Hollywood should make a movie out of this letter. Here you have one of the most fascinating figures in baseball history at the most significant crossroads in his life. Nineteen-year-old Christy Mathewson (then going by the shortened name Chris Mathews) has just finished his sophomore year at Bucknell and is headed to play for the Norfolk Phenoms of the Virginia League. He boards a train in Montandon, PA, bound for Washington, D.C., where with all the exuberance of a country boy in the big city, he spends two days soaking up the sights around our nation's capital. Indeed, every fine quality that we've come to associate with the "Christian Gentleman"—his kindheartedness, humility, wit, sophistication and erudition—is on full display in this correspondence back to his friends at home. Best of all, only we as readers know the life-changing event that awaits him: In 3 months' time, Matty will make his major-league debut with John McGraw's New York Giants.
For the moment, he immerses himself in the journey south. His innocent remark about enjoying "a cup of coffee" en route takes on a certain irony since Mathewson is of course embarking not on a flash-in-the-pan stint but a legendary Hall of Fame career. He next mentions visiting the U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian museums, Library of Congress and Navy Yard. Given his future service in World War I, along with the tragedy of his contracting a lethal case of TB from chemical-weapon exposure, it can be quite chilling to read Mathewson's prescient description of the Navy Yard, where "hundreds of men are making dozens of big murderous-looking cannon." Ultimately it's the awe-inspiring Library of Congress, completed just three years earlier in 1897, that appears to make the greatest impression on him. Then the pitching prospect mentions planning to attend a Cornell-Georgetown ball game before shipping off to Norfolk.
Matty's bold signature (proudly appended with "Norfolk B.B.C.") rates "8" strength, while the 4-page, 5" x 6-1/2" missive is EX overall with a minor split at the fold. In full, it reads, "My Dear Chums: I will write this letter to both of you, thus killing two birds - one a 'blue' Jay - with one stone, if you will permit the figure of speech. I arrived O.K. at 4:10 P.M. 7 hrs, 60 stops, 189.4 miles from Montandon. I ate a sandwich and drank a cup of coffee at Harrisburg, and those delicious viands formed my breakfast and lunch. As a consequence my first meal in Washington - this decade - proved very satisfying. Today I have been inspecting the Capitol, the Navy Yard where hundreds of men are making dozens of big murderous-looking cannon, and last but not least, the world renowned museums of the Smithsonian. I spent about two hours at the Library of Congress last eve. This as you know is a new building, and it is one at which any American may point with Pride. The magnificence of its many-hued, highly polished marble - some from Africa, the gorgeousness of the superb, hand-painted ceilings - but I will not attempt to give you even a faint idea of this our superb Congressional Library. The way I am running my pen tells me that something is lacking, and it is, our dinner. I am stopping at the St. James (?) or the Raleigh (?). I can't remember which. Chum No. 2 will please take good care of my old letters in the drawer of my table for which I will richly reward him. Is 15 Hope College Bill's address? I will probably start by boat for Norfolk tomorrow night - 220 miles. Cornell plays Georgetown here tomorrow and I will see them. Yours as ever C. Mathews / Norfolk B.B.C. / PLEASE excuse poor spelling, you know my weakness."
Upon his arrival in Norfolk, Mathewson was taken under the wing of manager (and former star hurler) John "Phenomenal" Smith, who may even have helped him develop his trademark "fadeaway" screwball. With 20 wins under his belt by mid-July, Matty graduated to the majors and debuted for the Giants just shy of his 20th birthday. It was the big break of his lifetime, the turning point of Christy Mathewson's great American story, and with luck we'll someday see it portrayed on the silver screen!
As a point of reference on value, we note that two other such Mathewson letters—one from 1899, one from 1900—respectively sold at auction in 2001 for $20,000 and $27,000. Full LOA from JSA & Full LOA from PSA/DNA.