#Shortstops: First rate at third base

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Meredith Tomich

When someone says that you have one of four perfect swings that they have seen in their lifetime and that person is Ty Cobb, chances are that you are destined to have a pretty good career.

The person that Cobb was referring to was Eddie Mathews, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978.

Mathews’ 17-year big league career was spent mostly with the Braves – and he was the only player ever to suit up for the franchise in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. He also graced the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated in 1954.

A superb all-around third baseman, Mathews played 12 season with fellow future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. As teammates, they combined for 863 home runs and led the Braves to a World Series title in 1957.

After spending most of the 1967 season with the Astros, Mathews was traded to the Tigers on Aug. 17, 1967, in a stretch-drive deal. He played at third base for the final month of that season due to an injury to the Tigers’ regular third baseman Don Wert. But when the spring of 1968 rolled around, Tigers manager Mayo Smith returned third base duties to Wert and Mathews competed for time at first base with Norm Cash, who ultimately ended up in the starting role while Mathews was sent on the bench.

Due to lingering back problems, Mathews only played in 31 regular season games for the Tigers in 1968 before being put on the disabled list in June. But before the injury, on May 27, 1968, Mathews hit two home runs in a game against the California Angels, the 511th and 512th of his career to lift him past Mel Ott on the all-time home run list. These two home runs ended up being the final two home runs of Mathews’ career. The bat Mathews used that day is now a part of the Hall of Fame collection.

When he hit his 500th home run on July 14, 1967, Matthews was only the seventh player to reach that milestone.

After his stint on the DL and subsequent surgery, many thought that Mathews’ legendary career was over. But the Hall of Famer persisted and was back on the roster by the final month of the regular season.

In addition, he was added to the World Series roster for what would end up being a historic end to a historic career. The Tigers, on the back of Mickey Lolich’s three wins in the World Series, came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games and claim their third World Series title.

After his playing career ended, Mathews spent a few years out of baseball but ultimately returned to Atlanta as a coach in 1971. The following year he became manager for the Braves, where he managed former teammate Hank Aaron as he broke Babe Ruth’s all time home run record. In 1978, four years after his managerial career ended, Mathews was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“I’m just a beat up old third baseman,” Mathews said on his induction day on Aug. 7, 1978. “I’m just a small part of a wonderful game that is a tremendous part of America today.”

Meredith Tomich was a 2018 public programming intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series