Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Ballad of Carl Mathias (or Chasing Rabbits Down Holes)

When I research players for my 1960 Topps blog I try to find something entertaining for the Off The Charts entry. Something besides his numbers or vitals usually pops up for every player. Frequently it comes from a player's SABR bio, a Wikipedia entry, or local stories that pop up on a Google search. I always find something.

But when I was looking at Carl Mathias' card and googled him I was disappointed. I went through several pages of search results and hadn't found any references to him at all outside of the normal stat pages (Baseball-Reference, etc) and mundane stuff from the 'off-brand', copycat wiki pages.

Then I found something that led me down an entertaining path. The official site of the AA-level Reading Fightin' Phils had a page for Mathias in their Baseballtown section. It stated that his nickname was Stubby. That was a fun fact but I figured I could find more. And I came across this:

Carl Mathias and the flip side of Boston’s biggest rally

Turned out to be a 2014 entry from a blog related to a book about the 100 greatest games in Boston sports history. The author had come across Mathias' name in connection with an improbable Red Sox win in June 1961. The game didn't make it into the book but the author was intrigued enough by Carl Mathias' story that he tracked him down and interviewed him. It's really fun.

Here's a taste of the backstory...

The Red Sox, as I noted in the book’s introduction, once rallied for eight runs with two down in the ninth for a 13–12 win over the Washington Senators. That game, in June 1961, didn’t make the cut. But a detail from that game became lodged in my mind. While cross-referencing various sources, I noticed that Carl Mathias, Washington’s starting pitcher, was still in the game when the Red Sox started their historic rally. Then I noticed Mathias’s lifetime record: 0–2.
In other words, the poor guy was on the mound at Fenway Park with a seven-run lead in the ninth inning, one out away from picking up his first win in the major leagues … and he never got it.
And it also tipped me to something I had looked at but hadn't fully processed…Mathias pitched 29 big league innings. and allowed five home runs. Not that big a deal until you know that three of them were hit by Mickey Mantle.

Here's Mathias' 1960 Topps card. It'll be posted on the 1960 set blog soon.

I also found a few other quirky things while researching in the past few weeks. And both were prompted by comments from Fuji. The first was a minor error. I was reading about Dan Dobbek and found that his Baseball Reference's Bullpen page stated that the Washington outfielder had been intentionally walked by the Red Sox three times in a game early in the 1060 season. Fuji's curiosity was peaked, and he found that it was two walks, not a record-tying feat after all. Not a big thing, but it did remind me that just because someone writes something on the internet doesn't make it true.

And finally, a quote from Cub's pitcher Art Ceccarelli in yesterday's post caught Fuji's eye. Ceccarelli was commenting on pitching in Wrigley Field and said "It wears pitchers down. The winds are unbelievable. Willie Kirkland once hit a home run off me that Ernie Banks called for at shortstop."

Fuji mentioned that he would have liked to see Kirkland's homer. So I thought, remembering the Dobbek deal, that I should find out if Willie Kirkland had ever homered of Ceccarelli in Wrigley. Sure enough, it happened on August 13, 1959. But the neat part of that game turned out to be that the Cubs beat the Giants, 20-9. It was 10-7 Cubs after four. There were eight homers in that game. Giants pitchers issued 13 walks, four to Ernie Banks (yes, he was at short so the Kirkland homer story is possible). Stu Miller walked five of the eleven guys he faced (the wind must have played hell on his knuckler) and Don Elston got a five-inning save. Getting a save in a 20-9 win is weird in itself.

Of course, none of this comes close to the high adventure of looking into the cartoon on the back of  Don Rudolph's 1959 card.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa. I had to go back and skim this post again after seeing the cartoon about Rudolph... and his lovely wife, Patti.

    Anyways... it's a shame that Mathias never earned that MLB win. Looks like he had a shot, but Dave Sisler couldn't help him out. He relieved Mathias (inherited runners on 1st and 2nd with a 6 to 12 lead and two outs in the bottom of the 9th) and faced four batters. He walked the first batter to load the bases. Walked another to force in a run. The gave up a grand slam to JIm Pagliaroni. But the Senators still clung to a one run lead, but we aleady know how that ended.