This is part of our series on the “Ultimate Franchise Players” in baseball history. These players are not necessarily the greatest players in franchise history. They are selected because they have a unique characteristic that made them one of the most important, or beloved, or emblematic players for that franchise. Look for a new Ultimate Franchise Player article every week or two.
Ty Cobb, who knew a few things about hitting, called his swing “one of the three best I ever saw.” The Georgia Peach was referring to Eddie Mathews, a broad-shouldered power hitter who came to the Braves as a 20-year old in 1952, and who came to epitomize the franchise, no matter where they played.
Mathews played in Milwaukee and Atlanta before he played for the Braves. In the minors he tore up the Southern Association with the Atlanta Crackers, and he briefly wore the uniform of the Milwaukee Brewers in Triple-A. The handsome third baseman debuted on opening day for the Boston Braves, on an afternoon when Warren Spahn lost a tough one to Preacher Rose of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next day he got his first big league hit, and a few days later in Philly, Mathews belted his first homer. That Ty Cobb-pleasing swing would hit 511 more.
But even more than the homers, Mathews was an idol when the franchise shifted to Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, the fans adored their ballplayers, who lived right in town and were their neighbors. Go out and mow your lawn, you might see Eddie trimming his hedges. Pop into the hardware store, you could bump into Joe Adcock. And so on.
Batting behind Hank Aaron, Mathews gave the Braves a powerful left-handed bat. He made himself into a good third baseman, and he helped the Braves to pennants in both 1957 and 1958. The Braves were essentially the best team in baseball from 1956-1959. They beat the Yankees, lost a heartbreaker to the Yankees, and lost a pennant in a playoff. The lineup was one of the best in baseball, and Mathews was at the heart of it.
When the Braves moved yet again, to Atlanta in the mid-1960s, Eddie went with them. A few years later he was hired to manage the team. He was a good manager, but he was dealt a poor hand. He was there to tutor young Darrell Evans, and he was in the dugout when Bad Henry hit #715. For every special moment in franchise history, from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, Eddie was there. He joined the small fraternity of Hall of Fame third basemen, and of course he has a block “M” on his plaque. It may as well stand for the “Man,” because there’s never been a more integral connective thread in franchise history.
Mathews ranks among the greatest third basemen of all-time >