The Origins of MLB Legend Christy Mathewson’s Fade Away Pitch
The pitcher’s screwball remains talked about in baseball circles to this day
Right-handed pitcher Christy Mathewson is still one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, more than 100 years after he pitched his final game. With all of his talent and accomplishments, he is perhaps best known for his fadeaway pitch (modern day screwball), which quite literally became the stuff of legends. Where did his famous offering originate? His former teammate Red Murray knew.
Mathewson spent all but the final start of his 17-year (1900–1916) big-league career with the New York Giants. He was a combined 373–188 with a 2.13 ERA, not only perhaps the best hurler in the game but also one of its most popular players. He was the hero of the 1905 World Series, pitching three shutouts on the way to his team taking the championship, and was also widely admired for his blend of talent and wholesomeness. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 45 from injuries suffered while serving in World War I. He was part of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1936.
For a time, Mathewson’s fadeaway was the most well-known pitch in baseball. Its seemingly gravity-defying bends dazzled players and fans alike. Outfielder Red Murray was the hurler’s teammate for seven seasons with the Giants and had a bird’s eye view of the twirler’s magical ways. In 1934, nearly 20 years after they last played together, he recalled to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle what he knew about Matty and his screwball:
“Christy Mathewson was a teammate of mind for many years on the Giants. He perfected and was the only man ever to master the fadeaway ball. This ball was a fast curve that arched out on a left=handed batter and in on a right-handed batter. It was not used much by him, only in difficult places, as it was very hard to pitch and was hard on the wrist.”
The pitch was so devastating that all someone needed to do to see if it had been thrown was watch the reaction of the batters:
“We could always tell when he was using it, as the left-handed batters would usually duck away from the plate, thinking the ball was coming towards them and then curve over the plate.”
It was something that Mathewson developed back when he was in college — being one of the few early players to have done advanced scholastic work:
“Matty told me it took years to develop it. He said he got the idea when he was a player at Bucknell University and used to umpire the freshman games. One day while umpiring he watched a left-handed pitcher throw an outcurve to a left-handed batter and the idea of the fadeaway took root then and there… He began practicing on it in college and he told me that it took years to master it.”
There are few pitchers in the history of baseball with a pitch so devastating that it is still talked about even after they are done playing. Mathewson was one of the first, with the fadeaway. Like all good weapons, it was deployed as needed, and was always in the back of opponents’ minds, striking fear and doubt on every pitch they saw.