In this installment of the Players You Forgot Were Astros series, we look at the career of Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews.
When you think of Hall of Famers who’ve played for the Houston Astros, there are several names that come to mind. Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson are the ones I think of first. Probably one of the last names fans think of is Eddie Mathews.
Mathews is one of the best offensive third basemen the game has ever seen. He burst on the scene by hitting 25 home runs for the Boston Braves as a 20-year-old in 1952. He followed that up with a major league-leading 47 bombs the following year for the then-Milwaukee Braves, finishing second in the MVP voting.
That was the first of three straight 40-homer seasons and nine straight 30-homer seasons. In 15 seasons with the Braves, he was a 12-time All-Star and led the league in homers twice and had four seasons in which he led the league in walks.
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Mathews was with the Braves organization through three cities — Boston, Milwaukee and finally Atlanta. But his last season with the Braves was his worst, as he hit only 16 homers with a .250 batting average in 1966. This is where his brief Astros story begins.
On New Year’s Eve 1966, the Braves traded Mathews and pitcher Arnold Umbach to the Astros in exchange for pitcher Bob Bruce and outfielder Dave Nicholson. Umbach never pitched for Houston, Nicholson played only 10 games for the Braves and Bruce made just 12 appearances for Atlanta.
Interestingly, the Astros also got a player-to-be-named-later in the deal, which turned out to be infielder Sandy Alomar, who would be a one-time All-Star later on. He was also the father of All-Star catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. and Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar. The elder Alomar never played for the Astros, though, as they traded him to the Mets in March 1967.
Mathews hit just 10 homers in 101 games for Houston, turning in a .238/.333/.381 line before the club traded him to the Tigers on Aug. 17, 1967 for two players to be named later. The first was pitcher Fred Gladding, who pitched in the Astros bullpen in parts of six seasons, two of which were strong showings. The other was Leo Marentette, who never pitched for the team.
Mathews played one more season for the Tigers before retiring. He finished his career with 512 homers, which ranks 23rd all-time, and is 24th all-time in walks and in WAR among position players. He passed away in 2001 at age 69.