He wants to honor baseball Hall of Famer’s gridiron stint
GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Fans of Major League Baseball may know that Pennsylvania native and early pitching star Christy Mathewson was an inaugural member of the sport’s Hall of Fame — entering posthumously in 1936 with the likes of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.
What many don’t know is that Mathewson, who pitched for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds beginning in 1900, had an initial alternate career in semi-pro football. That included a stint playing with the Greensburg Athletic Association at the city’s Offutt Field, then known as Athletic Park.
One man who does know the whole nine yards about Mathewson’s Greensburg gridiron connection is Salem resident David L. Snyder. He learned about “Matty’s” local athletic activities while researching Walter Johnson, who faced batters as a member of the Washington Senators from 1907-27.
Mathewson “played fullback for the Greensburg Athletic Association from 1898 to 1900,” Snyder said. “In 1900, he went to play for the Pittsburgh Stars,” another semi-pro football squad. “Then the Giants put a stop to him playing football.”
Snyder hopes to build support for recognizing Mathewson’s time in Greensburg with an installation at Offutt Field.
“I feel it’s appropriate that Mathewson should be honored with some kind of plaque,” he said.
Snyder acknowledged his proposal may have taken a back seat to more pressing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, he said, he has reached out to local school and municipal officials, as well as sports organizations, to float his idea. He has hopes of attracting donations to cover the estimated $2,800 cost of a bronze plaque.
Snyder’s proposal didn’t ring a bell with current administrators at Greensburg Salem School District, which plays varsity football at Offutt and is in transition between superintendents. But Snyder said many of those he has contacted about the Mathewson tribute have been “surprised and fascinated” to learn of the famed athlete’s sojourn with the Greensburg football club.
The Seton Hill University Griffins also play at Offutt, renting the field from Greensburg Salem. Seton Hill Athletic Director Chris Snyder, who is not related, was among those who first heard from David Snyder that Mathewson had a presence at the Greensburg venue.
Regarding the plaque proposal, Chris Snyder said, “I think it’s a good idea. It would be a noble gesture for an original member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
The field has been owned since 1916 by the local school district, which has completed various renovations and expansions of the site through the years.
A retired businessman who grew up in McKeesport, David Snyder has an interest in sports and sports history and is concerned knowledge of the Mathewson-Greensburg connection could “fade into the past. It’s historical and befitting of having a proper plaque.”
By the time he joined the Greensburg football team, Mathewson was a seasoned veteran of semi-pro competition, according to Snyder.
Born on Aug. 12, 1880, in Factoryville, Wyoming County, Mathewson “started playing semi-pro baseball when he was 14,” Snyder said. “These small industrial towns had their own teams. They hired him to pitch against the rival team from the next town over. He could pitch better than any of the adults.”
Factoryville celebrates its hometown hero each August with an annual day and festival in his honor.
As a youth, Mathewson attended Keystone Academy, where he played football and baseball.
At about the same time he was playing football in Greensburg, Mathewson also attended Bucknell University, where he was a fullback and kicker with the Bison football squad. He also was a member of the baseball and basketball teams.
“He would bring some of his college players from Bucknell with him,” Snyder said.
Mathewson’s highlights as a Bucknell gridder included a 70-yard kickoff return and a 45-yard field goal against Army in 1900. He also was president of his class at Bucknell and a member of the glee club.
Mathewson attended Bucknell from the fall of 1898 through the spring of 1901. After his baseball debut with the Giants in 1900, he returned to play football at the university in the fall of that year.
“The eligibility rules were a little different back then,” said Jon Terry, associate director of athletics at Bucknell. “He withdrew from Bucknell in June 1901 to focus full time on baseball.”
Mathewson was inducted into the Bucknell Hall of Fame in 1979. The university’s Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium is named in his honor, and his final resting place is in a cemetery behind the Kenneth Langone Athletics & Recreation Center.
With the Giants, Mathewson became a dominant pitcher during the first two decades of the 20th century, notching 373 wins during a 17-year career. He pitched three shutouts in three starts against the Philadelphia Athletics, helping the Giants win the 1905 World Series.
Mathewson enlisted in the Army during World War I and was accidentally gassed during a training exercise. A lengthy battle with tuberculosis followed, and he passed away on Oct. 7, 1925, at Saranac Lake, N.Y.