Christensen: A glimpse of Eddie Mathews in 1989

From SABR member Arne Christensen at on November 18, 2012:

In a 1991 book called Stolen Season, journalist David Lamb describes his solo journey by RV through the U.S. on a tour of the minor leagues in 1989. Lamb, a devoted fan of the Milwaukee Braves in the late ’50s as a boy in Boston, which the Braves had left a few years earlier, caught up with Eddie Mathews in Durham, North Carolina. Mathews was teaching hitting to the Braves’ AA team there in his role as minor league hitting instructor. Eddie died from complications of pneumonia at age 69 in February of 2001. His life in and out of baseball had some clear parallels with Mickey Mantle, and I’m sure a few people would argue that he was at least Mantle’s equal as a player. But that’s not a point to be contested here.

Eddie was born on October 13, 1931, exactly a week before Mantle, in Texarkana, Texas. Texarkana is right on the Arkansas border, about 150 miles due south of Commerce, Oklahoma, where Mantle grew up and became a multi-sport star in high school. Eddie, though, moved on to Santa Barbara, California, at age six. From that point onward, David Lamb is the source for the bulk of this story.

About fifty years after that move, Mathews was sitting alone at the end of the Durham Braves’ dugout, head cupped in his hands, sweating profusely and chain-smoking. He had a thundering hangover. He was nearly sixty in the summer of ’89, balding, with a bad back, and every day was a sort of unexpected bonus—one denied his father, who had died of tuberculosis during 1953, Mathew’s second year in the major leagues. (Mantle’s father also died in his son’s second year with the Yankees, in 1952.)

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Originally published: November 18, 2012. Last Updated: November 18, 2012.