It’s over 100 years old now, a historic piece of baseball memorabilia that launched a Hall of Fame career. Next month, it will have a new owner.
Buried in the hands of a private collector for years, the rookie year baseball contract of Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson is heading for the auction block.
Signed for the 1900 season, the museum-quality piece will be sold by Memory Lane Inc, of Tustin, California. Bidding done by phone or via the internet, is set to close December 8.
The signed document was originally acquired by Barry Halper, a minority owner of the New York Yankees, and one of the most well-known collectors of baseball historical memorabilia hobby as ever known. Halper acquired the contract directly from the wife of Mathewson’s son long after the Hall of Fame pitcher’s death. The rookie year contract, signed in Mathewson’s own hand, comes with a letter from Halper stating the circumstances in which it was acquired.
Mathewson’s contract marks one of the most critical and turbulent times in professional baseball’s history, when baseball’s image was tarnished by rough, dirty play and this field behavior was turning Americans away from the game.
His entry into the pro ranks marked a new kind of player, with a new attitude, who among others, wanted the game played hard but played fair, and played by the rules. This was a time when the new American League started up in part because America wanted an alternative to the unruly 25 year-old National League style of play. It was at this moment in American history, a young, clean cut, college-educated Mathewson would enter the game. His presence and ability helped changed the public’s perception of baseball by adding an image of respectability, changing the game from its roughneck persona to a family-oriented attraction.
Mathewson became a pitching legend and baseball’s new role model for young men and boys all across America. He went 12 straight seasons winning 20 or more games. He also won 30 or more games four times with his highest single season 37 wins in 1908. Mathewson also held the single season strikeout record of 267 set in 1903 for 58 years until Sandy Koufax broke the mark with 269 in 1961.
Matty, as he was called by fans, would eventually win 373 games, (3rd all time), in his great career; making him one of the first five players to be voted into Baseball’s newly inaugurated Hall of Fame in 1936 (along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson), and making him, the first player ever to be voted in posthumously, as Mathewson died in 1925 at an early age due to lung complications he received from exposure to poisonous gas in World War I.
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