Matthewson, known simply as “Matty” to his adoring fans, enjoyed a successful athletic career at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, where he was a star in both baseball and football. He joined the Giants in 1901, and for a year was a promising pitcher on a losing club. In the middle of the 1902 season, though, that changed with the hiring of the great strategist and player-manager John McGraw, who had made his name with the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. McGraw was recruited to manage the new Orioles of the upstart American League (AL) in 1901, but left over differences with AL founder Ban Johnson. Upon joining the Giants, McGraw immediately put the team on the road to success by accepting nothing less than total effort and making use of the aggressive style on the bases that had earlier won him fame. McGraw managed the Giants from 1902 to 1932, during which time the team won 10 pennants, five of which came between 1902 and 1916 with Matty on the mound.
A tee-totaling gentleman, Matthewson was admired for his skill and clean image and soon became the most popular athlete in the country. John McGraw was the opposite, a profane, contentious man willing to fight over any perceived slight. In spite of their contrasting personalities, the two men and their wives were the best of friends off the field. McGraw and Matthewson led the previously moribund Giants to an 84-55 record in 1903, 6.5 games behind the pennant-winning Pittsburgh Pirates. The next year, the Giants won the National League and Matthewson, who went 33-12, led the league in strikeouts for the second year in a row. Unfortunately, Matthewson didn’t get a chance that year to prove his mettle in the World Series because McGraw, known as “the little Napoleon,” was still angry with Ban Johnson of the American League and refused to let his team play. The players grudgingly forfeited their bonus checks and the second World Series was cancelled.
In 1905, the best year of his career, Matthewson won 31 games to just nine lost and ended the year with an earned run average of just 1.28, more than a run and a half lower than the league average. On this day, he threw the second no-hitter of his career to lead his team to their second consecutive National League pennant over the powerful Cubs. Two Cubs reached second base, both due to errors, or Matthewson’s no-hit, no-walk performance would have been a perfect game. He held on until his Giants scored their lone run in the ninth for a 1-0 win.
In the 1905 World Series, the Giants beat Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics behind Matty’s three complete game shutouts in six days. It was the only World Series victory for Matthewson, who played on three more NL pennant winners, but lost the 1911, 1912 and 1913 World Series in spite of his brilliant pitching.