Monday, May 14, 2012

#355 Gary Matthews

Who is this player?
Gary Matthews, right fielder, Atlanta Braves
Coming off one of the most productive seasons of his career, for Gary Matthews of the Atlanta Braves, 1980 would prove to be difficult. When the Braves started the year 1-9 and Matthews mired in an 0 for 21 slump, Atlanta owner Ted Turner ordered Matthews benched. From there, management attempted to trade Matthews, but a deal could not be consummated. Later, Matthews filed a grievance over a fine he received when he and some teammates were fined for missing a club luncheon. Upon his return to the starting lineup, Gary rattled out three hits and had the game-winning RBI against the first place Houston Astros and went on to bat .342 during the month of May. The right-handed hitting Matthews would have a solid season in 1980 (.278, 19, 75), but he didn't match his previous output and it appeared that his days in Atlanta were winding down.

Gary Mathews was a lightly-regarded high school pitcher when he was first seen by legendary scout George Genovese. Seeing Matthews as hitter, as well as being impressed with his character, Genovese recommended the San Francisco Giants selected Gary, which they did with their #1 selection of the 1968 amateur player draft. His time in the minor league was short as he quickly worked his way up the ladder and impressed when he was called up to the Giants in September, 1972.

Inserted as the Giants left fielder the following year, Gary had an exceptional season, batting an even .300 and was named NL Rookie of the Year. At the time, the Giants' outfield of Matthews, Bobby Bonds and Garry Maddox was one of the fastest and exciting in the game. Matthews in particular, displayed an aggressive style on the field and was known for his takeout slide and tumbling catches. However, they did not last together long and despite some very productive seasons by the Bay, the poor state of team finances soon hastened Matthews' departure from the Giants, as a free agent after the 1976 season.

At the time, free agency was new and its impact was still being felt around baseball. Matthews' transition to the Braves was not a simple one and there were issues regarding Gary's 2-million dollar deal between Braves' owner Ted Turner and commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Turner was suspended one-year for tampering, but Matthews nonetheless became an Atlanta Brave. Gary would spend four years in Atlanta was selected to the All-Star team for the only time in his career in 1979.

With Atlanta unable to trade Matthews during the 1980 season, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 1981 campaign. It was during his Philadelphia years that the nickname "Sarge" really stuck with Matthews and his unsung efforts led the "Wheeze Kids" Phillies to the NL flag. For his efforts, Matthews was named MVP of the 1983 NCLS when he batted .429 and clubbed three home runs. The Phillies, however, fell short in the World Series and the process of replacing veterans in Philly began in earnest. Matthews was one of those veterans.

After three years with the Phillies, the Chicago Cubs traded for him in 1984 and he was one of the veteran leaders on a Cub team that made the postseason for the first time in 39 years. For his part, Gary led the National League in walks and on-base percentage and placed fifth in the MVP voting. Matthews even led the attack in the first game of the NLCS by clubbing two home runs. Again, however, Gary's team failed to advance to the World Series as the Cubs lost in five games. Injuries began to take their toll, as Matthews missed much of the 1985 season and he was released by the Cubs midway during the 1987 season. He caught on with the Seattle Mariners, where he would play 45 games to close out his 16-year major league career.

In his post-playing days, Matthews would spend years in the private sector before returning to baseball. He coached for several teams, including the Cubs, beginning in 1995 through 2006. Beginning with the 2007 season, he has served as analyst on Philadelphia Phillies' broadcasts and is noted for some of his sayings as evidenced here. And of course, his son, Gary Jr., had a 12-year major league career from 1999-2010.

Why I love this card:
For the longest time, I had little to no clue what that was on Matthews' sleeve. In the days before WTBS in my home, I had very little interaction with the Atlanta Braves living in an AL town. It was one of those things that didn't bother me enough to ask about it but enough to be puzzled about it when I saw it. For a while, I thought I was reading the letters "V" and "Y" instead of seeing the feather. It became an optical illusion like the old/young woman or the Montreal Expos "M." Those who know me best will insist that I am still that dumb.

Something else....
Matthews penned an autobiography entitled, appropriately "They Call Me Sarge." In it, he lists some of his "Matthews-isms" which I have shared here:

No high-fives until the late innings.
Play to win, but play clean.
Say what you mean, but pick your spots.
Put personal problems aside when you play the game.
Respect and friendships are the key.


  1. I wish the Giants could have afforded to keep him. They had some good outfielders that they traded (or gave) away in the 70s.

  2. Great blog-

    I wanted to add that I had one of those "optical illusions" with the Braves when I was growing up too. I was eight yrs in old in 1980. The small "a" on their hat to me, at the time, looked like an "o" and a "J" put together. Like OJ...I guess where the J was backwards. I know it makes no sense, but that's what it looked like. For the longest time, the Dodgers hat looked like a capital "I" and an "A" next to it too.