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Great Braves Through The Ages: Eddie Mathews

<B>Eddie Mathews</B> was a natural athlete blessed with tremendous power, a rifle arm, and a durable body. In addition to being the premiere third baseman of his era, Mathews was also a key member of the excellent Braves teams of the late 1950s. Dan Pace profiles the career of his special player, and Hall of Famer in his latest "<I>Great Braves Through The Ages</I>."

On October 13th 1931 Edwin Lee Mathews Jr. was born into a family that loved baseball. His father Ed Mathews played some semi pro ball in Texas and his grandfather Birdie Mathews was offered numerous contracts with MLB teams but turned them down because he made more money working for the railroad.

When Eddie was four his family moved from Texas to Santa Barbara California. While growning up a young Eddie would occasionaly go to minor league games since Santa Barbara at the time was home to a class-C farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When Eddie began attending Santa Barbara high he became a star on both the baseball and football teams. He also led his american legion team to numerous tournament championships which is where MLB scouts began to have a interest in Eddie. One scout was Braves chief west coast scout and former major leaguer Johnny Moore.

During his senior year in high school around 10 different MLB teams besides the Braves were interested in Mathews aswell as numerous college football scouts. Later that year Johnny Moore and the Mathews family had dinner together and discussed Eddie signing with the Braves. Eddie was worried because the Braves already had 1947 NL MVP Bob Elliott playing third base. But Johnn Moore assured Eddie that by the time he went through the minors Elliott would be gone. Eddie and his family liked the idea of playing for the Braves because they planned on letting Eddie mature in the minors before being called up while other teams wanted to bring him up immediately.

The rules at the time were that a player couldn't be signed until midnight on the last day of high school. Back then alot of high schools had thier prom on the very last day of school. So Eddie, his family and Johnny Moore knew that the lobby of the Carillio ballroom would be crawling with MLB scouts ready to offer Eddie a contract. Before the prom the Mathews family and Johnny Moore made a plan for Eddie to sneak out of the prom and meet Johnny Moore and Eddies father at a nearby hotel to sign with the Braves.

Before the prom Jonny Moore sent Eddie a corsage to give to his date, and when Eddie and his date arrived at the prom half a dozen scouts were waiting in the lobby. Eddie smiled and waved and headed into the ballroom. At a quarter to midnight Eddie and his date slipped out the backdoor and jumped into the family car. They headed over to the Barbara hotel and went to Johnny Moore's room. Johnny and Ed Mathews were waiting and a few minutes after midnight Eddie signed the contract with the Braves and returned to the prom. The next day scouts called offering huge contracts only to find out Eddie had already signed with the Braves

In 1949 Mathews was sent to Evansville Indiana of the class B triple I league. But he would sit on the bench for the entire game. The next day Eddie was sent to High Point North Carolina which shared a team with nearby Thomasville. In 63 games with "Hi-Tom" Eddie hit .363 with 20 doubles, 3 triples, 17 home runs, 56 rbi and scored 62 runs.

In 1950 Eddie played for Atlanta in the Double A southern league. That year he hit .286 with 24 doubles, 9 triples, 32 home runs, 106 rbi and scored 103 times. In 1951 Eddie joined the Navy because he knew he would be drafted soon with the Korean war going on. He met up with another Brave prospect Pete Whisenant and together became friends aswell as teammates where they led thier team to the 11th naval district championship. Eddie was discharged from the navy because his father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Eddie wanted to stay home and help his mom take care of his father but the family needed money so he reutrned to baseball and would start the 1951 season in Atlanta again where he hit .289 with 5 doubles, 4 triples, 6 home runs, 29 rbi and scored 23 runs. He was called up to triple A Milwaukee of the American Association where he hit .333 with 1 home run, 5 rbi and scored 2 runs.

In 1952 Eddie was called up to the Boston Braves. On April 19th 1952 Eddie hit his first career home run off of Phillie pitcher Ken Heintzleman. Hitting .242 with 23 doubles, 5 triples, 25 home runs, 58 rbi and scoring 80 runs Eddie came in second in the National league "rookie of the year" voting. 1953 was a monster year for Eddie, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and he had 31 doubles, 8 triples, set the Braves team record for home runs in a season with 47 which also led the NL, drove in 135 rbi and scored 110 runs while hitting .302. Mathews was selected to his first all star game and came in second in the National league MVP voting.

1954 would be another excellent season for Mathews. He hit .290 with 21 doubles, 4 triples, 40 home runs, 103 rbi and scored 96 runs. 1955 would be almost a Xerox copy of 1954 for Eddie by hitting .289 with 23 doubles, 5 triples, 41 home runs, 101 rbi and scoring 108 runs. That year Eddie was selected to his second all star team and led the NL in walks with 109.

1956 would be another solid season for Eddie even if his numbers did slip a little. Mathews hit .272 with 21 doubles, 2 triples, 37 home runs, 95 rbi and scored 103 times. That year Eddie was selected to his 3rd NL all star team and finished 4th in the league in both home runs and runs scored. 1957 would be a year Eddie would never forget as he helped lead the Braves to thier first NL pennant since 1948. Eddie hit .292 with 28 doubles, 9 triples, 32 home runs, 94 rbi and he scored 109 runs. The Braves took on the New York Yankees in the World Series. In the series Eddie only had 5 hits but when he did hit he made it count by having 3 doubles, 1 home run, driving in 4 and scoring 4 runs. He was also walked 8 times in the series and 4 of his 5 hits were of the extra base variety. The Braves beat the Yankees in 7 games to claim their first World Championship since 1914. Eddie was also selected to his fourth NL all star team.

Eddie struggled at the plate in 1958 hitting .251 with only 18 doubles and 1 triple. He did manage to bash 31 home runs and drive in 77 and score 97 runs. The Braves once again faced the Yankees in the World Series. This time the Yankees won 4 games to 3. Eddie continued struggling at the plate in the series hitting .160 with 2 doubles, 3 rbi and 3 runs scored. Despite his subpar year Eddie was once again on the NL all star team.

From 1959 to 1965 Eddie would hit a total of 224 home runs including 46 which led the league in 1959. In that seven year period Eddie also drove in 672 rbi, scored 677 runs (including 103 or more 4 times), was selected to 4 more all star teams ('59, '60, '61, '62), lead the leauge in walks 3 times (93 in '61, 101 in '62, 124 in '63), and lead the league in on base percentage in 1963 with .399.

In 1966 the Braves moved to Atlanta after only 13 seasons in Milwaukee. Eddie went along and became the only Brave to play for the team in Boston, Milwaukee and Atltanta. That season Eddie hit .250 with 21 doubles, 4 triples, 16 home runs, 53 rbi and scored 72 times. December 31st 1966 would be the end of an era in the Braves franchise as the Braves traded Eddie, pitcher Arnie Umbach and a player to be named later to the Houston Astros in exchange for pitcher Bob Bruce and outfielder Dave Nicholson.

With the Astros Eddie would hit home run number 500 on July 14th 1967 off of Giants ace Juan Marichal. A month later on August 17th Eddie was traded to the Detroit Tigers. Eddie spent the rest of the 1967 season with the Tigers and spent 1968 as a pinch hitter for Detroit. The Tigers won the AL Pennant and beat the Cardinals in the World Series 4 games to 3. In the series Eddie had one hit in 3 at bats. The Tigers released Eddie on October 28th 1968 and Mathews retired.

On August 7th 1972 Eddie was hired to manage the Braves. He would go on to manage as the Braves for the remainder of 1972, all of 1973 and the first half of 1974 before being fired on June 21st. As manager Eddie got to be present when long time teammate Hank Aaron hit home run #715 to break Babe Ruth's all time record on April 8th 1974

In 1978 Mathews got the honor every baseball player dreams of as he was finally inducted into the baseball hall of fame. His uniform number 41 was retired by the Braves and in 1999 he was one of the first inductees into the newly opened Braves hall of fame.

On Febuary 18th 2001 Eddie passed away. His death was over shadowed in the news by the death of Nascar racing legend Dale Earnhardt who passed away on the same day. It is a time I will remember well as my own father passed away only 12 days earlier. My father used to tell me stories about Eddie and the Milwaukee Braves as we watched Braves games on TBS. So even though I never got to see Eddie play he will always have a place in my heart and in my memories.

Eddie Mathews career Braves hitting stats
Games: 2,223 (2nd in Braves history)
At Bats: 8,049 (2nd in Braves history)
Hits: 2,201 (2nd in Braves history)
Doubles: 338 (2nd in Braves history)
Triples: 70 (10th in Braves history)
Home runs: 493 (2nd in Braves history)
RBI: 1,388 (2nd in Braves history)
Runs: 1,452 (2nd in Braves history)
Average: .273

Awards wth Braves:
NL ALL STAR 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962

Eddie Mathews Career hitting stats:
Games: 2,391
At Bats: 8,537
Hits: 2,315
Doubles: 354
Triples: 72
Home Runs: 512
RBI: 1,453
Runs: 1,509
Average: .271

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