Eddie Mathews (1931-2001)
One of the best third basemen in major league history,
Born in Texarkana, Texas, on October 13, 1931, Mathews signed with the Boston Braves in 1949 on the night of his high school graduation in Santa Barbara, California, for $5,999. Turning down college football scholarships and more money from other big-league teams, Mathews chose to sign with the Braves after careful consideration (and advice from his father), knowing that he would soon have a job replacing the Braves' aging third baseman, Bob Elliot.
Mathews spent his first two seasons in the minors, perfecting a swing that even baseball great Ty Cobb described as "perfect." In 1950 the Korean War (1950-53) forced Mathews to leave the minors and enlist in the navy. He was soon released, however, because of his status as an only child and his father's battle with tuberculosis.
Returning late in the 1951 season, Mathews played forty-nine games that year with minor-league clubs in Milwaukee and Atlanta—two cities that he would return to as a major-league star. By 1952 Mathews claimed the starting role at third base for the Braves' last season in Boston. During his second season Mathews accompanied the Braves in a move to Milwaukee and adjusted quite well to his new surroundings, taking the home run crown with forty-seven round trips. He became such a star in Milwaukee that Sports Illustrated placed him on its very first cover, on August 16, 1954.
His career reached its pinnacle in 1957, when the Braves won the World Series over the New York Yankees, and in 1958 the team captured one more National League pennant. By the 1960s his productivity began to decline, but he was still playing well enough to join the Braves in their final move to Atlanta in 1966.
Mathews's final days with the Braves were not especially cordial. In 1967 the Braves traded him to Houston Astros, even though he was only seven home runs shy of 500. Houston later traded him to the Detroit Tigers, who won the World Series in 1967, but he played sparsely as a pinch hitter and platoon first baseman. Mathews retired in Detroit, Michigan, in 1968.
In 1978 Eddie Mathews was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. After spending some years as a minor league scout and hitting coach with the Braves and the Oakland Athletics, Mathews returned to California and died in La Jolla on February 18, 2001. The Braves honored Mathews one last time by wearing his number on a patch on their jerseys throughout the 2001 season.
Eddie Mathews and Bob Buege, Eddie Mathews and the National Pastime (Milwaukee: Douglas American Sports Publications, 1994).
Robert E. Luckett Jr., University of Georgia
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