By In 100 Greatest

No. 38: Eddie Mathews

On January 16, 1974, Eddie Mathews called home to his wife after he got word that he was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. In truth, he had not even come close. Of the many curiosities in the history of Hall of Fame voting, this might be the strangest.

Mathews had hit 512 home runs in his career, a record at the time for third basemen. He had played in 12 All-Star Games and finished among league leaders in homers, runs, RBIs and total bases year after year. He had been something of a World Series hero**, and he had been one of the great young phenoms in the game’s history. That year, 1974, was when Mike Schmidt and George Brett began; at that point Eddie Mathews was almost inarguably the greatest third baseman in baseball history.

He received 32.3 percent of the vote. Eight players finished ahead of him on the ballot.

The next year, his Hall of Fame percentage went up on only a few points, and he finished seventh on the ballot behind, let’s be honest, seven lesser players*. A year after that, he again picked up a few points but still wasn’t even at 50 percent of the vote.

*Kiner, Roberts, Lemon, Hodges, Slaughter, Newhouser, Reese — none of these, save Roberts, was even close to Mathews stratum.

This was all very strange. It was only in 1977 that there was any sort of turning point and the reason, I suspect, had very little to do with Mathews himself. It so happened that year that Ernie Banks was eligible. Obviously Ernie Banks was a Hall of Famer; even the grumpy old Baseball Writers Association of America wouldn’t deny that. He was elected first ballot with 83.4% of the vote.

Only then people looked and realized … there was nothing Ernie Banks did better than Eddie Mathews.

— They were both infielders at roughly the same time.

— Banks was arguably a better defender at shortstop than Mathews was at third, but he played only 1,259 games there before being moved to first. Mathews played more than 2,100 games at third. It would be hard to argue that Banks, in total, was a significantly more valuable defensive player than Mathews.

— Banks hit .274/.330/.500 with 512 home runs. Mathews hit .271/.376/.509 with 512 home runs.

— Banks played his career in a great-hitting park. Mathews played most of his in a lousy-hitting park. A couple of quick ways to show this include:

1. Matthews OPS+ is 143 to Banks’ 122.

2. Banks’ neutralized numbers are: .278/.334/.508 with 537 homers.
Mathews neutralized numbers are: .281/.388/.528 with 553 homers.

— Banks famously never played in a World Series. Mathews played in three of them and was a key player on what was legitimately a great team, the late 1950s Milwaukee Braves.

“You have to wonder,” Jim Murray wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “what toes Eddie Mathews stepped on.”

Mathews didn’t wonder. He knew or at least he thought he knew: He had stepped on BBWAA toes. Eddie Mathews was a surly man. He was famous for his battles; in his career, he had epic fights with Jackie Robinson, with Don Drysdale, with Frank Robinson and so on. Mostly he fought for teammates, but the larger point was that he did not back down from a fight. And, yes, he fought with the press. He did not like seeing the press show up at his wedding. He did not like hearing the press bash his defense (Mathews took great pride in his defense and, according to defensive WAR, was a fine third baseman). He did not like getting probed on private matters.

Mathews sure that the sportswriters were not voting for him because they did not like him.

He was right, at least to a point. Dick Young, probably the most read sportswriter in the country and unquestionably the most belligerent, saw himself as the gatekeeper of the great game of baseball. In one of his “Young Ideas” columns he printed a letter from a Milton Herman of Irvington, N.J.:

Dear Mr. Young: Baseball’s Hall of Fame has become strictly a popularity contest. If not, why wasn’t Eddie Mathews voted in? He hit the same total of 512 home runs that Ernie Banks did.”

The response was vintage Dick Young, a mixture of patronizing arrogance and arrogant patronizing.

Dear Mr. Herman: There is, hard to believe, more to baseball than home runs. Banks was, through much of his career, a fine shortstop who hit home runs, a rare combination. But yes, popularity does count, in baseball, in voting, in life.

Perfect. And the final sentence is key, it’s essentially an admission: Dick Young did not like Eddie Mathews and, therefore, did not vote for Eddie Mathews.

Mathews did get elected the following year, the Ernie Banks things was simply too stark a comparison. Before the vote, Mathews’ friend and a superb third baseman Al Rosen made the rounds on Mathews behalf, saying it would be a sin if he did not get elected. Upon election, Mathews gave a warm speech that included the memorable line: “I’m just a beat up old third baseman, I’m just a small part of a wonderful game.”

I have my own theory why Eddie Mathews got so little Hall of Fame support before the Ernie Banks’ comp made it impossible to keep him out. There are obvious things, of course, like sportswriter dislike and the weird purgatory that third basemen often live in. Nobody seems to have a clear picture of what a great third baseman is supposed to look like. A great shortstop, a great centerfielder, a great catcher — these are clear to the mind. Close your eyes, and you can see it. But third base … even Mike Schmidt was weirdly unappreciated, and he more or less checked every box.

Anyway, here’s my theory about Mathews: He had a hard time getting into the Hall in large part because he never won an MVP award.

The Baseball Writers began voting for an MVP award in 1931. Mathews is probably the greatest player of this era to not win one. It would come down to him, Mel Ott and Wade Boggs. Here, in alphabetical order, is my list of the 10 best players to never win an MVP award:

— Wade Boggs
— Tony Gwynn
— Derek Jeter
— Al Kaline
— Eddie Mathews
— Mel Ott
— Ozzie Smith
— Alan Trammell
— Duke Snider
— Arky Vaughan

High batting averages tend to lessen the effect — see Gwynn, Boggs, Kaline to an extent — and so can a stellar defensive reputation. But here you also see some of the underrated great players. Arky Vaughan got no Hall of Fame support at all. Snider was ignored for years. I originally had Jeff Bagwell on this list, forgetting that he did win an MVP in the strike season. Anyway, his Hall of Fame candidacy is being delayed for other reasons. I put Alan Trammell on the list instead, and he fits. And, of course, Eddie Mathews was kept in limbo for way too long.

Look at a these pairings:

Alan Trammell (70.4 WAR). Never won an MVP Award. Can’t get any Hall of Fame traction.
Barry Larkin (70.2 WAR). Did win an MVP Award. Elected to Hall of Fame.

Lou Whitaker (74.9 WAR). Never won an MVP Award. Knocked off ballot almost immediately.
Ryne Sandberg (67.5 WAR). Won an MVP Award. In the Hall.

Tim Raines (69.1 WAR). Never won an MVP Award. Still struggling to get into the Hall.
Andre Dawson (64.5 WAR). Won an MVP. In the Hall.

Dwight Evans (64.5 WAR). Never won an MVP Award. Never seriously considered for Hall.
Jim Rice (47.4 WAR). Won an MVP. In the Hall.

Reggie Smith (64.5 WAR). Never won an MVP Award. Never seriously considered for Hall.
Willie Stargell (57.5 WAR). Won an MVP. In the Hall.

Obviously, there are counter examples — Dave Winfield got into the Hall easily without winning an MVP, so did Paul Molitor and others. And multiple MVP winners like Dale Murphy were not elected. But I think if you look at the whole picture, the MVP Award does play a role in Hall of Fame voting. And I think terrible decisions, such as Alan Trammell getting snubbed in 1987, linger long after they were made. Mathews, by the way, had legitimate MVP seasons in 1953, 1959 and 1961.

Eddie Mathews was a classic pull hitter — he said he learned that from his mother, who used to pitch to him and would make him do extra chores if he hit the ball up the middle toward her.

Because he pulled the ball so beautifully and violently from such a young age — “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time,” Ty Cobb said after seeing him in the minors, “and this lad has one of them” — he became one of the greatest young home run hitters in baseball history. He had one of the great age-21 seasons in baseball history — he hit .302/.406/.627 with 47 home runs. Through age 23, he hit 153 home runs, still a record. At age 25, he he had 222, 100 or so more than Babe Ruth had at that same age and 40 more than his teammate Henry Aaron would.

There was a lot of talk in those days that Mathews could break Ruth’s record; he hit his 400th home run just as he turned 31 and he was still well ahead of Ruth’s pace. But, obviously, it was not meant to be. He was, however, the Atlanta Braves manager when Aaron broke the record. Aaron and Mathews still hold the record for most home runs hit by teammates, and it is truly a shared record (Aaron hit 442, Mathews 421), unlike Aaron’s other shared record.*

*Henry Aaron and Tommie Aaron still have the record for most home runs by brothers. Henry hit 755. Tommie hit 13.

Anyway, because he was so great young and because he did not challenge Ruth’s record, there was a whiff of disappointment about Mathews. I suppose that too may have had something to do with the Hall of Fame delay. Anyway, Mathews called his wife that day in 1973 after he found that he got only 30-some percent of the vote.

“I didn’t make it,” he told his wife.

“Didn’t make what?” she asked back.

* * *

**Eddie Mathews hit only .227 in the 1957 World Series and actually started out 0-for-8. But you could argue he was still hero. In Game 4, with his Braves down two games to one, Mathews came to the plate in the 10th inning with one out, the score tied and a man on second. The Yankees had led going into the inning but the Braves led off with the famous shoe-polish moment — Nippy Jones pinch hit for Warren Spahn and a pitch by Tommy Byrnes was landed near his foot. The umpire originally ruled that Jones was not hit by the pitch, but Jones pointed to shoe polish from his cleat on the ball and was given his base. He scored the tying run on Johnny Logan’s double. Then Mathews came up.

The Yankees had shown no inclination up to that point to pitch to him — they walked him three times in Game 3 — but this time they decided to pitch to him with first base open. He hit a mammoth home run for the walk-off victory.

In Game 5, Mathews singled with two outs against Whitey Ford, went to third on Aaron’s single and scored on Joe Adcock’s single. That was the only run scored in the Braves 1-0 victory.

In Game 7, Mathews hit a two-run double in the third inning and then scored himself on Aaron’s single to give the Braves a 3-0 lead. Lew Burdette threw a shutout so that was more than enough.

Burdette was named Series MVP — he won three games and gave up two runs the whole series. Aaron confirmed his super-stardom by hitting .393 with three home runs during the series. But Yankees manager Casey Stengel thought Mathews was the difference. “Without him in the lineup,” Stengel said, “it would have been a different series.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

81 Responses to No. 38: Eddie Mathews

  1. Beau says:

    Bagwell won the 94 MVP. Whoops.

  2. The funny thing is, now the opposite is occurring. Guys like Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod have no shot at getting in the Hall of Fame whereas guys like Rivera and Jeter are probably going to come close to setting a record for highest percentage of votes among Hall of Fame voters.

  3. Uh … Jeff Bagwell won the MVP in 1994. Granted, that gets forgotten because of the strike. It was kind of pro forma. But he did win it.

    • Already fixed. 🙂 But I do think the strike year caused his greatness to be ignored, especially as it cut short an absolutely unbelievable season. He was slugging .750 in the Astrodome. He might have hit 50 but for the strike.

      • Mark says:

        Bagwell broke his hand right before the strike. He wasn’t hitting any more homers in 1994.

        Unless you’re arguing he would already have hit 50 if not for the Astrodome- then yeah, maybe.

        • Steve says:

          He broke his hand the next year, too, and missed 30 games total. Maybe the ’94 break was worse, but I don’t think he was supposed to be out for the year.

  4. Sterck Barnes says:

    When we were kids my cousin had an Eddie Matthews ball glove. I wanted one of those!

  5. PhilM says:

    Albert Belle with 1995 non-MVP award endorses this message.

  6. NevadaMark says:

    If the Braves had won one more game in the 1959 regular season, would Mathews have won the MVP? Instead of finishing 2nd to Banks?

    • David says:

      I have often wondered that same thing. Additionally, if they had that third pennant, who knows whether or not (or when) the move from Milwaukee would’ve occurred…

  7. Owen says:

    Poz100 score update! Top ten are as follows: AndyL 946, Mike Battoglia 938, Dick Allen 938, Invitro 937, WoC 934, ESPN 915, Mark R 911, Esposito 910, DM 907, Geoff 906. Also, great post as usual, Joe. Mathews has long been a favorite of mine.

  8. John Leavy says:

    If Dick Young was powerful enough to keep Eddie Mathews out of the Hall of Fame, why wasn’t he powerful enough to get Gil Hodges IN? He campaigned vigorously FOR Hodges, and it didn’t help.

    In reality, Young had one measly vote, just like every other writer, and was no more influential than any of his colleagues.

  9. Cliff Blau says:

    There is a question of cause and effect with the MVP thing. Guys like Whitaker and Evans aren’t underappreciated because they didn’t win MVP; they didn’t win MVP because they were underappreciated in their time. (Or just didn’t have a big enough season, unlike Trammell.)

  10. “…he finished seventh on the ballot behind, let’s be honest, seven lesser players*.” Whoops. Good read as always.

  11. I think part of it was that Aaron kept him from being The Man on the 1950s Braves and thus he never had the standout look that would have made him an automatic. Look over the many other examples Joe posts — Whitaker, Raines, Evans, Trammell, Reggie Smith, Ozzie, Snider. What they have in common is that they weren’t seen as the straw that stirs the drink. They had teammates who were viewed as being as good or better than they were. Aaron began hitting 35-40 HRs a year at exactly the time Mathews fell off to the 20s and low 30s. And Aaron played on for years after Mathews moved on, becoming the face of the franchise.

    • Ozsportsdude says:

      I know next to nothing about Baseball (I really only read Joe because I love the way he puts words together) but ur point seems to make a lot of sense to me. I mean it’s idiotic to discount a players contribution because of a talented teammate, especially in an individual sport masquerading as a team sport like Baseball, but I can see MV voters allowing something like that to influence their vote.

    • wordyduke says:

      It doesn’t help your case to start your career with a splash and then end it with a slow trickle. Voters may (unfairly) give too much weight to that long decline phase.

      Thanks once again, Joe.

    • Doug says:

      And of course Duke Snider is probably one of the most famous third bananas in baseball history…

      It’s tricky though, because I think it’s almost overdetermined. There’s too many factors that could account for why some players are underrated in legacy arguments & HoF voting. For instance, a lot of the players on the top-10-without-MVP list also fall into the category of all-rounders – players who were very good at many talents, rather than exceptionally good at one or two things. And there’s been a strong argument for years, based in part on the legacies of many of these exact players, that we tend to underrate all-rounders.

      Of course, it could be that all of these are just facets of the same thing. Multi-talented players tend not to be the leading, highlighted star on any of their teams, because (if they’re good teams) there’ll usually be other players who are exceptionally good at something. Because of that, and because they’re already underrated from being all-rounders and not having a ‘hook’, they don’t get properly evaluated, and then they don’t win MVPs, and then they don’t get voted into the Hall of Fame.

      Because none of these things are actually independent of each other, is the thing. How we rate players during their career is tied to whether they get MVPs, it’s tied to how we think of them after their career, and it’s tied to whether they go into the Hall.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I doubt that Aaron had much to do with it. It’s unlikely that a black player on a Midwestern team in the 1950s would have been The Man and, from what I have read, I think The Man on those teams was either Mathews or Spahn. People seem to forget that Aaron himself was largely underrated until he approached Ruth’s record. If anything, Mathews was a much more likely hero in the 1950s. I do think Mathews relatively early decline hurt him a lot as it did Dale Murphy and the Braves fall from prominence in the early/mid 1960s.

      • At the time, Aaron was clearly seen as the better player — The Man — after 1957, his fourth year in the league. Mathews was an All-Star, to be sure. But something about Aaron made him seem better and this was, of course, long before either man challenged the Babe’s record. I think it was because Mathews was seen as not having lived up to his 1953 promise, whereas Aaron was getting better and better.

  12. Richard Aronson says:

    I think Mike Piazza deserves some consideration for best player to not win an MVP. He was the best hitting catcher of all time, and despite his largely undeserved reputation as a defensive negative (because his arm weakened later in his career; in 1993 he had +1.8 dWAR finishing 7th in the NL), finished his career with a positive dWAR. He had two seconds and a third and seven single digit MVP votes overall, but never won it.

  13. ajnrules says:

    I wonder how many writers didn’t vote for Mathews because they were comparing him to Pie Traynor…and didn’t think he matched up.

    • Crazy as it sounds, I think there’s something to this. I was 11 years old in ’75 and just getting into baseball and Topps had as part of their card set, Baseball’s Greatest Players, with Pie Traynor listed as the third baseman. For years, I thought Traynor was indisputably the best 3B in baseball history until I got my first Baseball Encyclopedia a few years later.

  14. Peter says:

    Something that would be impossible in today’s world of record hunts and media and money: Matthews, while still a viable (though albeit very diminished) ballplayer, was traded to Houston with 493 HR. Could you imagine today if a homegrown, career-long World Series hero HR champ was traded with only 7 HR left to go to 500?? The fans would burn the stadium down.

    • Not Jennifer Gibbs says:

      I think that you’re grossly overestimating fans’ desire to see a player reach a milestone with a particular team. I don’t know how fans reacted to the Matthews trade, but I suspect that it garnered the same reaction that it would garner today: some would be sad to see him go simply because he was a hometown guy (and would be just as sad to see him go even if he wasn’t about to reach the milestone), some would judge the deal on its merits, and a few–a very, very few–might care in a vague sense that he wouldn’t reach a milestone in the hometown uniform. There was no fan uproar when Frank Thomas and Albert Pujols left the Sox and the Cards when they were on the verge of 500 hr (albeit not near as close as Matthews was, but they were still close enough that it was a safe bet that they’d get to 50″).

      I’m not sure what today’s “world of . . . money” has to do with anything. To the contrary, I think that fans are more cognizant of team finances now and would more readily accept an older, expensive player being traded to clear up payroll.

      • It’s kinda silly to compare Mathews being traded to Pujols and Thomas. Thomas was 60 HR’s away after going from hitting 42 HR’s as a 35 year old to hitting 18 and then 12 HR’s. There was no fan uproar because no one thought he’d be able to stick around for 500. He was in his late 30’s and had been injured his last 2 years in Chicago.

        Pujols was seeking a 10 year $300M contract as a 32 year old. There was no way the Cards were keeping him. Peter was implying fans today would be mad if a player under contract that was obviously about to retire was traded 7 HR’s away from 500 HR’s. He’s right. Fans today would have been angry.

        • “Pujols was seeking a 10 year $300M contract as a 32 year old. There was no way the Cards were keeping him.”

          Actually, it looked like Pujols going to accept the Cardinals’s 10-year/$210 million offer until the Angels came out of nowhere with their offer. Had the Angels not swooped in with their offer at the proverbial last second, it’s almost certain that Pujols would have re-signed with the Cards because their offer was the best one he got other than the one he took. If fans didn’t burn anything down over Pujols leaving then, they weren’t likely to do it a year or two later when he was that much closer to 500.

          I recognize that Mathews was far closer to 500 than either Pujols or Thomas, but it was still very likely that Pujols and Thomas would each get to 500. Thomas may have been coming off two injury seasons, but he still hit with power when he was healthy. The injuries were not career-threatening, and he had an extremely productive 2003, so there was every reason to think that Thomas would come back and reach 500. Was it certain? No. Likely? Yes. Not as likely as Mathews was when he was traded, but likely. Of course, being just 7 away isn’t a guarantee of reaching 500. Just ask Fred McGriff.

      • Cuban X Senators says:

        You’re both probably grossly overestimating Atlanta’s attachment to a “homegrown” player who arrived 8 months before the trade and hit .250/16/53.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        I think you are right. I was 11 and an Eddie Mathews fan when he was traded. I was devastated but I don’t think many Braves fans were because he was clearly over the hill. He had hit 16 homers in 1966-the first year the Braves were in Atlanta-albeit one of them was a walk-off against Sandy Koufax. If the team had still been in Milwaukee there might have been more of a reaction. Mathews did have a bit of a connection with Atlanta in that he had played with the minor league crackers before going up to Milwaukee.

    • Mathews hit .250/.341/.420 with 16 HRs in his last year with the Braves, which was the first year the team was in Atlanta. I don’t think there was time for Mathews to become a fan favorite. Their first look at him was as a declining 34 Yr old. I doubt very many objected to his leaving. Even today, thought the Braves have his number up on the wall & claim him as their own, he really doesn’t resonate as a beloved ATLANTA Brave in the same way as Aaron, Maddux, Jones, Glavine, Smoltz and even Niekro. Honestly as great as Warren Spahn was, he’s kind of in the same boat. A guy whose legacy was dragged down to Atlanta from Milwaukee.

    • “Homegrown”? Yeah, maybe out of the Milwaukee system. But not in Atlanta. Plus, the guy was from Santa Barbara, CA. Mathews had almost zero connection to Atlanta, GA, except that he played there one year as a past his prime player.

      • David Gardner says:

        Actually, bellweather, Mathews had been a tremendously popular player with the Atlanta Crackers (the Braves’ AA team) in 1950, leading the league in home runs. He was off to another hot start in 1951 when he was promoted up to Milwaukee (which was then the Boston Braves’ AAA team.)

        It always surprised me that Mathews didn’t have a good year or two when the Braves moved to Atlanta. He was 34, so he was not young by any stretch…but he had just hit 32 homers in Milwaukee. You would think that coming back to Atlanta…where he had been such a favorite in the minors…to a good power-hitting park like Atlanta Stadium was at the time…known as the “Launching Pad”…would have helped him have a couple of good years at the plate.
        Furman Bisher wrote once that Mathews had been a hard drinker, and that’s never conducive to aging well. Guess he was pretty well finished by then.

  15. mark says:

    Cliff Blau kind of covered this, but I think Joe failed to address the difference between correlation and causation. Given that many of the greatest players never to win an MVP also had HoF trouble – what is the reason for that. One does not necessarily cause the other. Especially since the same group – the BBWAA – votes for both. The more likely reason is that the same group of voters undervalues certain players consistently, not one vote causes the other.

  16. Cuban X Senators says:

    Interesting that the top MVP-shares player never to win gets nary a mention.

    And here’s a theory on why — his manager valued defense and stocked his team with defenders to the point that said player came up to a team with the #2 & #3 All-Time dWAR guys (behind Ozzie — who’s also a former teammate) and, by going to 1b for his youngest years, doesn’t get any benefit of his superior defense due to WAR’s rating of every 1b in his era (except Pete O’Brien) as a defensive drag.

    It strikes me as akin to not recognizing that maybe Bill Dickey could have productively hit #3, 4 or 5 for any team except the one as packed with hitters as the one he came up to.

  17. bepd50 says:

    “Because he pulled the ball so beautifully and violently from such a young age — “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time,” Ty Cobb said after seeing him in the minors, “and this lad has one of them” ”

    anyone know who the other two or three are…?

  18. Polish1 says:

    Being a Milwaukee Braves fan as a kid, Eddie Mathews was my favorite player. Most of that time, he was considered the top player on the team, not Aaron. It was late in Mathews career before Aaron passed him. As far as being traded to Houston, us Milwaukee fans were already upset about the Braves moving to Atlanta, but it still bothered me to see him in Houston & later Detroit. He will always be a Milwaukee Brave to me.

  19. of the 113 participants in the poz100 contest, 97 had Eddie Mathews on their ballot (85.8%). 2 had him at #38 (1.8%). 35 and 60 had him ranked higher and lower, respectively (31.0% and 53.1%).

  20. John Leavy says:

    I have never met Eddie Mathews, and have no idea what kind of human being he was. Judging strictly by the numbers, I’d say he was a definite first ballot Hall of Famer- or should have been.

    But even as I acknowledge that, I must ask: how was DIck Young “arrogant” for stating a simple truth: that it doesn’t pay to treat other people badly and then expect to be treated well by them in return?

    I know, I know, in baseball there are numbers, and numbers reign supreme, and if you have the right WAR, OPS+ or WHiP, nothing else should matter. But come on, in the real world, numbers are NEVER the only thing that matters, in baseball or anywhere else.

    A great salesman who treats his fellow employees like dirt is NOT going to get the big promotion he wants, even if the numbers say he deserves it.

    An 18 year old with a stellar high school GPA and great SATS still may not get into the college of his choice if he comes across as a creep in his interviews.

    People won’t go back to a mechanic who did a great job fixing their cars if he was rude and surly to them, and they won’t give that mechanic a glowing review when their friends ask for recommendations.

    Well, it’s no different in baseball. If you just want to play ball and be left alone, while telling writers to go bleep themselves, you can do that. But don’t turn around and expect those writers to hand you awards.

    • Ozsportsdude says:

      I know this isn’t the point of ur post, but one of the great mistakes businesses make is promoting that great salesman. A talent for sales does not necessarily translate to a talent for management. So what happens when u promote him is you lose a great salesman & ‘gain’ a poor manager giving ur business the worst of both worlds. A much smarter strategy, almost never utilized is to give that great salesman a whopping raise to keep being a great salesman & find an employee with good management skills to fill that role regardless of his abilities as a salesman

    • Marc Schneider says:

      You are correct, there are consequences in life for your behavior. But the people voting for the Hall are supposed to be professionals. If Young is right, it says more about his lack of professionalism than anything else. I don’t know about you but I might be willing to put up with a surly mechanic if he was really good. But, in any event, that’s not a good analogy because voting for someone to be in the Hall of Fame doesn’t require you to put up with any kind of behavior.

      • John Leavy says:

        Again, Dick Young had just one vote. Even if HE was just being a vindictive jerk, Eddie Mathews should still have been elected by a comfortable margin. If he wasn’t, he may very well have antagonized HUNDREDS of writers.

        I repeat, I never met Eddie Mathews, and can’t judge whether he was a wonderful man or a sphincter. I’m really not entitled to an opinion on that subject.

        But the fact remains, it’s a very bad idea to antagonize people whose help or support you’ll need later. Oscar voters take an actor’s personality into account when they make their selections. So do Pulitzer Prize voters. Why would you expect sportswriters to be different?

    • Wonk says:

      That’s funny when considering Barry Bonds. Now he’s all “hey everybody, love me” after having been a surly cuss for much if not all of his career. That surliness is being paid back by the seemingly little sympathy he gets for his inability to attain the HOF status his numbers surely indicate.

      I’d also like to add an unrelated sentiment here. I just finished reading The Soul of Baseball. Thank you very much, Mr. Joe, for that fine literary effort! Fabulous!

  21. Wilbur says:

    I’d be willing to bet one was Joe Jackson.

    • Wonk says:

      I’d go with Mr. Splinter as another. Teddy alienated Tyrus by giving props to the Rajah as an all-time hitter, pointing out that “he even outhit you a couple of years.”

      Ted Williams was a man’s man, and is my alltime favorite hitter.

  22. invitro says:

    Here’s a long article/interview with Mathews from the 1991 Los Angeles Times that I thought some of you might be interested in.

    Brave Old World : Eddie Mathews Remembers a Team That Made Milwaukee Famous

  23. Jamie says:

    It seems like Joe underestimates catchers in his list of the best players who failed to win an MVP award. Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter I would take over Trammell, probably Gwynn and Snider too. If pitch framing is as valuable as some think it would be easy to see Carter and/or Fisk deserving to move even further up the list.

    • invitro says:

      There was a lot of talk earlier that Joe (and others) was seriously underranking catchers in this list (even if Berra and Campanella are seriously *over*ranked, as many believe).

  24. Mike K says:

    Let’s do one of Joe’s Player A v. Player B comparisons:

    Player A — 17 seasons

    .271/.376/.509, 512 HR, 1509 runs, 1453 RBI, 354 doubles, 96.4 WAR, OPS+ 143, dWAR 5.5

    3 seasons > 8.0 WAR, 8 seasons > 7.0 WAR, 12 seasons > 5.0 WAR

    Player B — 14 seasons

    .317/.403/.588, 520 HR, 1514 runs, 1609 RBI, 561 doubles, 97.0 WAR, OPS+ 162, dWAR 1.6

    7 seasons > 8.0 WAR, 8 seasons > 7.0 WAR, 11 seasons > 5.0 WAR

    Player A is obviously Mathews. Player B is clearly superior offensively. While that edge is offset a bit defensively, Player B still has the edge in total WAR — even though Player B has 3 fewer seasons. Player B also has a decisive edge in peak seasons. Yet Joe has Player B — Pujols — 8 slots lower than Mathews in the top 100.

    Would love to understand the thinking.

    • invitro says:

      This is a great point. I agree that Pujols should be ranked higher than Mathews. But note that this is not about Mathews at all, as there are many players Pujols should be ranked higher than. (In fact, Mathews has solidly better WAR and WAR7 than George Brett, who is still to come on Joe’s list. Mathews is more likely underrated than overrated here.)

      I have predicted the Poz100 well so far, but I had a gigantic miss with Pujols. Joe has him at #47, while I picked him to be #16 (!). Joe has been an enormous booster of Pujols over the years. I don’t remember just why I picked Pujols that high, but I remember Joe ranking Pujols extremely high in an earlier HoF inner circle post, maybe a top 25 of all time.

      Joe made these rankings in mid-2013, I think. 2013 was Pujols’ rotten 2nd year with the Angels, and I think it seemed to many that his career, or time of being a productive player, was just about over. I think Joe worried that he had mistakenly extrapolated Pujols’ career to get a top-25 ranking, and then corrected his ranking… but radically over-corrected instead.

      Joe’s #47 ranking of Pujols would be way too low even if his career had ended after 2013. It will be appropriate to bring up Pujols again when Jimmie Foxx is posted, which should be many more picks.

      But I feel confident that Joe will move Pujols way up in his book version of the Poz100. 🙂

    • Mark says:

      You should normalize the stats for the different eras. Plus County Stadium was a TERRIBLE place for HR’s in the 50’s and 60’s. That fact is masked by Aaron and Mathews playing there.

  25. Detroit Michael says:

    Eddie Matthews and Mel Ott both had 153 career HRs through their age 23 seasons, so Matthews was “merely” tied for first at that point. Matthews is on top of the “through age 24” career leaderboard. [hat tip to the play index feature at]

  26. Carl says:


    Is Kiner a lesser ballplayer than Mathews?

    Kiner hit 279/398/548 OPS of 946 and OPS+ of 149. His career black ink was 52. Kiner’s 162 game average is 41 HRs, 112 RBI and 107 R.

    Mathews hit 271/376/509 for an OPS of 885 and an OPS+ of 143. His career black ink was 16. Mathew’s 162 game average is 35 HRs, 98 RBI and 102 R.

    Mathews lasted far longer (8,537 AB vs 5,205 AB for Kiner), but both traditional and advanced stats favor Kiner.

    • invitro says:

      You’re cherry-picking. The only advanced stat you mention is OPS+. Given Kiner’s short career, the stat that best compares them is WAR7, and Mathews wallops Kiner 54.3 to 43.7 in that (in the 1975 HoF balloting referenced by Joe, Mathews is 2nd to Roberts in WAR7; Mathews edges Snider and Newhouser). You need to consider not just OPS+, but also position played, fielding, and avoiding DPs. Mathews has a large advantage over Kiner in these.

      Mathews’ lack of black ink isn’t really a knock on his ability, but may explain his lack of an MVP and early HoF votes. Indeed, the black ink score is pretty good evidence that you were searching for a stat that Mathews did poorly in compared to Kiner :).

    • tayloraj42 says:

      Speaking of advanced stats…by bWAR, both players had three seasons of over 8 WAR (which I think could reasonably be called ‘great seasons’), with each player’s best three WAR years adding up to 24.5. Sounds pretty even, so far…

      After that, though? Kiner’s fourth-best season was a 6.2 WAR campaign in 1948. In the space between Kiner’s #3 (8.1 WAR) and #4 (6.2) years are SIX Eddie Mathews seasons.

      Kiner, famously, only played ten years in the majors, and some of those years were pretty forgettable. Mathews, for all the grief he took over having an early decline, had 13 seasons of at least 4.6 WAR- he had three more good seasons than Kiner had seasons, period.

      Mathews (96.4) nearly doubles up Kiner’s 49.3 career WAR, and after those even top three seasons absolutely smokes him in any other ‘top x seasons’ comparison. Unless you’re arguing that Kiner’s top three seasons by themselves qualify him as a better player, Mathews is clearly favored by advanced stats.

      • there is a tool here you can use to make those sorts of comparisons,

      • Carl says:

        I believe black ink and OPS+ were the two “advanced stats” I was using to comoparet he two players to argue that Kiner is at least, in Joe’s words the “same stratum” as Mathews.

        Considering WAR and WAR7 and OPS+ and black ink had not been conceived of yet in 1975, if one wants to understand the statistical thinking of the writers then, focus on the facts that Kiner had a higher lifetime batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, more runs created and had more RBIs, runs scored and home runs per season than Mathews. Kiner also reached the 50 HR season plateau when that meant something. To me, they’re at least in the “same stratum”.

        As far as the “advanced stats”, Mathews advantages in both OWar and War are due to his overcoming his lower BA,OBP, and Slg with the huge positional adjustment made for 3rd basemen compared to LFers and 1B (Kiner’s two defensive positions).

        Dismissing some of Kiner’s seasons as “pretty forgettable” I believe is too strong a language as his lowest OPS+ was 116.

        As far as War7 Mathews steady awesome production compared to Kiner’s being in and out of baseball too quickly (due to both military service and injury) does blow Kiner’s comparable stats away. As does his 512 vs 369 career HR. Mathews played far longer, but to me the two players are “in the same stratum”. At their peak, they were almost exactly the same. Kiner’s average season was superior to Mathews. Mathews played far longer at a very high level.

        One point overlooked by Joe was that 1974 was Mathews first on the ballot. Many writers simply didn’t feel Mathews deserved to be a “first ballot HoFer”

        Both players were great. I love Eddie Mathews, but feel Joe was far too strong in his point dismissing Kiner, et al.

        • tayloraj42 says:

          To me, Kiner’s rookie year as well as his last two qualify as “pretty forgettable” for the purposes of this comparison: considering almost all of Kiner’s value comes from his hitting, the numbers he put up those years just don’t add anything to his career. There are, relatively speaking, lots of guys who can put up a 120 OPS+ while playing a below-average left field, and those seasons don’t help his case that he was a great player at all.
          Furthermore, the advantages the Kiner has in the average 162-game season are almost all contextual illusions: Kiner played in better hitters’ parks and in a more favorable offensive era. Kiner’s lead in OPS+ (149 to 143) in quite small, indicating that purely as hitters there wasn’t much to separate them, leaving aside entirely longevity, positional scarcity and strength of defense.
          I guess what it comes down to is how you choose to define ‘stratum’ – to me, Mathews’ ability to maintain a level of excellence year in and year out makes him a vastly better player than Kiner’ even if their very best seasons are comparable. As someone who generally champions the value of guys who put up big years over those who spread out their value, I can see the logic behind your line of thinking, I just think that in this particular case, Mathews’ lead in career counting stats does in fact matter a great deal because most of them were generated in seasons in which he was actively a great player and not just padding his career stats.

    • BobDD says:

      you ask if Mathews is better than Kiner, when Kiner is not even on this list?

  27. Brent says:

    One thing not mentioned by Joe or any of the followup is that it would have been “Milwaukee” Braves fans who loved Mathews, not (Atlanta) Braves fans. I know it is the writers who vote, but it is probably harder for players of displaced teams to make the HOF than players who have a fan base behind them.

    • invitro says:

      That theory doesn’t hold water with me. The logic doesn’t make much sense, but more importantly, it doesn’t jibe with the evidence. The most overrepresented team in the HoF is surely the New York Giants. I’m not aware of any significantly underrepresented teams.

      I suspect the best answer to Mathews’ early HoF non-votes may be in the 1970s Sporting News, Baseball Digest, and major newspapers. If only some of those were freely available online. 🙁

      • Brent says:

        Well, most of the NY Giants got in by vote of the Veterans Committee (as Friends of FF), so I am not really talking about them. And the proof I would be looking at isn’t so much that players didn’t make the HOF, but it took longer for the writers to vote them in than it did for players of teams that didn’t move cities. I.E., NY Yankees and Boston Red Sox players go in sooner than Brooklyn Dodgers, NY Giants, Philadelphia A’s. St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators. For instance:

        Duke Snider: Entered ballot in 1970, took until 1980 to be elected.
        Pee Wee Reese: Never elected by writers, elected by Vet’s committee
        Gil Hodges: Never elected.
        Roy Campanella: Entered ballot in 1964, elected in 1970.
        Eddie Mathews: entered ballot in 1974, elected in 1978
        Warren Spahn: Elected 1st ballot, albeit with only 83% of the vote.
        I couldn’t really think of any NY Giants that fit the bill here. Maybe Johnny Mize. He hit the ballot after the Giants left New York and had to have the Veterans Committee get him in. The rest of the NY Giants to be elected by the writers were either elected before the Giants left New York (Hubbell, Ott, Terry, for instance) or were also SF Giants (Mays).
        Vern Stephens: never elected.
        Goose Goslin: Never elected by the writers, elected by the Veterans Committee (he might not fit, he really should have had several years of chances to be elected while the Senators were in Washington and didn’t get the vote).

        I am not saying that there necessarily is a pattern here, you would have to look at whether it took comparable players off teams that didn’t move shorter times to get voted in than these guys.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      That’s true but not entirely. I grew up in Tennessee and was 10 when the Braves moved. Mathews played with the Atlanta Crackers coming up and there was still some memory of him in Atlanta. You also have to remember the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966 when African-American players were not exactly beloved. I don’t think there was active dislike of Aaron but I don’t think he really registered in the fans’ minds until later as he approached Ruth. Mathews was over the hill when the team moved, but he was still featured in the team’s first yearbook in a sort of “can you go home again” type of article. Also, as someone else pointed out, it’s the writers that vote, not the fans so I’m not sure what that has to do with his HOF vote anyway.

      On another note, I was a Mathews fan as a kid and I read one of those 1950s, pre-Ball Four, bios of him. It was many years later that I came to realize that Eddie was not the choirboy portrayed in the bio. It makes me laugh now when I think about that book; the author probably had a hard time keeping a straight face as he wrote it.

  28. Jim Clark says:

    1963, an eight year old boy is behind the Braves dugout snagging guys as they walk by, collecting autographs he will treasure for a lifetime. Eddie Mathews was a gentleman and a warm and wonderful man. One of the best moments of his life. Warren Spahn, tops. Joe Torre–snubbed that kid three times. Eddie may have fought on the field, but that kindness to a little boy proved he was a real guy. Gets my vote!

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I believe that, at the time, players were not supposed to give autographs on the field. Obviously, some players ignored the rule but others didn’t. It was a pretty stupid rule and, of course, made some players look really bad.

      That, of course, does not detract from the nice thing that Spahn and Mathews did.

  29. Brent says:

    37 slots, 38 players in the bWAR top 50 left, I figure Keefe (#48) and Plank (#46) are not in the top 100 and I am sure Satchell Paige and Josh Gibson are, so still one player to eliminate from the bWAR top 50. I would guess it is Phil Niekro (#34)

  30. Brent says:

    Silly me, another player certain to be in Joe’s Top 37 is Johnny Bench (bWAR #77) so that means 37 slots, 38 players still. I think Joe said he was going to have another tie, so that would solve the issue, otherwise no . . . . Cap Anson? (bWAR #40)

  31. David Berg says:

    Guys who hang on for a while in the game after their greatness has faded often have a tough time with the Hall. No one wants to elect 1990s Tim Raines, who unfortunately spent a lot of time supplanting 1980s Tim Raines in folks’ memories.

  32. George says:

    On the cover of the first Sports Illustrated

  33. Joe says:

    I followed the Braves and Mathews, my favorite, through my childhood. He wasn’t able to sustain his 1950s productivity through the 1960s largely because of injuries. I remember his offense went downhill after he tore ligaments in his right shoulder swinging at a high pitch in a game early in the 1962 season in Milwaukee. He spent a chunk of time on the DL that year. Shoulder and then back trouble dogged him the rest of his career. Shortly after hitting his final career homers with Detroit in May 1968, his back troubles flared up big time and he had disc surgery that kept him on the DL until September.

    I appreciate the author’s theory on why it took Eddie so long to make it into the HOF. I think it’s a valid one. People (electors) can be swayed by personality; Eddie had grown resistant to the media and valued his privacy, and that was contrary to the liberal access to players that media was accustomed to. So they used what leverage they had to respond in kind. It’s unfortunate, though, and like others, I felt he deserved a first-ballot election. I’m glad, at least, that he got to experience the honor while still alive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *