Eddie Mathews: Lost in a Shadow

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 20, 2008

Not many know it, but Eddie Mathews is one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history. Legends know him for his perfect swing. Paul Waner said, "There's nothing I can teach that boy about swinging a bat. He's perfect." Ty Cobb couldn't have put it better when he said, "I've only known three or four perfect swings in my time. This lad has one of them."

Mathews was born in Texarkana, TX in 1931. He was an all-around athlete. He received scholarship offers in football from USC, UCLA, and others. He rejected, and decided to enter the Major League Baseball draft as a high schooler.

He got offers from every team except two. On June 19, 1949, Mathews signed for $5,999 with the Atlanta Braves.

Mathews could've played right away in the majors for teams like the Dodgers, but he made a good decision by signing on with the Braves and going to the minors for seasoning. In Class D he hit .363 with 17 home runs in just 43 games. However, his fielding was lousy.

Mathews was brought up to Atlanta out of the Southern Association in 1950. He had another great year, with 32 homers and 106 RBI. Mathews was actually going to go to the military the following year, but his dad got tuberculosis, so Mathews didn't have to go.

Two years later, he was called up to play for the Boston Braves and it was the last year the Braves played there. As a rookie, he had 25 homers, but just 58 RBI, hit only .242, and struck out 115 times. The talent was there, but he needed work.

Mathews hated playing in Boston and was glad they moved. "About the only people who seemed to care is the Braves and the 50 gamblers who always met in the first base section."

1953, 1954, and 1955 were good times for Mathews. He had home run totals of 47, 40, and 41. He had RBI totals of 135, 103, and 101. He was selected to two-of-nine all star games.

In 1957, the Braves won their first World Series title. Mathews had a great series. He had a game-winning homer in the 10th inning of Game Four, had the only RBI in Game Five, and recorded the last out in Game Seven.

Mathews once said, "that play was bigger than 500 home runs."

After playing well for some amount of time, he tore ligaments and tendons in 1962—at the age of 31. "The injury was slow to heal. Even after it did, I was never the same at the plate." His performance showed.

He hit only 23 home runs in 1963 and 1964. His last good year was 1965, when he had 32 homers and 95 RBI. He got traded to the Detroit Tigers in 1968.

For the Tigers, he had 52 at bats and retired. He became a Braves coach in 1971 and 1972, and replaced Luman Harris. But he was fired 100 games into the 1974 baseball season.

In 1978, Mathews was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. "The Hall of Fame isn't something you think about when you're playing. But this is it for me. I don't know what else there is to do now that I'm in."

Mathews died seven years ago, in 2001, because of complications of pneumonia.

Mathews may be a glimmer in the dark because of Hank Aaron, but Mathews was one of the greatest ever. He had 512 home runs and 1,453 RBI. Combined, Aaron and Mathews had 1,267 home runs and 3,751 RBI.

I give you credit, Eddie.