Over his 16-year career as a big league outfielder, Gary Matthews mad several stops, and at almost every one of them he was a valuable contributor on the field and in the clubhouse. He was a first round pick in 1968 of the San Francisco Giants, who were stocked with many talented outfielders. But with a strong right-handed bat and good speed, Matthews found himself as the Giants left fielder in 1973 alongside center fielder Garry Maddox and right fielder Bobby Bonds. Matthews hit .300 with 22 doubles, 10 triples, 12 homers, and 17 stolen bases and was named National League Rookie of the Year. In five seasons with the G-Men, Matthews hit .287 and averaged 15 homers, 70 RBI, and 13 steals per season. After the ’76 campaign he signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.
Matthews was shifted to right field by the Braves, and he hit for more power in their more cozy ballpark, reaching a career-high 27 homers in 1979. But Atlanta was spinning their wheels and going nowhere and needed pitching help, so Matthews was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in spring training in 1981 for Bob Walk. In Philly, for the first time, Matthews would play for a team that had the talent to win – the Phils were the defending World Series champions. In the strike-shortened ’81 season, “Sarge” hit .301 and helped the veteran Phillies back to the playoffs, where they lost to Montreal in the first round. In his first taste of post-season baseball, Matthews batted .400 (8-for-20) with a home run against the Expos. back in left field with the Phillies, Matthews played every game in 1982 and was effective again in 1983 when the team won the NL pennant. Facing the Dodgers in the NLCS, Matthews pounded LA pitchers for three homers and a .429 average in four games. He belted homers in each of the final three games and was named NLCS Most Valuable Player. He belted a solo homer off Baltimore’ Mike Flanagan in Game Two of the World Series that gave the Phils a lead, but ultimately the Orioles won the series.
In 1984 in spring training, almost three years to the day that he was traded to the Phillies, Philadelphia sent Matthews to the Chicago Cubs in a five-player deal that also netted Bob Dernier for the Cubbies. The move proved pivotal, as both Matthews and Dernier started in the Cubs outfield in ’84 as the club 96 games and their first NL East division title. Now a veteran at the age of 33, Matthews was a rah-rah leader with experience in the clubhouse. Playing left field and batting third in the Cubs lineup, Matthews had plenty of runners to drive in during the ’84 season. Dernier and NL MVP Ryne Sandberg were hitting in front of him, and “The Daily Double” seemed to be on base all the time. Matthews drove in 82 runs, drew a league-leading 103 walks, and scored 101 times. He finished fifth in NL MVP voting that season. In the playoffs he once again proved his clutch ability, slugging two homers in Game One and driving in five runs in the first two contests – both of which were Cub victories. But the Padres came back and won the series and Cub fans and Matthews were denied a trip to the World Series. The ’84 NL Playoffs were the final appearance in the post-season for Matthews. In 19 games he was very good: collecting 21 hits, including a triple and seven homers. He drove in 15 runs and walked 10 times in the post-season while batting .323 with a .677 slugging percentage.
After the magical ’84 season, Matthews spent parts of three more years with the Cubs, slowly losing his skills with the bat. Finally in 1987 the 36-year old was dealt to the Seattle Mariners for his first taste of the American League. Unlike his previous four stops, Matthews did not play or produce much for Seattle. He appeared in 45 games as a designated hitter, slugging three homers to bring his career mark to 234 and surpassing 2,000-hit mark. He retired and went into a career as a broadcaster and coach for various teams, including the Cubs. Matthews’ son Gary Jr. followed him into the big leagues, debuting in 1999. His son played 12 seasons and like his father, was an All-Star.