Christy Mathewson’s Wildflower Stats
by Mary Thill
Baseball is all about lists and stats. Among the most fundamental are that the First Five inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame included Christy Mathewson, and that the New York Giant is the only man to pitch three shutouts in one world series, in 1905 against the Philadelphia Americans.
In a pastime that filters figures down to one batter’s record against a particular pitcher, maybe it should be no surprise that one of its early legends would keep his own list. But what might surprise modern sports fans is that Mathewson chose to list Saranac Lake’s wildflowers.
A hundred years ago, Christy Mathewson was arguably the most important pitcher in the major leagues. In 1918 he left baseball to serve as an Army captain in a chemical warfare unit during World War I. In 1920 he came to the sanitarium community of Saranac Lake to treat his tuberculosis, triggered by a gas-training accident in France.
“By June, 1922, he had improved to the point that he threw the first pitch of the season opener between Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh,” Historic Saranac Lake’s wiki recounts. At the same time, Mathewson may have been jotting notes about the harebell, wild red raspberry and hop clover at the edge of the ball field. In July he noted with excitement yarrow with white rays — “also pink rays!!!!!”.
Mathewson’s plant roster included thirteen dozen species by multiple common names, plus two dozen he saw on an August visit to his hometown, Factoryville, Pennsylvania. In this day and age, when most of us can identify only dandelions, wild violets and maybe a few other wildflowers, the breadth of his botanical knowledge is impressive. But at the beginning of the 20th century, nature study was common. “The notion that an educated person would have a basic acquaintance with local flora and fauna was widely held, and broadly practiced,” Robert Michael Pyle writes.
By December 1922, Mathewson seemed nearly cured of TB, Historic Saranac Lake reports. The following year he became part owner of the Boston Braves. He and his wife bought a house on Saranac Lake’s Park Avenue in 1924, but by the end of that year his health began to decline again.
“Then in April 1925, he caught a cold during spring training in the south with the Braves, and the cold didn’t go away,” HSL’s wiki says. “He returned to Saranac Lake, and bed rest, but on October 7, 1925, he died. The baseball world was stunned.”
In honor of Tuesday’s All-Star game and in honor of Saranac Lake’s all-star former resident, we present Christy Mathewson’s 1922 wildflower list, which you can view in his own handwriting by clicking here. The William Chapman White Memorial Adirondack Research Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library has a copy of the list in its archive; we are grateful to curator Michele Tucker for scanning it for Adirondack Life.