Gary Matthews may be better known for being on the pennant-winning Phillies' team in 1983 or the division-winning Cubs' team in 1984. But for Braves' fan, they'll always remember number thirty-six spending four years as Atlanta's right fielder.
"I had a good time here," Matthews says. "We didn't do a lot of winning, but we had some pretty good players in Bob Horner and Dale Murphy and Phil Niekro."
Matthews signed with Atlanta as a free agent in 1977. He hit .281 with 81 home runs and 291 RBI in 2231 at bats in his four seasons. In Matthews' second season with the team, a young third base coach from the Yankees took over as Atlanta's manager. It just happens to be the same person managing the team today, Bobby Cox.
"He was pretty feisty," Matthews remembers. "He would let you go out and play. With him being a player himself, he understands the ups and downs of the players that play everyday. He doesn't get too high or too low. He knows the game extremely well."
And so does Matthews, who at 27 years old in 1978 was one of the veteran players on the Atlanta roster. That year players like Horner, Murphy, Glenn Hubbard, and Bruce Benedict came up to the big leagues. And it didn't take long for Matthews to be a mentor to the young Braves.
"Well they were young players," Matthews says. "As a veteran player, you have a tendency to give some of the knowledge to the younger guys the same way that when I was coming up Willie Stargell and Pete Rose and Willie Mays and Willie McCovey gave me a little piece of information here and there to make our game a little bit better."
But the veteran leadership wasn't enough for the Braves to keep Matthews around. They traded him after the 1980 season to Philadelphia for a young right-handed pitched named Bob Walk. Matthews went on to have several good years for the Phillies and then the Cubs, while Walk would not develop into a solid pitcher until leaving the Braves in 1983.
"They had been talking about it, and again they didn't know what direction they wanted to go," Matthews says. "A lot of times when teams get rid of players, they don't realize the importance of say a guy like (Julio) Franco, who is playing with the Braves right now. He can teach a lot of the younger players how to play the game and different aspects of the game. It makes it easier when it comes from a player like Franco. I've always felt that a lot of times teams get rid of veteran players too soon and then when they have rookie players out there who aren't ready to play the game they get a little frustrated."
The Braves would finally produce a winning season the year after Matthews left. The combination of Horner and Murphy was electric, and Matthews was no shocked one bit that they were successful.
"They had more experience and it really became their team," Matthews says. "So it didn't surprise me that they picked it up and it became their team. They were good players."
Bill Shanks has a new book out on the Braves called "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team." Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Matthews has fond memories of Atlanta
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