Robert T. Mathews (November 21, 1851 – April 17, 1898) was an American right-handed professional baseball pitcher who played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the National League of Major League Baseball and the American Association for twenty years beginning in the late 1860s. He is credited as being one of the inventors of the spitball pitch, which was rediscovered or reintroduced to the major leagues after he died. He is also credited with the first legal pitch which broke away from the batter. He is listed at 5 feet 5 inches tall and 140 pounds, which is small for a pro athlete even in his time, when the average height of an American male in the mid-19th century was 5 feet 7 & 1/4 inches tall.
|Born: November 21, 1851|
|Died: April 17, 1898 (aged 46)|
|May 4, 1871, for the Fort Wayne Kekiongas|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 10, 1887, for the Philadelphia Athletics|
|Earned run average||2.86|
|Career highlights and awards|
Mathews was born in 1851, in Baltimore, Maryland, and he played as a teenager with the Maryland club of that city, and he made the team a dangerous one. Mathews began his career at the age of 16 for the Marylands of Baltimore (a junior squad) in 1868. A year later, he moved to the senior club, and the following year the club declared themselves professional, resulting in the creation of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NAABP). On August 19, he made his first ever start in the league against the Orientals of New York, winning 28-15.  For the 1871 season, he and some other Maryland players signed with the Fort Wayne Kekiongas. On May 4, 1871 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he pitched a shutout in the inaugural game of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NA), the first professional league. In his first season, he went 6-11 in 19 complete games and 169 innings, with a 5.17 ERA, 17 strikeouts and 21 walks. In the following season (now playing for the Baltimore Canaries), he rebounded with a 25-18 record in 49 games (while throwing 39 complete games) and 406 innings while having a 3.19 ERA, 52 walks and 57 strikeouts, the latter being a league high. He appeared as a batter in 19 games for 89 at-bats, batting .270 with 10 RBIs and a .612 OPS, with the latter two being career highs. Mathews went to the New York Mutuals alongside teammate Dick Higham after the season ended.
In 1873, he played in 52 out of the 53 games the team played for the season (while throwing 47 complete games), going 29-23 with a 2.58 ERA in 443 innings with 62 walks (a career high) and 79 strikeouts, although the team finished 4th. One notable game was on July 3, when he allowed only two hits in a six inning rain-shortened game against Washington while scoring a run on a triple in a 2-1 win. However, research in recent years has alleged match-fixing over suspicious play during a game in the season. In a game on August 9, 1873, he was the losing pitcher in a 12-2 washout by the Brooklyn Atlantics in which they scored four runs to open up the game in the first inning.
For 1874, he pitched in all 65 games of the season for the Mutuals (while throwing 62 complete games), throwing 578 innings while having a 42-22 record and a 1.90 ERA (a career low), 41 walks and 101 strikeouts, although the Mutuals finished 2nd place to the Boston Red Stockings. He also threw 32 wild pitches, a career high. On June 18, he pitched in a 38-1 victory over Chicago while allowing two hits in a game with severe wind conditions. A second accusation of match-fixing occurred in the season, as one player was seen in the company of a gambler in the area of Chicago on the August 5 home game, where the odds shifted towards Chicago. Mathews left in the fifth inning on a groin injury while leading 4-2, with John Hatfield serving to pitch the rest of the game and losing the game 5-4. After the game, it was revealed that Chicago had known the possibility of Mathews not playing due to a doctor's note the Mutuals produced certifying his play despite a warning.
For 1875, he pitched in 70 out of 71 of New York's games (while having 69 complete matches) in the final year in the NA. However, he went 29-38 with a 2.49 ERA on 625.2 innings with 75 strikeouts and 20 walks. Additionally, he allowed career highs in hits (711), runs (421), and batters faced (2,759). He led the league in complete games, starts, and innings pitched. He appeared in a career high 70 games as a batter, making 264 at-bats and garnering 48 hits and 15 RBIs for a .182 batting average and a .188 OBP. He threw a one-hitter on May 22 in a 4-0 win over Brooklyn in which he faced just 28 batters on no errors. Overall, he went 131-112 in the NA. with his wins being third most in the league behind Albert Spalding (205) and Dick McBride (149). He led the Association in career amount of strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings.
For 1876, he played in 56 out of 57 games for the Mutuals while going 21-34 with a 2.86 ERA with 55 complete games on 516 innings while having 37 strikeouts and 24 walks. During the season, he turned over a telegram that was sent from a gambler, with a sting being set up to try and lure more out of the gambler, with the results being published in the New York Herald to try and discourage any more game-fixings. In his three years with New York, he had went 100-83 with a 2.31 ERA on 1,646.2 innings, with 266 strikeouts.
The dissolving of the Mutuals meant that Mathews joined the Cincinnati Reds for 1877. His season went terribly, going 3-12 in 15 games (13 complete) with a 4.04 ERA on 129.1 innings pitched with 9 strikeouts and 17 walks. After the season, he joined a team in Janesville in the League Alliance. For 1878, he bounced around between the independent Brooklyn Chelseas and Worcester (a member of the International Association). He was plagued by drunkenness, which led to him being expelled from the latter team in July, to the point where he was replaced by Bud Fowler. He went 8-12 before Worcester left the league. Along with other members, they played as the Baltimore Waverlys for a few games. On October 15, he signed with the Providence Grays, joining the club in June of the 1879 season.
In 27 games played for the Grays (with 15 complete ones pitched), he went 12-6 with a 2.29 ERA on 189 innings pitched, throwing 90 strikeouts and 26 walks. He also earned a save during the season. He additionally played 21 games for the Grays as an outfielder, logging in 182 innings with 17 putouts, five assists, and seven errors with one double play turned on a .759 fielding percentage. On June 27, he hit a home run off Boston pitcher Tommy Bond, his only career home run. The Grays won the National League pennant that year, doing so by five games over the Boston Red Caps.
After a short stint in the Pacific League with the San Francisco Stars, he signed back with Providence prior to the 1881 season. In 14 starts, he went 4-8 with a 3.17 ERA in 102.1 innings while allowing 21 walks and 28 strikeouts. He was released mid-way through the season due to problems with drinking that troubled the club. He joined Boston not long after, serving time as an outfielder in 18 games and a pitcher for five games, four in relief. He won the only game he started for the team. Ultimately, he threw just 23 innings while getting two saves, 11 walks and five strikeouts.
For 1882, he participated in 34 games as a pitcher, going 19-15 with a 2.87 ERA, throwing 31 complete games in 285 innings with 153 strikeouts and 22 walks, with his strikeout total being the most in his career thus far. He joined the Philadelphia Athletics in the American Association the following year. He returned to form, going 30-13 with a 2.46 ERA in 44 games pitched while having 41 complete games with 381 innings pitched while walking 31 and striking out 203 batters. The team won the pennant that year over St. Louis by one game. He went 30-18 with a 3.32 ERA in 49 games the following year, throwing 430.2 innings with 286 strikeouts and 57 walks. The next year, he won 30 games again while losing only 17 in 48 starts with a 2.43 ERA on 422.1 innings pitched. He struck out 286 batters with 57 walks. He served as coach for the pitchers at the University of Pennsylvania in 1886 while playing with the Athletics. Arm trouble diminished his season, as he pitched in just 24 games while going 13-9 with a 3.96 ERA on 197.2 innings, with 93 strikeouts and 53 walks. 1887 was his final year in the leagues. He started it by holding out in the spring to get the money back that had been deducted the earlier year for ineffectiveness. They agreed to a deal that would give him a $2,650 salary, but his arm was diminished. His seven appearances as a pitcher were spread out over the season. He went 3-4 with a 6.67 ERA while throwing 58 innings and allowing 25 walks and nine strikeouts. In his final game on October 10, he pitched a 7-5 loss to the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. For 1888, his attempts to try and get back on the team failed, although he did serve as coach for the team's pitchers and played on the reserve squad. In his five years with the club, he had gone 106-61 with a 3.06 ERA while pitching 1,489.2 innings and garnering 877 strikeouts.
Over his 16-year career, he had 297 wins, 248 losses, 525 complete games, with a career earned run average of 2.86. He had 1,528 strikeouts compared with 532 walks. He won 20 games 8 times, including 42 in 1874 with the New York Mutuals of the National Association, and is the only player to win 50 games or to pitch 100 games in each of three major leagues. He is the 25th winningest pitcher in MLB history, yet has the 2nd highest number of wins for a pitcher not elected to the Hall of Fame and the most career innings pitched for a pitcher not elected to the Hall of Fame. He is also the pitcher with the highest number of wins for without reaching 300. Although he was known primarily as a pitcher (doing so for 578 games), he also played games in other positions from time to time, playing 80 games in the outfield, nine as a third baseman and two as a shortstop.
- List of Major League Baseball career wins leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career ERA leaders
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in games started
- List of Major League Baseball career innings pitched leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual ERA leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual saves leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual shutout leaders
- List of Major League Baseball single-inning strikeout leaders
- Pietrusza, David; Matthew Silverman; Gershman, Michael (2000). Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia. New York: Total Sports. p. 720. ISBN 1-892129-34-5.
- Charlton, James; Shatzkin, Mike; Holtje, Stephen (1990). The Ballplayers: baseball's ultimate biographical reference. New York: Arbor House/William Morrow. p. 679. ISBN 0-87795-984-6.
- "Retrosheet". Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- "The Official Site of Major League Baseball: Stats: Historical Leaders". Retrieved 2008-06-26.
- "Too Young To Die". thedeadballera.com. Retrieved 2009-03-29.