

Career Stats & Accomplishments

According to Baseball-Reference.com Christy Mathewson career stats are:

Win/Loss 378-188 | ERA 2.13 | Strikeouts 2,502 | 2 No-Hitters | 435 Career Complete Games | 79 Shut Outs.

Accomplishments:

  • 5x Strikeout Leader
  • 5x NL ERA Leader
  • 2x Triple Crown Winner
  • 1936 Hall of Fame Induction

Christy played 17 years with the New York Giants and was traded to Cincinnati in 1916 pitched one game with the Reds and retired after the season.

Difficulty in Pre-War Rookie Cards

The title of this article may be a bit misleading. What it reflects is a hobby mindset, a fixed attitude or disposition that thinks the T206 is Christy Mathewson’s rookie card.

Truth be told, that mindset is debatable. Hobby publications have never designated the T206 as the rookie card. When you look at Honus Wagner cards as a whole you may surprised at what you see.

First, we need to take into consideration that Christy debuted in the MLB on July 17, 1900. That’s a full 8 seasons prior to the 1909 tobacco card that many believe is a rookie card.

As a matter of fact, there is a total of 10 cards documented that were released between 1902-1908. That’s 10 other cards prior to the 1909 T-206!

Everything from food and beverage, to postcards, and photos. Here lies the problem with determining rookie cards of pre-war players.

It’s hard coming to a consensus on such items. Can a photo be considered a rookie card? How about a regional food and beverage issue, which had limited distribution?

It’s a tough call to make and this is why the hobby typically leans on the T206.


Before We Begin

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True Rookie Card

Identifier (RC) Defined

A rookie card is a trading card that is the first to feature an athlete AFTER that athlete has participated in the highest level of competition within his or her respected sport. It must be licensed by both the League and the Players Association. An RC identifier is only given to cards that fit this criteria. Below is an exhaustive list of the featured players true rookie cards.

1902-1911 Sporting Life Cabinets W600 (RC)

Photo courtesy of PSA Card Facts

This is the earliest card released of Christy Mathewson. Therefore, earning the RC designation although it may be debatable with some collectors due to its 5″ x 7.5″ size, is it a card or photo?

Well these were meant to be cards. A fantastic article written by Kevin Glew, shares some great information as he interviews Kevin Struss from Baseball Rarities.

Struss says, “They’re a substantially thick card, you can tell when you hold these items that no expense was spared when they were made.”

Sporting Life was a weekly Philadelphia-based newspaper distributed across the United States that used these cards to promote their publication.

Regardless of there size, the purpose of these was to promote a newspaper and the intent was to make these durable and collectible.

Struss further states, “Type 4 – This was the most elaborate design yet, showcasing the crossed bats with larger, white lettering inside an embossed, scroll-like design. This design was used from mid-1904 through the end of the run.”


Post-Rookie Theme

Identifier (PRT) Defined

The PRT identifier has a dual function. It’s used to identify cards that feature a player after their rookie season but in some way the card design has elements that feature a rookie theme. Also, for vintage, this identifier can be used for second year cards which are highly collectable, and often times preferred, but they are NOT true rookie cards.

1909-11 T206, #308 (PRT)

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The T206 is the most collected set of the prewar era. It’s a 524 card set and features many Hall of Famers.

The cards were inserted into packs of 16 different brands of tobacco all owned and manufactured by the American Tobacco Company.

This is a benchmark set in the world of sports card collecting. Iconic and Americana and because of its many variations has lots of hobby appeal.

Collectors have found 5 different variations of this card, all depends on which tobacco company is stamped on the back.

This portrait photo/painting of The Big Six is considered his rookie card but that would be an incorrect identifier for the reasons previously mentioned. A proper identifier should be post-rookie theme because its the earliest card released after his MLB Debut which is also mainstream and accessible.


1909-11 T206, #309 (PRT)

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There is a second card that featured Christy Mathewson in the T206 set and this one has a variant.

There are subtle differences and at first glance, they seem identical. But if you look closely you’ll notice: the color of the ball cap, hair color, and eye position are all different.

The biggest difference however can be seen on the jersey, one version has logos on the jersey and the other one doesn’t.

Collectors claim the one with the logos on the jersey is the easiest to find and the one without jersey logos is the hardest of all three to find.

Not sure why this happened back in 1909 but I know today variants could happen due to an error caused at printing, licensing/contractual obligations, or by design to give collectors more variety.

Collectors have found 25 different variations of this card, all depends on which tobacco company is stamped on the back and which variation of the card front you have.

If you enjoy T206 cards check out another article I have on Honus Wagner.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.

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