Robinson--who's established himself as the literary equivalent of a .270 hitter with a string of solid but unmemorable baseball books (Iron Horse, 1990, etc.)--maintains his average with this bio of pitching great Christy Mathewson (1880-1925). ``Big Six,'' the sportswriters called him, for reasons lost in time--perhaps the only mysterious thing about Mathewson. Otherwise, he was the epitome of American openness, charm, and ingenuity, ``the first authentic sports hero,'' the incarnation of pulp- fiction ideal Frank Merriwell. Before Mathewson, baseball fans cheered the likes of the ``paranoid'' Ty Cobb or Cap Anson, a loudmouthed bigot. Then came Mathewson, handsome, blue-eyed, college-educated, generous--and America found an icon to worship. The pitcher hailed from a family of farming Baptists and, for a while, weighed pulpit against diamond as a career. Baseball won, to everyone's satisfaction. Soon he blitzed the Majors with his notorious ``fadeaway'' pitch (a primitive screwball); a no-hitter in his rookie year; four years of 30-plus wins; 373 total victories; and perhaps the best control of any pitcher in history. Mathewson joined forces with manager John McGraw (``an aggrieved bantam cock'') to revitalize the New York Giants and snare a World Series, during which Mathewson threw three shutouts in six days. Other triumphs followed, placed by Robinson within the context of a nation enjoying the new century with its social liberality and economic clout. Mathewson, however, remains singularly uninteresting here, apart from his amazing feats in uniform. Robinson tries to add color (``there were times when Matty spoke harshly about his teammates''), but it's like noticing the freckles on Shirley Temple. Disaster struck only after retirement, when Mathewson inhaled poison gas during a WW I training exercise and later contracted TB, leading to his death at age 45. A salutary but dull story, in these days of I-me-mine players, about a time of golden boys and Golden Years.