MATHEWSON TIME MACHINE OFFERS A WONDERFUL RIDE
Memories Of A Legend
By Tim Wendel
December 11, 1996
In this age of channel-surfing and cyberspace, anything that can hold our attention for a couple of hours deserves accolades. That such a show is performed by one man and casts baseball in a favorable light is remarkable.
Say hello to MATTY, Eddie Friersons one-man play about Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson. This show is as memorable as an exciting World Series game, and it wakes up the echoes about why we love baseball. It reminds us that no other sport enjoys such history or as many heroes and scoundrels.
The plays lone set is a crowded attic. Moving between a tattered easy chair, cluttered desk and coat rack, Frierson recreates baseballs world at the turn of the century. He impersonates voices so well that he can duplicate conversations. By the end of the show a visitor will have heard from more than 30 characters, including Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Fred Merkle, Grantland Rice, a Boston bellboy, and John McGraw, the New York Giants fabled manager from 1902 to 1932.
The heart-to-heart that Frierson (as Mathewson), impersonating McGraw, has with the audience near the start of the second act is moving. He wades into the crowd, transforming it for 10 minutes into the New York Giants clubhouse. For this is the fiery, no-nonsense McGraw, who gets in his players faces and demands their best efforts and utmost respect. And, for laughs, Frierson does the same. After a quick dissertation on his baseball philosophy, he asks one theatre-goer if he understands.
"Yes," the patron shrugs.
"Just yes?" says Frierson/McGraw, his voice rising.
"Try Yes, Mr. McGraw."
By the end of this act, Frierson has the crowd yelling, "Yes Mr. McGraw" to every request. Theyre ready to follow him out onto the field and another New York victory.
Frierson grew up a baseball player. After he pitched his high school team (Hillwood) in Nashville to a Tennessee State Championship, he went to UCLA and pitched for the Bruins.
"But soon I figured out that while I may have been good, I may not have been quite good enough," Frierson says. "Thats when I got real interested in the stage."
After graduating with a theatre arts degree in 1982, he began looking for a subject for a one-man show. George Custer and Andrew Jackson went by the boards as did Edwin Booth and John Barrymore before Frierson decided upon Christy Mathewson.
Nicknamed "The Big Six," Mathewson invented what is now known as the screwball. His accomplishments in 16 years with the Giants included records for endurance (46 games started in 1904) and victories (37 in 1908). In the 1905 World Series, he shut out the Philadelphia Athletics three times in five days.
Mathewson also acted in the movies and on the vaudeville stage, wrote a series of books for boys and was a World War I war hero.
But that can be learned from baseball history. To know a person so well that you can become that luminary for two hours on stage takes more than cracking open a few books. Frierson spent 12 years researching his one-man show; traveling to Mathewsons hometown (Factoryville, Penn.), his college (Bucknell), his winter home (south-central Los Angeles) and where he died of tuberculosis (Saranac Lake, N.Y.).
In his travels, Frierson found Mathewsons personal remembrances, which became the basis for MATTY. But the show didnt jell until Frierson rewrote the production with the help of director Kerrigan Mahan.
The extensive research resulted in a great show, and Frierson was accepted into the Mathewson family as an adopted grandson.
"Almost every word in the show comes directly from Mattys memoirs," says Frierson.
When the house lights go up near the end of the show, Frierson (as Christy Mathewson) takes questions from the audience. Ask him about the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown and hell give you a puzzled look. Even though Mathewson was in the Halls inaugural class, he died 11 years before Cooperstown opened its doors.
Frierson stays in character until the end. On his stage, the Yankees are still the Highlanders. Matty knows nothing about Frank Thomas or Ken Griffey, Jr. or Albert Belle. But he can tell you about Honus Wagner. How he was the toughest batter Mathewson ever faced. How Wagner walked and talked and swung a bat, and for a moment youre back there. Seeing baseball as it used to be and sometimes still is.
MATTY recently completed a four-month run at the famed Lambs Theatre in New York, and Frierson is putting together a national tour. When it comes to your town, go see it.
For those who remain rankled about how the national pastime has conducted itself lately, MATTY is a great way to become hooked on baseball again.
As we went to press, the national tour for MATTY was still being put together. Its schedule will be printed in BASEBALL WEEKLY as soon as it is available or you may visit MATTY online atwww.matty.org
FOR MORE ON MATTY:
If you would like to learn more about Christy Mathewson, these books can help:
- MATTY: AN AMERICAN HERO by Ray Robinson (Oxford University Press)
- PITCHING IN A PINCH, OR BASEBALL FROM THE INSIDE by Christy Mathewson (University of Nebraska Press)
- CHRISTY MATHEWSON: A GAME-BY-GAME PROFILE OF A LEGENDARY PITCHER by Ronald A. Mayer (McFarland & Co.)