A hundred years ago today, two of the finest pitchers of the early 1900s reached the end of the line, doing so in perhaps the wildest finish ever to one Hall of Fame career, let alone two concluding simultaneously.
It’s safe to say neither Christy Mathewson nor Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown were anywhere close to their former dominant selves when they met for one final duel, September 4, 1916. The New York Giants had traded 36-year-old Mathewson six weeks before so the hurler could become manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He had yet to pitch for the Reds at this point, after going 4-4 with a 3.01 ERA for the Giants through the early part of the season.
Soon-to-be 40-year-old Brown had made 11 appearances that year leading into the game, going 2-2 with a 2.82 ERA. He had returned to the Chicago Cubs after two seasons in the now-defunct Federal League, with a wire report of his January signing noting that his main purpose would be tutor young hurlers on-staff.
Still, each man was a guaranteed draw, at least for a game hyped heavily in the days before. New York paper The Sun noted the following day that the largest crowd of the season turned out to watch the game, with each man receiving a bouquet of American Beauty roses beforehand from Cubs owner Charles Weeghman.
Each pitcher went the distance, though the game quickly devolved into a slugfest. Mathewson allowed 15 hits, eight earned runs, and a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning. He got the win only because Brown was somehow worse, allowing 19 hits and nine earned runs. Mathewson also might have helped his cause at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a run, while Brown was 2-for-4 with two runs.
“Neither man was the pitcher of old,” Jack Ryder wrote in a special dispatch for the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Their stuff was gone, their speed was lacking, their curves were conspicuous by their absence. But both were still there with the brains and the courage of yore, with the spirit that would never acknowledge defeat and with the undying nerve of the true artist.”
After the game, Mathewson swore he was through.
“Boys, I thought I could pitch a few more games, but I find I haven’t got the stuff anymore,” the Enquirer reported Mathewson telling his team in the locker room after the game. “I shall never attempt to pitch a championship game again. If I ever go into the box again I will buy every one of you a suit of clothes.”
As for Brown, he resurfaced the following year with Columbus of the American Association, going 10-12 with a 2.77 ERA. He pitched in the minors as late as 1920.