Thursday, January 30, 2014

#634 - Eddie Mathews/Braves Field Leaders

When I was a kid I couldn’t always tell whether or not Eddie Mathews was a white guy and it was photos like this one that confused me. Eddie sure had a nice tan going which I guess came with the territory of working in sunny Atlanta. He’d returned there as a coach a couple years earlier and was elevated to manager about two-thirds of the way through the ’72 season. He improved things a bit and ’73 was his first – and only – full season in the role. There would be some exciting times what with all the homers but the launch pad that County Stadium resembled back then, coupled with some injuries, and just some dreadful pitching, made it difficult for the team to get any real traction. He would improve to a winning record in ’74 but, combined with other issues, that improvement wasn't enough and he gave way to Clyde King 100 games into that season. Here he looks moderately concerned home in Atlanta. Things down the road would warrant that expression.

Eddie Mathews was born in Texarkana, Texas, and as a young boy he relocated to Santa Barbara, California, where he was a big deal high school football and baseball star. He was highly sought by many schools for the former sport but opted to sign with the Braves in ’49 for a $6,000 bonus. In D ball that summer he had a .363/17/56 line in just 240 at bats and the next year put up a .286/32/106 line in Double A. He split the next season between Double A and Triple A but missed most of it to Navy service for the Korean War before he was recalled because his dad was sick and Eddie was his family’s only income producer. In ’52 he was called up to Boston where, though his average was a bit light and his K totals a tad high, he wowed people with his defense at third and hit 25 homers. He cranked things up big the next year with his .302/47/135 line. His homer total led the NL and his OBA was .402 as he made his first All-Star game. Over the next two seasons he would average lines of .289/41/102/.418 as Milwaukee’s main slugger as a young teammate Hank Aaron was establishing himself. Eddie’s RBI totals fell a bit the next few years as Aaron became a premier slugger himself and Eddie’s line averaged .274/33/89/.370 as he took two trips to the Series, winning one. In ’59 he again led the NL in homers during a .306/46/114/.390 season followed up by another big power year in ’60 with his .277/39/124/.397 year. Beginning in ’61 he led the NL in walks three consecutive years as his lines averaged .279/28/92/.394. By then he’d been having some back and shoulder issues that were beginning to compress his swing a bunch and in ’64 his numbers fell to .233/23/74/.344 before a big bounce in ’65 with a .251/32/95 line. By ’66 the back pain was serious and his days as a big slugger were over. After a final season in ’66 with Atlanta he was sent to Houston where he played primarily first base in ’67 before an August trade to Detroit to help in the stretch run. He remained with the Tigers in ’68 as primarily a pinch hitter for the eventual Series champs. Eddie then retired with a .271 average with 512 homers, 1,453 RBI’s, 2,315 hits, and a .376 OBA. In the post-season he hit .200 with a homer and seven RBI’s in 16 games with a .385 OBA. He was an All-Star nine times and defensively ranks in the top ten for third basemen in putouts, assists, and double plays.

For a couple years after playing Mathews was a salesman for a couple firms but he wasn’t a big fan of that work. So in ’71 he returned to baseball as a Braves coach and then assumed the manager position in ’72. By then he had a pretty serious drinking problem and that problem was part of what led to his dismissal in ’74. He was 149-161 as a manager which would turn out to be significantly better than his immediate successors. He then worked briefly with the Brewers – where he turned down the manager job – before moving to San Diego and having a run as a scout. He would return to formal coaching with the Rangers, Oakland (’81-’83) and Atlanta (’88-’89) around his scouting work. He was admitted to the Hall in ’78 and in ’92, a couple years after retiring, he had a second serious attack of pneumonia, his first being while with the A’s. He was nearly better by ’94 when he wrote his autobiography and was attending card shows on a regular basis. He did that through ’97 when he was in a bad boating accident that shattered his pelvis. Thereafter things were very tough for him physically and in early 2001 he passed away from complications of pneumonia and heart problems. He was 69. He has a detailed SABR bio.

Jim Busby grew up in rural Texas and in ’45 went to TCU on a football scholarship. I have read that he was in the Army during WWII but since he had just turned 18 when the war ended that doesn’t seem right. By his junior year he was TCU’s starting QB and in ’47 he took his team to the Cotton Bowl. He also hit over .500 as a fleet outfielder and ran track as well, setting the school record in the 100-yard dash. In ’48 he was signed by the White Sox and that summer hit .305 in a season split between B and A ball. In ’49 he hit .306 at those same levels and missed about half the season so it was most likely that then was his Army time. In ’50 he moved up to Triple A where he hit .310 with 17 stolen bases around his few games in Chicago. In ’51 he made the team in spring training as its starting center fielder and as a rookie hit .283 with 68 RBI’s and 26 stolen bases. He was also an excellent fielder who over his career would only post 16 errors. Early in ’52 he went to Washington for Same Mele and there his average slid a bit before rebounding the next two years when he averaged .306 with 81 RBI’s and 15 stolen bases per season. After a slow start in ’55 he returned to the Sox where he finished out the year. He then went to Cleveland as part of a deal for Larry Doby where his .235/12/50 line was a bit of an improvement. In early ’57 he was on the move again to Baltimore for Dick Williams – I guess he liked being traded for future managers – where he hit .250 but his power stats depleted a bunch. By ’58 he was a reserve guy and he filled that role for the Red Sox, back in Baltimore, and in Houston before he finished as a player during the ’62 season. Jim put up a .262 average with over 1,100 hits and 97 stolen bases during his career. He is in the top 50 all-time for putouts in center and the top 100 in assists and double plays. He remained with Houston as a coach the duration of the ’62 season and stayed there through ’67. He then moved on to Atlanta (’68-’75), the White Sox (’76), and Seattle (’77-’78) before going 37-27 as a manager in ’79 in the Inter-American League. After that league folded he moved to Florida full-time where he ran some orange groves he’d acquired earlier. He then retired in Georgia where he passed away in ’96 at age 69.

Connie Ryan was born in New Orleans where he would be a star athlete at the same high school later attended by Rusty Staub. Ryan then earned a baseball scholarship to LSU, where he remained through his sophomore year of ’40 when he left to sign a minor league contract with Savannah, a B-level affiliate of the Atlanta Crackers, an independent team. After hitting .302 that year as s econd baseman, he moved up to the A-level Crackers in ’41 and hit .300 there. In ’42 he was sold to the Giants where he had a tough time in NY before returning to Double A, hitting .243 that season. Immediately prior to the ’43 season he was sent to the Braves as part of a deal for Ernie Lombardi and as the regular guy at second Connie hit .212. He improved that substantially in ’44 when he was hitting .295 with 13 stolen bases before he enlisted for WW II after D-Day. Named to the All-Star team that year, he remained in the service through ’45 and returned to Boston as the starting second baseman in ’46 and ’47, hitting .241 and .265 with 69 RBI’s respectively. In ’48 Boston acquired Eddie Stanky and Connie became a reserve, getting only 122 at bats that year and limited time in the Series. In ’49 he was a utility guy, playing all infield positions, which he continued through early in ’50 when he went to Cincinnati for Walker Cooper. With the Reds he returned to a starting role that season and for all of ’51, hitting .246 during that time. He then moved to the Phillies in a big trade for the ’52 season, where he retained the regular role, hitting .257, until he was placed on waivers in ’54 (despite hitting .296 at the time). The ChiSox took him and Connie finished out his career that year and the next with Chicago and then back in Cincinnati with a .248 average with just under 1,000 hits. He went 0 for 1 in his only Series at bat and is in the top 100 all-time in putouts at second. He remained in baseball in a bunch of roles. As a minor league manager he went a combined 403-383 for the Braves (’55-’56, ’68-’69), Cincinnati (’58), Houston (’62), and Kansas City (’67). He was also an MLB coach for Milwaukee/Atlanta (’57, ’71, ’73-’75) and Texas (’77-’79) and manager for both going a combined 11-22 in interim roles for the Braves (’75) and the Rangers (’77). In between and thereafter he scouted for Houston (’61, ’63-’66), Kansas City/Oakland (’67, 70, 71, and in the Eighties), the Braves (’69-’70), and Texas (’76). He would then retire to the New Orleans area where he passed away in ’96 at age 75.

Ken Silvestri grew up in Chicago where he was an all-state football player for two years and then went to Purdue on a football scholarship (this has been a very educated coaching group thus far). He spent two years at Purdue, playing both baseball and football, before being signed by the White Sox in ’36. He spent his first two years in D ball, hitting .270 and .307, with 23 homers that second year. He moved up to Double A in ’38 and spent more there in ’39 – both years hitting .272 - around his debut in Chicago. He hit lightly his rookie year, batting just .173 in minimal plate appearances. He raised that to .250 in ’40 with ten RBI’s but in just 24 at bats. After that season he went to the Yankees where he took on the Ralph Houk role – almost zero plate time – before Houk got there. Ken again hit .250, this time in 40 at bats, and won a Series ring, before enlisting for WW II, which would take him away from baseball the next four years. He returned in ’46 to hit .286 again in limited time before Houk assumed his role and Ken spent the bulk of the next two years in the minors, hitting a combined .226 but with a .377 OBA. He then moved to the Phillies via the Rule 5 draft for the ’49 season, returned to the Series in ’50, and finished his MLB time in ’51 with a .217 average in just 203 at bats over eight seasons. He returned to the service in ’52 and ’53 in Korea and then came back to baseball in ’54 as a player and then player/manager in the Yankees system, which he did through ’58. He went 255-242 his four seasons as a manager and won two league titles and finished his minor league playing career with a .268 average. He would then get a bunch of MLB time as a coach with the Phillies (’59-’60, the Braves (’63-’75), and the White Sox (’76, ’82). In between he coached in the St. Louis system (’61-’62) and Chicago’s (’77-’81) before going into semi-retirement as a scout for the ChiSox beginning in ’83. He was still scouting for the team when he passed away in ’92 at age 75.

Herm Starrette grew up in Statesville, North Carolina, where he was a big deal pitcher and basketball player. His brother George would be a pro hoops player and Herm was offered a basketball scholarship to Wake Forest but opted to go to local Lenoir-Rhyne College where he pitched his freshman and sophomore seasons of ’57 and ’58 before signing that June with the new Orioles. That summer he went 7-9 in C ball before improving at that level in ’59 to go 17-7 and 9-7 in ’60 around some military time. Up until then a rotation guy, in ’61 in B ball he went 11-7 as a spot starter and in ’62 became a reliever, going 14-10 with a 2.65 ERA in 61 games in A ball. The next three years he would pitch well out of the pen in Triple A, going a combined 14-7 with a 2.14 ERA. He also got three looks in Baltimore over that time-frame and although he threw well – 1-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings – he never stuck. Back in Triple A in ’66 he hurt his arm and was done as a pitcher, finishing with a minor league record of 72-50 with a 3.32 ERA. He then became a pitching coach in the Orioles chain, succeeding George Bamberger in ’68 as director of pitching and continuing the Baltimore streak of developing premier starters. He did that through ’73 when he became the Atlanta pitching coach. He remained with the Braves through ’76 and then moved on to San Francisco (’77-’78 and ’83-’84), Philadelphia (’79-’81), Milwaukee (’85-’86), the Cubs (’87), and Baltimore (’88). He then became minor league pitching coordinator for the Expos (’89-’92) and Boston (’93-2002) both while working closely with Dan Duquette. After Duquette was replaced as Boston GM following the 2002 season, Herm retired to Florida where he still resides.

I’ll skip over Watergate stuff this post and go straight to the double hook-up. For Eddie Mathews as a manager:

1. Mathews managed Ralph Garr on the ’72 to ’74 Braves;
2. Garr and Dave Hamilton ’76 to ’77 White Sox.

That was pretty good. Now for Eddie as a player. I am just going to add a step to the above:

1. Mathews and Sonny Jackson ’67 Astros;
2. Jackson and Ralph Garr ’72 to ’74 Braves;
3. Garr and Dave Hamilton ’76 to ’77 White Sox.

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