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The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball Hardcover – March 10, 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At the turn of the 20th century, "every American could want to be Christy Mathewson," Deford writes, and "every American could admire John J. McGraw." For a generation of fans in the era before Babe Ruth, Giants pitcher Mathewson was the best baseball had to offer and the epitome of good sportsmanship. By contrast, McGraw was a hard-drinking player/manager frequently ejected from games for attacking the umps. When McGraw came to New York (after wearing out his welcome elsewhere), though, the two became so close that they moved in together along with their wives. Deford, expanding on an article he wrote for Sports Illustrated, provides an entertaining string of anecdotes peppered with his own observations, focusing on one player and then looping back to address the other. An NPR Morning Edition weekly commentator, Deford has a thoughtful eye for the details of a century past, but he also points out how much early 1900s baseball culture shares with today's, as when he compares early gambling scandals to the contemporary steroids controversy. Though not quite a full biography of either player, this lively volume offers great diversion for any baseball fan. B&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* When John McGraw stepped down in 1933 after 31 years as manager of the New York Giants, the team had won 10 National League pennants and three World Series trophies--and baseball had become the national pastime. McGraw--known somewhat redundantly as "Little Napoleon"--was the most well-known personality in the game during his early years at the Giants' helm, but his celebrity was soon outstripped by his star player, the game's first "hero," pitcher Christy Mathewson, who won 30 or more games in each of McGraw's first three full seasons as his manager. Deford, a senior contributing editor at Sports Illustrated and author of 14 books, does much more than make a case for his two subjects' sporting legacy. He portrays their fame and emerging preeminence in America's consciousness as parallel to and emblematic of baseball's explosion in popularity, showing in the process how the growth of sport was made possible in the early years of the twentieth century by the rise of the middle class and the increase in disposable income. With McGraw as the gruff but fair father figure and the college-educated Mathewson as the golden boy whom parents wanted for their daughters, the pair became the first sports figures to intrigue the public as individuals. Deford effectively weaves the threads of these two touchstone lives into the broader tapestry of an ascendant sport and a rapidly modernizing America. A fine baseball book but just as fine a study of American popular culture. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 241 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st edition (March 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138859
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,214,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
`The Old Ball Game' serves as a fine introduction to its subject, which is John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, the New York Giants, and to a much lesser extent their whole era of baseball. There is no new or groundbreaking material here for the fan that is already familiar with the subject, but for them it can still serve as a baseball valentine celebrating these heroes and their times. While the book stops far short of its sub title's claim - that McGraw, Mathewson, and the Giants created modern baseball, it does nicely illustrate their importance in the continuing evolution of the game.
A note on Deford's writing style is necessary. I heard him speaking about this book on NPR, and his oratory was beautifully captivating. He writes in much the same way that he speaks, but what works for him in his spoken word stories is not as effective in print - sometime his language gets in the way of the story rather than moving it along. It was enough of a problem for me to dock a star from my review rating, but I still found the book enjoyable.
If you are already knowledgeable on the subject of McGraw, his star pitcher, and his amazing team, you can take or leave this book depending on how you feel about baseball "valentines". If you are new to the subject, however, this is a fine place to start to whet your imagination and encourage you to learn more about these great stars and this fascinating era of baseball's history.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John McGraw and Christy Mathewson became two of baseball's most recognizable personalities with the arrival of the 20th century. McGraw made his name initially as a third baseman with the scrappy Baltimore Orioles in the 1890's. Mathewson was one of a very few college players, and found himself being tried as a first baseman along with pitching for the Giants when McGraw was brought to New York to lead the Giants for the next thirty years. Author Frank Deford manages to weave together these two diverse personalities as each left their imprint on the game during their short lives. McGraw died at the relatively young age of 60, although his bouts with the bottle made him appear much older than he was. Matty died at the youthful age of 45 due to tuberculosis, probably the result of breathing poisonous gas during a drill among soldiers while in France during World War I. The information provided on the old Baltimore Orioles can be found in numerous other books, most notably for me, Fred Lieb's history on the Baltimore Orioles as well as the information on Mathewson in other books. However, I feel Frank Deford does a good job in tying together the lives of these two giants of the game who became great friends as well. For all his crustiness, combativeness, and profane mouth, McGraw, who experienced tragedy as a young boy by seeing his mother and several siblings die of diptheria, had a sentimental side to him. He hung three pictures in his office of his favorite players (Christy Mathewson, Ross Youngs, and Mel Ott). The last sentence is not included in the book. Following his playing career Mathewson became manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He suspended one of his players, Hal Chase, because he believed him to be involved in fixing ball games.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because I enjoy reading Frank Deford. This book captures the mood and scope of the nations sports landscape at the turn of the century and how it's subjects grew to become the most recognizable sports figures in the land.

Both McGraw and Mathewson were fascinating individuals who never would have crossed paths in the real world had it not been for baseball. The story of their successful professional and loving and enduring personal realtionship is told beautifully by Deford with insight, humor and an obvious care for his subjects and its time.
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Christy Mathewson was one of the 5 inductees in the first class of the baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. John McGraw was inducted a year later in 1937. It can be argued that both were the greatest in their respective positions on the field - Mathewson as a pitcher and McGraw as a manager. It's interesting to note that Mathewson and Walter Johnson were voted into the Hall of Fame one year before Cy Young even though Young retired before either of those pitchers, so why is the best pitcher award named the Cy Young Award and not the Christy Mathewson Award?

Frank DeFord does a fantastic job in describing the lives (personal and baseball) of these two greats of the game, as well as the era they lived in. One of the topics I found interesting was the involvement of gambling in baseball at the time. Gambling was already a problem in the 1900s and early 1910s, and perhaps it led to the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Deford writes "the fixed World Series of 1919 was a climax rather than an oddity." (p.116). Deford doesn't cover this topic in great detail but he touches on it throughout the book just enough to give the reader a feel for the gambling atmosphere in the game. Pete Rose's actions would not have raised an eyebrow in that era.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. Frank DeFord has an easy-to-read writing style. I did not know much about Mathewson or McGraw before reading this book, so I feel I learned a lot about these greats of the game. I definitely recommend it for anyone interested in baseball.
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