Friday, June 22, 2012

#386 - Gary Matthews

This is a great card. First off it is a true action shot with 1973 NL Rookie of the Year Gary Matthews sliding into third at Shea with coach John McNamara cheering him on while Wayne Garrett waits for the ball. It’s a panoramic shot with all identifiable characters which has been very rare in this set. You have an iconic NY advertiser – Manufacturers Hanover – visible in the background. Okay, that’s all great. It really is. What really intrigues me now is why is Gary sliding? Maybe he just launched a triple. That or he was just advanced by another batter. Either way, Wayne isn’t anywhere near ready to take a throw. Since he’s looking into the outfield the shortstop is either covering second or taking a relay throw but if the latter he’s out there pretty deep since we don’t see him. That means the short shadow to the right is probably the pitcher’s and that means there is nobody backing up at home. So why isn’t he at least rounding the bag? Let’s see if baseball-reference can help us here. Gary came up too late in ’72 for any Shea games so this shot is from ’73. That year on two occasions did Gary make a stop at third base. On June 12 he advanced to second on a single by Chris Speier and to third by an error by Garrett. I am guessing it wasn’t that play since Wayne is gazing to left-center and there’s no way that’s where he threw the ball. So that leaves August 25 when Gary went to third on a single to left by Tito Fuentes. That looks about right. The play occurred in the top of the fifth on two outs with the Giants up 1-0 so I still don’t get why he’s not rounding the bag at least. I think McNamara blew that one. But the 1-0 score held so I guess it’s no biggie. Still, as a Little League coach I gotta shake my head on that one.

1973 was pretty huge for Matthews. Finally up top with Bobby Bonds and Garry Maddox, the trio would form the best young outfield of its day. They all hit over .300 for a significant part of the season. They played the tough Candlestick outfield well. And they were all bad asses. This Gary moved from the six spot to the top of the lineup by the end of the year to take advantage of his aggressive playing. He was a few years away from his “Sarge” nickname but it already applied. It was sort of a shame that these guys only had two seasons together. Gary romped pretty well in the ROY voting over an awfully good rookie class (Steve Rogers, Ron Cey, Dan Driessen, Bob Boone, and Davey Lopes to name a few) on his kinetic game and take charge attitude. He’d go on to a solid career.

Gary Matthews was a big deal athlete at San Fernando High School in LA where he averaged 20 points a game as a senior in hoops and was all-county in both that sport and baseball. As a kid he had played baseball on the same block as Buddy Bradford and in the spring of ’68 he was a first round pick by the Giants. He had a nice start the next summer in A ball and followed it up with another good season at that level in ’70. He then managed to pick up his stats each of the next two seasons as he moved up a level and in late ’72 got in some September games in San Francisco. Prior to the ’73 season the Giants sent outfielder Ken Henderson to the White Sox to free up a place for Gary.

After his big rookie season Matthews had a nice follow-up year increasing all his stats pretty significantly as he moved lower in the lineup except his average (he hit .287 with 82 RBI’s). In ’75 he got off to a pretty good start and had 24 RBI’s by the end of May when he broke his thumb fooling around with Derrell Thomas. He missed six weeks and the interruption hurt his power stats and didn’t make management too happy. He would have a strained relationship thereafter even though he returned in ’76 to post a pretty good season of .279 with 20 homers and 84 RBI’s. After that season he moved to Atlanta as Ted Turner’s first big plunge into the free agent market. Unfortunately for Ted the results weren’t immediately apparent in the team’s records. Gary did well enough – his first two seasons he averaged .284 with 18 homers, 63 RBI’s, and 82 runs. In the second season he moved to right field from his normal spot in left. He also lost a bunch of time the second year with a dislocated shoulder. But he wasn’t the big power generator he was probably imagined to be. That changed a bit in ’79 as he put together his best season to date: .304 with 97 runs, 27 homers, and 90 RBI’s. Those stats got him his first All-Star nod. After another year in Atlanta in ’80 that was a bit of a downtick, Gary was traded to Philadelphia for pitcher Bob Walk.

Matthews didn’t have the best timing as he joined the Phillies the year after they won it all. He was actually supposed to go to Cincinnati for Dave Collins but that deal fell through. In the Philly outfield he returned to left field and rejoined Garry Maddox. Gary put up an excellent year during the strike season of ’81 and then hit .400 against Montreal in his first playoff action. '82 was a good year as well and the one in which he earned his “Sarge” sobriquet from Pete Rose. ’83 would be tough because he broke a wrist and his offensive stats slid as did his playing time. But he again had a great NL playoff, torching LA pitching at a .429 clip with eight RBI’s in four games. He then hit .250 in a Series loss to the Orioles. After that season he was on the move again, this time to the Cubs with Bob Dernier for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz. While by this time after three seasons on the artificial turf in Philly his knees were going south Gary put up a big season for the Cubbies, hitting .291 with 14 homers, 82 RBI’s, 101 runs, and a .410 OBA to lead the NL. He was also a big locker room presence and a fan favorite, helping rally the team to a division title. But in ’85 and ’86 knee injuries significantly limited his time and after an ’87 split between Chicago and Seattle he was done. Gary hit .281 for his career with 234 homers and 978 RBI’s and a .364 OBA. In the post-season he hit .323 with seven homers and 15 RBI’s in 19 games.

Matthews took off a bunch of years to pursue some business interests and then returned to baseball in the mid-Nineties. His first gig was as the Cubs’ minor league hitting instructor from ’95 to ’97. He then moved to Toronto as their hitting coach (’98-’99) and then broadcaster (2000-’01). In between he may or may not have coached for Milwaukee. In ’03 he returned to Chicago and was a Cubs coach through ’06. Since ’07 he has been a radio announcer for the Phillies.

Gary gets a star bullet for each of his full minor league seasons to date. It looks like he signed his signature on something moving. We get another dancing cartoon in which the artist tries to portray these guys as Fred Astaire.

Nothing like recycling old hook-ups:

1. Matthews and Chris Chambliss ’80 Braves;
2. Chambliss and Don Gullett ’77 to ’78 Yankees.

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