Arts & Entertainment
The Newark Star-Ledger
September 5, 1996
by Michael Sommers
One-Man MATTY Comes Through In The Clinch
NEW YORK The first big baseball fan in my family was a great-great aunt whose apartment in the Bronx overlooked the old Polo Grounds. Back around 1903, so its said, she nearly ruined her marriage by spending too many hours out on the fire escape, cheering like crazy for that gentlemanly New York Giants idol Christy Mathewson.
"The Prince of the Polo Grounds," as Mathewson was called, was a college educated all-American farm boy whose presence changed the game of baseball. At the turn of the century, Mathewsons sunny good sportsmanship helped to transform pro baseball from a bunch of brawlers into proud national heroes.
Though no mollycoddle, Mathewson promised his Baptist mother that hed never play ball on Sundays and never did. Such clean-cut charms drew ladies to the ball park for the first time. A legendary pitcher (373 career victories), his sporting ways endeared him to millions of fans during the 1900-16 era.
He was a good guy. "Always throw your best pitch in the pinch," was typical of the uplifting advice that Mathewson spread through a popular series of juvenile books he authored during the height of his fame. At one point Mathewson was so well known that a letter addressed simply to "Big 6" (another nickname) managed to arrive at his winter home in California.
Mathewson served overseas in the Great War, managed the Cincinnati Reds, and was later president of the Boston Braves before his death of tuberculosis in 1925 at age 45. He even took a turn on the vaudeville stage in the off season.
Youll learn this about the legend and more in "MATTY: AN EVENING WITH CHRISTY MATHEWSON," a new one-man show written and performed by Eddie Frierson.
"MATTY," is a warm and genuinely affectionate tribute to a great ball player thats sure to please anyone who truly loves the game. Wonderful yarns about baseball during its rowdy early days and colorful anecdotes about Mathewsons fellow stars of the diamond make for an entertaining two hours even if you are not a baseball fan.
Expect no high-tech presentations: This Off-Broadway show is performed in modest circumstances. Theres little flash but boy, theres plenty of heart.
Frierson, who once played baseball for UCLA, resembles Mathewson and performs the show in a direct, affable manner that certainly suits his heros friendly personality. Frierson doesnt appear to be acting so much as channeling Mathewsons spirit. This easygoing authenticity is strong enough to override the sometimes where-are-we? limbo of his anecdotal script. Robert Smiths nice set places Mathewson in an attic cluttered with 1900s memorabilia thats backed by a simple mural of the Polo Grounds.
Unlike my ancestress, Im not a huge fan of the game, but some of the stories that Mathewson, excuse me, Frierson tells are fascinating. Theres the tragic results of an infamous replayed game in 1908 a quarter of a million people tried to get into the park caused by the enforcement of Rule 59, which led to several deaths including the suicide of the President of the National League.
Youll hear the hilarious saga of hapless Charley Faust, the "jinx killer." Experience up close the strategic roaring style of Giants manager John J. McGraw. And listen to Mathewsons dark recall of Hal Chase, the sleazy first baseman who took a leading part in the Black So scandal of 1919. Sometimes Frierson (as Mathewson) impersonates these other legends to tell their stories better.
Through it all, Friersons low-keyed invocation of Mathewson sticks to the guys unpretentious true-blue ways both as a sportsman and as a gent. Under director Kerrigan Mahans guidance, Frierson winningly offers up an authentic champion who was a little embarrassed by his fame. Some of the showboats who play the game now might take a lesson or two from Christy Mathewson.
WHAT: "Matty: An Evening With Christy Mathewson"
WHEN: Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Lambs Theatre, 130 W. 44th St., Manhattan
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $30. Call (212) 239-6200
This article was originally printed in 1996 during MATTY's run Off-Broadway. The above performance times and phone number are for historical reference only and are no longer accurate for purchasing tickets. MATTY closed at the Lambs on December 1, 1996.