|February 19, 2012||Posted by admin under Eddie Mathews|
The only man to play for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, Eddie Mathews was one of the most underrated and overlooked superstars in baseball history. Perhaps he went mostly unnoticed during his brilliant 17-year career because he never performed in a major media market. Maybe he didn't receive his just due because he was a quiet man who played the game without much fanfare. Perhaps the fact that Mathews spent most of his career playing on the same team as the great Hank Aaron prevented him from receiving the sort of recognition he so richly deserved. But Mathews was the premier third baseman of his era, and one of the very greatest to ever play the hot corner.
Born in Texarkana, Texas on October 13, 1931, Edwin Lee Mathews was six years old when his family moved to Santa Barbara, California. After developing into a star high school player, Mathews was signed to a contract by the Boston Braves in 1949. Establishing a reputation in the Braves minor league system as a power-hitting lefthanded batter who hit towering home runs, Mathews made his major-league debut with the team at the tender age of 20 in 1952. Even before he joined the Braves, though, the youngster drew praise from none other than Ty Cobb, who noted in the fall of 1951, "I've seen three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them."
Boston to Milwaukee
Mathews batted only .242 for the Braves in their last year in Boston and struck out a league-leading 115 times, but he also hit 25 home runs and scored 80 runs. He had his breakout year when the team moved to Milwaukee the following season, leading the National League with 47 home runs, scoring 110 runs, batting .302, placing among the league leaders with 135 runs batted in, 99 walks, a .406 on-base percentage, and a .627 slugging percentage, and making the All-Star Team for the first time. The 21-year-old third baseman's outstanding performance helped the Braves finish second to Brooklyn in the N.L. standings, improving their record by 28 games over the previous season in the process. The writers acknowledged Mathews' contributions to his team by placing him second to Dodger catcher Roy Campanella in the MVP balloting.
Mathews had another outstanding year in 1954, hitting 40 home runs, driving in 103 runs, scoring another 96, batting .290, and once again finishing among the league leaders in walks, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Yet, even though the Braves won 89 games and finished third in the National League, only eight games behind the pennant-winning Giants, the degree to which Mathews tended to be overlooked by the media throughout his career was demonstrated by the baseball writers, who failed to place him in the top ten in the MVP voting.
Mathews surpassed 40 home runs and 100 runs batted in for the third consecutive year in 1955, clouting 41 homers and knocking in 101 runs, while also scoring 108 times, batting .289, and leading the league in walks for the first of four times by drawing 109 bases on balls. His outstanding performance earned him the first of eight straight All-Star Game appearances.
1957 World Series
Another solid season from Mathews, in which he hit 37 home runs, knocked in 95 runs, scored 103 others, and batted .272, helped the Braves to a close second-place finish behind the pennant-winning Dodgers in 1956. The team then captured its first N.L. flag in nine seasons the following year, with Mathews contributing 32 home runs, 94 runs batted in, 109 runs scored, and a .292 batting average. He finished eighth in the league MVP balloting, with teammate Aaron winning the award by batting .322 and topping the circuit with 44 home runs, 132 runs batted in, 118 runs scored, and 369 total bases. The Braves then defeated the Yankees in seven games in the World Series, to win their only world championship in Milwaukee. Despite batting only .227 during the Series, Mathews contributed greatly to the Braves World Series triumph. He walked eight times, won Game Four with a tenth-inning homer, scored the only run in Game Five, and doubled in the first two runs of Game Seven.
The Braves repeated as National League champions in 1958, finishing eight games ahead of second-place Pittsburgh. Mathews had somewhat of an off year, batting only .251 and driving in just 77 runs, despite hitting 31 home runs and scoring 97 runs. He rebounded in 1959, though, putting together one of the finest all-around seasons of his career to help lead Milwaukee to a close second-place finish in the N.L. standings.. Mathews batted a career-best .306 and led the National League with 46 home runs. He also placed among the league leaders with 114 runs batted in, 118 runs scored, a .391 on-base percentage, and a .593 slugging percentage. The slugging third baseman finished second in the MVP balloting, just ahead of his teammate Aaron, who placed third in the voting.
Mathews continued his unprecedented string of nine consecutive seasons with at least 30 home runs by topping the 30-homer mark in both 1960 and 1961. In the first of those years, he batted .277 and finished among the league leaders with 39 homers, 124 runs batted in, 108 runs scored, a .401 on-base percentage, and a .551 slugging percentage. Mathews followed that up by hitting 32 home runs, knocking in 91 runs, scoring 103 others, batting .306, and compiling a .405 on-base percentage in 1961.
Although Mathews continued to receive little media attention throughout his period of excellence, he was regarded as one of the strongest power hitters of his time by his teammates and peers. In fact, they often compared him to American League contemporary Mickey Mantle, in terms of sheer strength. Hall of Fame teammate Warren Spahn once said, "Mathews is just as strong as Mantle. They don't hit the same - Mantle gets all of his weight into his swing; Mathews uses his wrists more."
The Braves contended for the National League flag in both 1960 and 1961, before finishing near the middle of the pack in each of the five remaining seasons Mathews spent with the team. Still, they posted a winning record in each of those years, with their third baseman remaining a productive hitter throughout. He surpassed 20 homers four more times, drove in 80 runs three times, scored 80 runs three times, and led the league in walks twice, and in on-base percentage once. But, after hitting only 16 home runs and knocking in just 53 runs in 1966, Mathews was traded to the Houston Astros, with whom he spent the 1967 campaign. He then served as a back-up on the 1968 world champion Detroit Tigers, before retiring at the end of the year. Mathews ended his career with 512 home runs, 1,453 runs batted in, 1,509 runs scored, a .271 batting average, and an excellent .378 on-base percentage. In addition to being a two-time home run champion, Mathews led the National League in walks four times, and in on-base percentage once. He topped the 30-homer mark a total of 10 times, hitting at least 30 each year from 1953 to 1961. Mathews surpassed 40 homers on four separate occasions. He also drove in more than 100 runs five times, scored more than 100 runs eight times, and batted over .300 in three different seasons. He appeared in a total of nine All-Star Games.
Mathews played with Hank Aaron from 1954 to 1966. During their 13 seasons together, the two men combined to hit a total of 863 home runs – the most ever by two teammates. Aaron hit 442 of those long balls, while Mathews clouted a total of 421.
Aaron later recalled, "We (he and Mathews) weren't jealous of each other at all. That's one reason we were so successful."
As was the case with his former teammate, Aaron was largely ignored by the media throughout most of his career. However, he eventually began to receive the recognition he deserved after he broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. On the other hand, Eddie Mathews remains to this day, long after he passed away from complications of pneumonia in 2001, one of the most overlooked great players in the history of the game.
Mathews was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1976 and in 1978 Eddie Mathews was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and today still ranks second all-time among third basemen in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and total bases.
In 1999, he ranked Number 63 on The Sporting News list of Baseball's Greatest Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
Shortstop Johnny Logan, who spent 10 years playing alongside Mathews on the left side of the Braves infield, said of his former teammate, "I think he was one of the greatest third basemen of all time. He had one of the sweetest swings I ever saw."
"I've seen three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them." -
- Ty Cobb