I don't have a cellphone or an iPod. Hell, I don't even like to answer my home landline when it rings. It's not necessarily that I'm afraid of new technology, or I guess I wouldn't be on these here Interwebs. It's more 1) my idea of hell is never being out of touch, anywhere, and 2) I'm kinda cheap, bordering on penurious, and the idea of buying some new gadget every few weeks to keep up with the advances ... well, I still have components of a stereo system I bought in college 35 years ago. That should give you an idea.
Some of you (such as Charlie) know that I'm something of a technophobe.
So when I got a Nook for my birthday, I was somewhat less than thrilled. "Um ... gee .... yeah, this is .... well, great. Thanks!" It was free, so that eliminated one concern, but I'd still have to learn to use the damn thing so I'd be able to answer the gift-givers' (my dad and stepmom) inevitable "How do you like it?" with "It's pretty cool."
As it turns out, it's pretty cool.
I had a service issue trying to get the thing set up, which led me to an excellent customer care guy at Barnes & Noble. "Did anyone tell you about the free books?" he asked. This got my attention. Free? "Yeah, there's like 1.8 million free books you can download." I assumed this would be in the user's guide. "Heh. They don't tell you this stuff because they want to SELL you books."
Now we're talking.
So he showed me how to search the B&N inventory of public domain and other free titles, and I guess it was inevitable that soon I would type in "$0.00 baseball." Up came 142 titles. Most of them were reference works, guides and such, but there, too, was "Pitching in a Pinch," which I had heard was pretty good but which I'd never seen anywhere. Your library is unlikely to be stocking a 100-year-old baseball book (published in 1912), so I was liking this Nook thing.
"Pitching" is a delight, start to finish. Mathewson was an educated man (Bucknell) in a still fairly rough-and-tumble game, so I have no problem believing he actually wrote his own book. (There were, of course, no tape recorders for him to tell stories into so someone else could transcribe the book in 1912.)
It's a treasure trove of inside strategy and tactics, for pitching and general game play, as they were understood in the dead-ball era (so, lots of bunting, of course). Mathewson seems to love talking about and using the inside game, and as a New York Giant in the 1900s he was incredibly lucky in that regard. The central relationship in a book that doesn't deal much with relationships, except the player to the game, is between Mathewson and John McGraw. Besides being an educated man, Mathewson was also a true gentleman. In fact, I found a listing for him for the nickname "The Christian Gentleman." McGraw, of course, ate players for breakfast and then breathed fire. But the two loved winning (or, at least in McGraw's case, HATED losing) and, as I noted, the strategies of the game, so they were made for each other. Mathewson even seems to have a sort of man-crush on McGraw, and perhaps the feeling was mutual. Their respect for each other, at least, is obvious, plus they needed each other in a winning effort.
True to his nickname, Mathewson manages to keep even the mildest of curses out of the text, though he alludes to some incidents where the language gets salty, so I'm guessing the McGraw quotes are highly edited. Still, the manager's intensity comes through. McGraw must have spent virtually every waking moment thinking about winning, and how to win, and who to use to win, and ... And some of his insights would do Sabrmetricians proud. In always looking for an edge, and often finding one, he was ahead of his time.
Mathewson's book is also unexpectedly funny:
The Boston club lost eighteen straight games in the season of 1910, and as the team was leaving the Polo Grounds after having dropped four in a row, making the eighteen, I asked Tenney: "How does it seem, Fred, to be on a club that has lost eighteen straight?"
"It's what General Sherman said war is," replied Tenney, who seldom swears. "But for all-around entertainment I would like to see John McGraw on a team which had dropped fifteen or sixteen in a row."
As if Tenney had put a curse on us, the Giants hit a losing streak the next day ...McGraw was slowly going crazy. ... After the sixth bad one had gone against us and McGraw had not spoken a friendly word to any one for a week, he called the players around him in the clubhouse.
"I ought to let you all out and get a gang of high school boys in here to defend the civic honor of this great and growing city whose municipal pride rests on your shoulders," he said. "But I'm not going to do it. Hereafter we will cut out all 'inside' stuff and play straight baseball. Every man will go up there and hit the ball just as you see it done on the lots."
Into this oration was mixed a judicious amount of sulphur.
Anyway, the next day the Giants won, 17-1. Spell broken, and McGraw a genius again.
The book is full of delightful tales like this, and of characters like the seemingly perpetually drunk Bugs Raymond:
When we got to Dallas cocktails were served with dinner and all the ball-players left them untouched, McGraw enforcing the old rule that lips that touch "licker" shall never moisten a spitball for him. "Bugs" was missed after supper and some one found him out in the kitchen licking up all the discarded Martinis. That was the occasion of his first fine of the season, and after that, as "Bugs" himself admitted, "life for him was just one fine after another."
Plus, how could you resist reading a lengthy first-hand account of the 1908 pennant race from a player's perspective, of the "Merkle's Boner" game (and the way McGraw handled Merkle afterward) and the Giants-Cubs playoff for the NL pennant that followed? (Mathewson noted that several of the Giants had decided they were robbed in the Merkle game and were going to refuse to participate in a playoff, but they talked themselves out of it when they went to see the Giants' owner, John T. Brush, about their concerns. (Brush left it up to them.)
This is just terrific stuff not just for people interested in baseball history but in the game itself. Much of the discussion and many of the people could occupy major-league dugouts today.