Eddie Mathews, 69
February 19, 2001
(c) Houston Astros
Mathews died in his sleep at Scripps La Jolla hospital, his wife, Judy, said. He had been hospitalized since Sept. 3, when she took him to the emergency room after he had trouble breathing.
"He worked so hard to get better," Judy Mathews said. "He just gave out."'
Mathews died of complications of pneumonia, said his son, Eddie Jr., an anesthesiologist at Waukesha (Wis.) Memorial Hospital. Mathews also had congestive heart failure, although that didn't play a significant role his death, his son said.
Mathews hit 512 home runs, was one of baseball's greatest third basemen and the only person to play for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978, he had lived in Del Mar, north of San Diego, for several years.
Mathews had been in fragile health since being seriously hurt in an accident while on a Caribbean cruise in December 1996.
When Mathews stepped off a boat taking passengers to shore, the boat moved back and he fell into the water. He was crushed three times between the boat and pier, shattering his pelvis.
Doctors believed he had a mild heart attack after that, and he came down with pneumonia while hospitalized in Miami, his wife said a few weeks after the accident.
"That was a big setback," Eddie Jr. said Sunday. "I don't think he physically recovered from that completely."
Since Mathews couldn't attend the closing ceremonies at County Stadium in Milwaukee last September, Commissioner Bud Selig, who grew up in Milwaukee rooting for the Braves, arranged for Mathews to watch on television.
"Eddie Mathews was my hero," New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who played with Mathews from 1960-66, said during last year's postseason. "He was captain and I always called him that. He never backed off, never was tentative."
Eddie Mathews obituary
by Richard Goldstein
The New York Times
February 19, 2001
Eddie Mathews, the Bravesí Hall of Fame third baseman who hit 512 home runs and teamed with Hank Aaron to form the most productive power-hitting combination in baseball history, died yesterday at a hospital in San Diego. He was 69.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his family said.
In a career that spanned 17 seasons, all except his last two with the Braves and the only man to play for that franchise in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta, Mathews was considered baseballís top third baseman of the 1950ís and early 1960ís.
He captured the National League home run title in 1953, when his 47 homers ended Ralph Kinerís seven-year reign, and in 1959, when he hit 46 homers, and he is tied with Ernie Banks for 13th place in career homers. Mathews and Aaron combined for 863 home runs in their 13 years together on the Braves, the most in baseball history for two teammates.
In helping propel the Milwaukee Braves to two pennants and their only World Series championship, Mathews was a nine-time All-Star.
A left-handed batter adept at waiting until the last instant and then pulling the ball with authority, he impressed the man who was perhaps baseballís greatest hitter.
"Iíve only known three or four perfect swings in my time and this lad has one of them," Ty Cobb said.
Edwin Lee Mathews was born on Oct. 13, 1931 in Texarkana, Tex., and was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif. When he was 6 years old, his father, a former semipro baseball player, and his mother took him to a junior high school field for workouts.
"At first my mother pitched and my father shagged," Mathews recalled. "But I hit a line drive through the box that almost took my motherís head off. Then they switched."
Mathews signed with the Bravesí organization out of high school in 1949 and made his major league debut in 1952, the franchiseís last year in Boston, hitting 25 home runs. He emerged as a star in winning the home run title the following season, when the Braves arrived in Milwaukee to huge adulation and revived fortunes.
It seemed that Mathews might be the next Babe Ruth. In August 1954, his batting swing was depicted on the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated. But that was the year that Aaron, who would eclipse Ruthís record of 714 homers, joined Mathews in Milwaukee. For the rest of the 1950ís, Aaron and Mathews, together with Joe Adcock, supplied the power to back the pitching of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl as the Braves vied with the Dodgers for National League supremacy.
In 1957, when the Braves played the Yankees in the World Series, Mathews went without a hit in the first three games. But he won Game 4 with a two-run homer off Bob Grim in the 10th inning, scored the only run in Burdetteís 1-0 victory in Game 5, then had a two-run double as Burdette won his third game of the Series, stopping the Yankees, 5-0, in Game 7. To punctuate his performance, Mathews ended the series with a backhanded stab of a hard ground ball hit by Bill Skowron with the bases loaded. The Braves won the pennant again in 1958, but fell to the Yankees in seven games, with Mathews striking out a Series-record 11 times.
Mathews remained with the Braves through 1966, their first season in Atlanta, then played for the Houston Astros and Detroit, appearing with the Tigersí 1968 World Series winners in his final season. He had a .271 career batting average, 2,315 hits and 1,453 runs batted in to go with his 512 homers.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Mathews became the Bravesí manager late in the 1972 season, when they finished fourth in the National League West, then managed them to a fifth-place finish in 1973.
In April 1974, Mathews became embroiled in a controversy surrounding Aaronís bid to break Ruthís home run record. Aaron hit his record-tying 714th homer on opening day at Cincinnati. The Bravesí management wanted Aaron to break the record in Atlanta, so Mathews held his old teammate out of the second game against the Reds and planned to bench him for the third game as well.
"Once he hit the tying home run, it was fair enough to sit him down," Mathews said. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, concerned over the integrity of the game, threatened to impose serious penalties if Mathews kept Aaron out of the last game against the Reds. Aaron was put back in the lineup, the broke Ruthís record in the Bravesí first game at home, hitting No. 715 against the Los Angeles Dodgersí Al Downing.
Mathews was fired as manager in July 1974, and the Braves went on to finish fourth. He worked in a variety of posts with the Braves, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Oakland Athletics after his managing career ended.
He is survived by his wife, Judy, of Del Mar, Calif.; two sons, Edwin Jr. and John; a daughter, Stephanie Widule; and a stepdaughter, Sarah Doyle.
Although Mathews was known foremost for his power hitting, he emphasized his competitive drive when reflecting on his career.
"Iíd take on the other third baseman," he said. "I wanted to beat him in every department: fielding, hitting, running the bases. I played that game all my life, and it kept me on my toes."