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MATHEWS, EDWIN LEE [EDDIE]

MATHEWS, EDWIN LEE [EDDIE] (1931–2001). Edwin Lee (Eddie) Mathews, baseball star, was born in Texarkana, Texas, on October 13, 1931, and raised in Santa Barbara, California. His father, who had played semiprofessionally, and his mother encouraged him to develop his athletic skills. As a teenager he attracted interest from several major league teams. Mathews chose to sign with the Boston Braves of the National League because they had the oldest incumbent third baseman among the nine teams that had been scouting him, and he calculated that he would reach the major leagues quickly. He signed at 12:01 A.M. the day after his graduation from high school and was sent to the Braves' minor league team in Atlanta for polishing.

In 1951 the aging Ty Cobb, arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history, saw the youngster and said, "I've only known three or four perfect swings in my time—this lad has one of them." Mathews was ready for the major leagues by April 1952 when the Braves traded Bob Elliott to the New York Giants to clear a space for him in their starting lineup. Mathews hit twenty-five home runs during his rookie season, the team's last in Boston. The Braves moved to Milwaukee before the 1953 season where they became an immediate popular success, and Mathews became their first star as he batted .302 with a league-leading forty-seven home runs. He was featured on the cover of the first issue of a new magazine called Sports Illustrated in 1954, the same season in which he was joined on the Braves' roster by a young outfielder named Henry Aaron. Over their thirteen seasons together Mathews and Aaron combined to hit 863 home runs, the highest total for two teammates in baseball history.

Mathews helped the Braves win National League pennants in 1957 when he starred in Milwaukee's World Series victory over the New York Yankees and 1958 when the Braves lost a rematch with the Yankees. He was named to the All-Star team nine times, and won a second home-run title in 1959. He also won the respect and admiration of his teammates. "Eddie was a tough competitor and a tough guy," remembered his former teammate Warren Spahn, a Hall of Fame pitcher. Another former teammate, Frank Torre, said of Mathews, "He always seemed to jump up about two notches when the game was on the line." Mathews's former infield partner, shortstop Johnny Logan, recalled that Mathews "was a below-average fielder when he came up," but worked tirelessly to improve: "He'd knock them down with his chest and pick them up. He broke his nose three times fielding balls. He'd work hard for a couple of hours, then we'd go to a bar and have a cold one. Actually, we'd have three or four or five."

Ultimately, Mathews was overshadowed by Aaron, who went on to become the leading home-run hitter in baseball history, and he later claimed that his drinking cost him a number of coaching jobs after his retirement as a player. Still, Mathews concluded his career with 512 home runs (tied with fellow Texan Ernie Banks for thirteenth-best in history) and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.

Mathews was also the only man to play for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, to which the team relocated following the 1965 season. His offensive production fell dramatically in 1966, and the Braves traded him to the Houston Astros after the season. The Astros in turn traded him to the Detroit Tigers during the 1967 season, and Mathews retired following the 1968 season, during which he appeared in only thirty-one games for the eventual World Series champions.

Mathews was named manager of the Braves—and his former teammate Aaron—late in the 1972 season. Under Mathews, the team finished fourth in the National League's Western Division in 1972, then fifth in 1973. In April 1974, with Aaron on the verge of breaking Babe Ruth's career record for home runs, Mathews became embroiled in a controversy. Aaron hit his record-tying 714th home run in the Braves' first game of the season, in Cincinnati. The team wanted him to break the record in Atlanta, so Mathews planned to hold him out of the next two games, also in Cincinnati. Aaron sat out the second game, but baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn threatened to penalize the team unless Aaron played in the final game of the series. Aaron played and failed to hit a home run, then broke the record in the Braves' first home game, against Los Angeles. Mathews was fired as manager in July 1974, and the Braves went on to finish fourth. He worked in various capacities for the Braves, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Oakland Athletics after his managerial career ended. He also authored a frank memoir of his baseball career, Eddie Mathews and the National Pastime, with Bob Buege in 1994.

Mathews was seriously injured in an accident during a Cayman Islands cruise in December 1996, fracturing his pelvis when he fell into the water and was crushed between a boat and a concrete dock. He was hospitalized for four months during which he had to be fed through his stomach, and his health deteriorated slowly over the next few years. He died of complications from pneumonia in La Jolla, California, on February 18, 2001, having been hospitalized since the previous September. He was survived by his wife, Judy, and four children.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://www.jsonline.com/sports/brew/feb01/eddiemathews021801.asp), accessed May 9, 2001. New York Times, February 19, 2001.

Martin Donell Kohout

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Martin Donell Kohout, "MATHEWS, EDWIN LEE [EDDIE]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmaga), accessed August 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.