No. 40: Gary Matthews

gary_matthews.jpgRighthanded hitting, Righthanded Throwing Outfielder
Seasons With Braves: 1977-1980
Stats With Braves: .288/.354/.456, 81 HR 291 RBI 340 R

Gary Matthews was one of the first generation of baseball free agents, coming to Atlanta in 1977 after four-plus seasons in San Francisco (the free agency eligibility rules were different then) where he’d won the Rookie of the Year in 1973. The Braves also traded for Jeff Burroughs that offseason, having already signed pioneer free agent Andy Messersmith. These deals were supposed to turn the Braves into a pennant winner. Instead, they lost 101 games and finished last. And in 1978, they finished last again. And again in 1979. They got to a little above .500 in 1980, which was the obvious signal to trade Burroughs and Matthews and bring in Claudell Washington, about whom enough said.

It wasn’t their fault that the team didn’t win, of course; both players played well, but the Braves didn’t have any other good players at that time, not until Horner arrived. I can’t even blame Ted, because he couldn’t be expected to know what he was doing yet, but I have to wonder who was giving him advice. Matthews was a little above league-average in his first year in Atlanta, hitting .283/.362/.438 with 17 homers, going 22 of 30 on stolen bases, and playing an adequate left field.

He and Burroughs swapped positions in 1978, Matthews moving to right, where he put up basically the same numbers as the previous year. In 1979, Matthews had his best year as a Brave and made his only All-Star team, hitting .304/.363/.502 with a career-high 27 homers. In 1980, however, he had an off year, hitting .278/.325/.419. As usual, the Braves sold low, trading him to the Phillies for Bob Walk, who never did anything for the Braves but had a nice career after he left. So did Matthews, who won the NLCS MVP in 1983 for the Phillies and finished fifth in the MVP voting in 1984 for the Cubs.

The Braves had Gary Jr. in spring training last year, but cut him to make room for DeWayne Wise. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Gary Matthews Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

23 thoughts on “No. 40: Gary Matthews”

  1. I was waiting for Gary Matthews, one of my favorite Atlanta players from the Braves’ first “Dark Era” (pre-1982). He also gave me one of my earliest in-person baseball memories.

    Although I know that Matthews wasn’t on-par with a lot of the NL’s better players, I always liked his effort. He took extra bases, always seemed to be giving it his best, even if the Braves were getting hammered by the Reds, Dodgers, Pirates or Phillies—the NL’s good teams of that era. I always felt like he earned his money on a team that was practically hopeless if Niekro wasn’t pitching.

    I do recall him as a fairly shaky OF (Burroughs was downright awful, though). Plenty of routine fly balls became adventures. Every time he hit the ball, I remember, he’d flip his helmet off, so he had that Willie Mays thing going a little bit.

    I was actually happy to see him do well with Philly & Chicago, (even though Bob Walk never did anything for me.)

    I also recall seeing him play for the Giants, when I was a little kid on a road trip with my mom & sister. I looked it up: On 7/18/73 (I wasn’t quite 10), I saw him hit a 2-run HR off Rick Wise in St. Louis in an 8-3 SF win. Ron Bryant won his 14th game, in a year that would see him go 24-12.

    In the lineup for SF that night: Gary Matthews, Gary Maddox, Willie McCovey & Bobby Bonds. For the Cards: Lou Brock, Joe Torre & Tim McCarver, with appearances from Jose Cruz, Bernie Carbo & Al Hrabosky.

    Funny, the memories that come to mind from one ballplayer…

  2. The fact we cut Matthews, Jr. was sad at the time, I wanted him to make the team. But he did horrible in spring and Wise didn’t.

    But I don’t think any one of us could have forseen that to be a HUGE mistake. Still, we would have avoided the quagmire in left field if we had kept him.

  3. Jay, Thursday should be fine though I’ll probably have to step out from time to time.

    We knew that Wise was going to suck. At least, I was pretty sure of it at the time. What I said at the time was

    There’s no evidence that he’s better than Gary Matthews Jr., but then there’s not much evidence that Matthews is any good and Wise is slightly cheaper.

    So who knew Little Sarge was going to be good? Not I.

  4. 1977 was supposed to be heady times for the Braves — Burroughs and Matthews replaced one-year “wonders” Ken Henderson and Jimmy Wynn, who could get on base but hit for no power. I don’t know how often this has happened, but none of our ’76 starting OFs (including Rowland Office) managed even 20 doubles, and they combined for just 34 HRs.

  5. Gary Matthews Jr. looks like his father. He is an outfielder,too.
    What an inherited power !!!!!!!!!!

    off topic:
    I rarely visit the Braves site but I’m definitely rooting for St.Louis Cardinals. You know it is an unfamiliar scene to me. feel melancholy. The Braves is still my No.1. The Cards is OK , if not. I like them except for their uniforms.

  6. If Gary Matthews, Jr. can be one of the league leaders in hitting, why can’t Tony Pena, Jr. do the same thing? Never mind, dumb question.

    Seriously, I always liked Matthews. IMO, trading for Bob Walk was one of the worst deals in Braves history. I have a feeling that Walk will not make the top 44.

  7. I don’t think anyone expected Jr. to do as well as he did this past year. I watched him at an Orioles spring training game a few years ago and mentioned how good he looked (shades of his pop) to my beat writer friend that covers the O’s. With no hesitation he stated flat out that the organization had no faith in him, that they thought he was “missing something”.

    I guess he found whatever it was he was missing.

    C’mon brule, you gotta love the birds on the bat uniforms. What’s not to love?

  8. I think the Cards are one of the few teams that have a classic look & are right to (mostly) stick with it.

    Others: Yanks, Dodgers, Red Sox, Tigers, Braves (hate the Sunday unis, sorry), Phils, Giants (sometimes), Royals.

    Hopelessly undecided or just plain hopeless: Padres (those ’70s/’80s unis should’ve been illegal), Blue Jays (what are you?), Rangers (we’re blue, we’re red, we don’t know), Brewers, Astros (Dali might’ve liked this bunch), Mets (be blue, lose the black & just go back to that ’69 look, please?)

    Also, any teams that wear the solid-colored, spring-training softball tops are docked heavily: Cubs, D-Rays, D-Backs, Marlins. Can we please lose this trend?

    Team that looks like a bunch of ice-cream vendors: Reds.

  9. WE HAD GARY MATTHEWS JR.??????????????!!!!!!

    We deserve to lose….

    “We played them in the preseason” what and idiot Denny Green….

  10. I was hoping for the Gary ‘Boom Boom’ write up and was not disappointed. I remember his play in Atlanta fondly: here was a player who could be enthusiastic for a team which was terrible. He may not have been the best outfielder, but in terms of skills he bore no resemblace to Jeff Burroughs–the latter had to be seen to be believed.

    ‘Sarge’ as he was also called proved to be a good NL player–rarely All Star quality–but hard working and productive. His blue collar attitude towards the game (even if he was one of the early free agents) is now sadly missed.

    That said, the Braves were right to drop Jr. when they did. The more interesting point is that both Jr. and DeRosa had great years for Texas. The Braves did not make a mistake getting rid of either, but their success in Texas makes me wonder (along with the Braves home record) why a number of players cannot get it done in Atlanta.

    My gut feeling, in any case, is that neither DeRosa or Matthews Jr., will have years like 2006 again…

  11. The Brewers, and to a lesser extent Blue Jays, need to go back to their old logo’s, at least. That old Brewer logo where they formed a mitt out of the letters M and B was, and still is, my favorite of all time.

    But then again, I generally prefer a retro look in my sports teams. I still think that they should ban long pants in baseball. And enforce it like the NFL.

    I would bring back the old school Pirates caps with the Stargell stars, as well. And I really don’t like this trend of wearing sleeveless jerseys over another shirt. Just another look that screams “cheap” (like the Braves Sunday uniforms).

  12. Once I finally figured out what you were talking about, Sam, I came to the conclusion that that is a *really* bad joke Sam. Kudos to you. YAY! LOL.

  13. Hey, the sleeveless jerseys are classic too–the Reds wore them in the 50s up to the late 60s and so did the Pirates. I love the old uniforms. I wish the SD Chargers would go back to their old power blue outfits permanently.

  14. Cubs have taken over the rumors today. The names include Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Lee, Luis Gonzalez, Alfonso Soriano, Alez Rodriguez, Barry Zito, and a few others. Wow, that is why I like rumors, but I wish we were mentioned in at least one of them…

  15. Marc,

    I knew there had to be some historical reference to those sleeveless tops but nothing came to my tired mind last night. I tend to not think about the Reds too much, ol’ Marge has pretty much ruined them for me. But I guarantee they didn’t wear them with silly spandex shirts underneath, though.

  16. If you see pictures of Pete Rose when he came up to the majors (1963), the Reds had those sleeveless jerseys with undershirts. But, no, not spandex. The Braves should throw those stupid red “Sunday” jerseys in the furnace, but that would mean one less item to sell.

    By the way, I always like to keep track of what I call “original World Series” when two teams from the pre-expansion era still in their original city play. That means, essentially, a match-up that could have occurred before 1953 when the Braves moved to Milwaukee. There haven’t been that many because there are only about 10 teams from that era left in their original city. If the Cards win, Det.-St. L will be an original series, as was Boston/St. L in 2004. Before that, the last such series had been 1976 (Yankees/Reds). Not a big deal, but I find it sort of interesting.

  17. Didn’t Ted get a suspension for tampering with Gary Matthews as a free agent.
    The story I heard was that the Sarge was in the on-deck circle qhwn Ted yelled at him. “Don’t sign. I’ll sign you for next year!”

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