Homer Happy: Eddie Mathews
Eddie Mathews’ 17-year major league career was full of home runs – 512 to be exact. And while the bulk of his career-long power display took place during the 1950s, Mathews still wielded a dangerous bat in the high-powered Milwaukee Braves offense during the 1960s.
From 1953-1961, no other third baseman could match Eddie Mathews for offensive fireworks. During that period, Mathews batted a combined .288 with a .558 slugging percentage. He averaged 38 home runs with 104 runs batted in, and scored at a clip of 106 runs per season.
Nobody associated Mathews with “cheap” home runs. He was a strong man who swung hard. But Mathews’ hitting power was generated from his wrists and with a swing that was uncommonly fluid for a power hitter. And while Mathews had his share of strikeouts (he still ranks #61 all time), he led the National League four times in bases on balls and retired with a .271 batting average.
Mathews was signed by the Boston Braves in 1949. He needed only three seasons of minor league seasoning before taking over third base for the Braves.
His rookie season was 1952 – the Braves’ last season in Boston. Mathews batted .242 as a rookie, with 25 home runs (tying him for fourth most in the National League) and 58 runs batted in. He led the league in strikeouts. It was the only time in his career that he would do so.
In 1953, the Braves were playing their home games in Milwaukee, and Mathews was the National League home run champion that season with 47. He drove in 137 runs, scored 110 runs, and batted .302. He would hit at least 40 home runs and drive in more than 100 runs in each of the next two seasons. Mathews led the league in home runs again with 46 in 1959.
During the 1950s, Mathews averaged 37 home runs and 97 RBIs per season. He also averaged more than 100 runs scored per season.
Mathews picked up in the 1960s where he left off from the 1950s. He had an outstanding season in 1960, batting .277 with 39 home runs and 124 RBIs. He hit 32 home runs in 1961, and then didn’t crack the 30-home run mark again until 1965, when he hit 32 home runs with 95 RBIs. From 1961 through 1965, Mathews averaged 28 home runs and 87 RBIs per season.
Eddie Mathews hit 40 or more home runs in four different seasons, leading the National League in 1953 and 1959.
Mathews was the only member of the Braves team to play in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. The Braves’ first season in Atlanta was Mathews’ last with the team. He batted .251 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs.
In December, the Braves traded their future Hal of Famer to the Houston Astros. Mathews hit ten home runs for the Astros – including his 500th career home run – before being traded to the Detroit Tigers. He served primarily in a pinch-hit role with the Tigers and retired after the 1968 season.
Mathews finished with a .271 batting average on 2,315 hits. He amassed 512 home runs in 17 major league seasons with 1,453 RBIs (currently fifty-ninth all time). Mathews ranked in the top ten in home runs 12 times during his career, and finished among the top ten in RBIs 12 times. He was an All-Star nine times.
Eddie Mathews was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.