Early Aces Candy Cummings, Bobby Mathews and A Few Others: Part II

Although dominant pitchers in the National Association, both Bobby Mathews and Candy Cummings (who went 124-72 in the N.A., fifth best in wins behind Spalding, McBride, Mathews and George “Charmer” Zettlein (125-90)) quickly flamed out in the new National League.

Cummings was likely feeling the effects of his heavy workload by the 1875 season.  Although he went a terrific 35-12 for the second place Hartford Dark Blues, 39 of the Dark Blues’ 86 games were started by promising youngster Tommy Bond.

Cummings taught Bond his curveball, and Bond quickly developed into the best pitcher in baseball.  While both pitchers remained with Hartford for the National League’s inaugural 1876 season, Bond went 31-13 in 45 starts, while Cummings went 16-8 in only 24 starts.

Although Hartford went 47-21 that season, neither Bond nor Cummings returned to the team in 1877.  Bond moved on to Boston, where he was the National League’s dominant pitcher for the next three seasons, leading the league in wins (40 both seasons), winning percentage and strikeouts in each of 1877 and 1878, and going 43-19 in 1879 and leading the league in ERA as he had also done in 1877.

However, after three seasons in which he pitched 1603 National League innings, plus non-league exhibition games, Bond had a subpar year in 1880 going 26-29, and he won only 13 more major league games, all in the upstart and underwhelming Union Association in 1884.

Meanwhile, Cummings left the Hartford Dark Blues to play for the Lynn (Massachusetts) Live Oaks in the new International Association, a player-run league.  However, he left the Live Oaks in late June to sign with the National League’s weak-sister Cincinnati Reds, although he apparently remained the International Association’s president.

On a team that went 15-42, Cummings went 5-14 with an ERA a run and half above the league average (bear in mind that pitchers were more dependent on the team behind them in those days than they are today).  That was the end of Cummings’ major league career, although he pitched again in the International Association in 1878.

Cummings eventually had success in the painting and wallpapering business and stridently defended his claim to have been the pitcher to invent the curveball during the rest of his long life.

Meanwhile, Bobby Mathews went 21-34 for bad New York Mutuals team in 1876.  The Mutuals were losing money in the new league and refused to make their final western road trip, causing the National League to expel them during the off-season.

Mathews caught on with the same Cincinnati Reds team that Candy Cummings pitched on, but Mathews had no more success, going 3-12 with an ERA over 4.00.  In fact, Cummings was brought in after Mathews left the team because the Reds were not making payroll on time.  Matthews bounced around for the next season and a half pitching in Brooklyn, Columbus, Worchester, Baltimore and Janesville, Wisconsin.

In 1879, Mathews returned to the National League as the back-up pitcher for the first place Providence Grays.  While primary pitcher John Montgomery Ward went 47-19, Mathews went 12-6.  Ward finished ten of Mathews’ 25 starts, and Mathews finished two of Ward’s 60 starts.

In 1880, Mathews pitched for the San Francisco Stars in the three-team Pacific League until the league folded in July.  Mathews returned to Providence in 1881, but went only 4-8 before being released for excessive drinking in mid-July.  However, he caught on with the Boston Red Stockings late in the season and re-signed with the team for 1882.

1882 was the beginning of Mathews’ comeback as a major league pitcher.  He went 19-15 that year for a Boston team that finished in 3rd place, roughly splitting the pitching duties with Grasshopper Jim Whitney.

Things really turned around for Bobby, however, when he jumped to the young American Association in 1883.  Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics, not far from his home town of Baltimore, Mathews became the ace pitcher he had been in the National Association almost a decade before.

Mathews went 30-13 for the Athletics, helping them win the 1883 A.A. pennant, and he won 30 games each of the next two seasons.  The 1883 Athletics also featured George “Grin” Bradley, another pitcher having a come-back season, although on a smaller scale than Matthews.  Bradley had had two fine seasons for St. Louis in 1875 and 1876, but then had fallen on hard times likely due to arm fatigue.  He went 16-7 for the 1883 Athletics.

One of the last great hurrahs in Mathews’ career occurred on September 30, 1885, when he struck out 4 batters in an inning for the second time in his career.

Mathews went 13-9 in 1886 at age 34, which was old for a player in those days, particularly one who had lived as hard as Bobby.  He also had pay disputes with the Athletics and was gaining success as a pitching coach for college pitchers at the University of Pennsylvania.  He held out in the spring of 1887 and later in the year filed a lawsuit against the Athletics.

Mathews pitched sporadically and ineffectively that year, finishing with a 3-4 record but a 6.67 ERA and never pitched in the majors again.

After his playing career, Mathews did some coaching and also worked as an umpire off and on in the American Association and the Players’ League but wasn’t able to make a career of it due to his unreliability.  For example, he lost his position as an umpire in the Players’ League in 1890 when he missed a game to visit a sick friend.

By the middle of 1895, Mathews was virtually penniless and living and working at a road house outside Providence owned by former teammate Joe Start.  Mathews’ mind and body rapidly began to fail, and he died on April 17, 1898 at the age of 46.

Does Bobby Mathews deserve to be in the Hall of Fame with Candy Cummings?  In my mind it’s a close call.  One thing is for certain, however.  Bobby Mathews was a colorful player who played an important role in the development of major league pitching, and he deserves to be remembered today.

Read Part I of this two-part Series here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Oakland A's, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants

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