COG 1930 Results: Mathews, At Last, is Ed of the Class

After two rounds of balloting in which he received powerful voting support but fell short of induction, coming in behind first Mickey Mantle and then Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews this week rose to the top to become the 50th inductee into the High Heat Stats Circle of Greats.  More on Eddie and the voting after the jump.

Eddie Mathews entirely re-defined what a third baseman could accomplish over a baseball career.  Here’s a list of the highest career total Wins Above Replacement (baseball-reference version) for players whose primary position was third base as of Mathews’ retirement at the end of the 1968 season:

1. Eddie Mathews 96.1
2. Ken Boyer 63.1
3. Home Run Baker 62.4
4. Jimmy Collins 53.1
5. Stan Hack 52.5

That’s a career WAR that was more than 50% higher than any other third baseman in major league history to that point.  Mathews changed the notion of what a third baseman could accomplish, and led the way for Schmidt, Brett, and the rest.


44 position players in major league history have accumulated career WAR totals of 90 or more. Here are the stretches of consecutive seasons during which two or more of these guys played for the same team:

13 seasons, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews (Braves, 1954-1966)
12 seasons, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (Yankees 1923-1934)
4 seasons, Eddie Collins and Jimmie Foxx (Athletics, 1927-1930, joined by Ty Cobb in 1927-28 and Tris Speaker in 1928)
4 seasons, Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx (Red Sox 1939-1942)
2 seasons, Al Kaline and Eddie Mathews (Tigers, 1967-1968)
2 seasons, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker (Red Sox, 1914-1915)
2 seasons, Carl Yastrzemski and Wade Boggs (Red Sox, 1982-1983)
1 season, Joe Morgan and Eddie Mathews (Astros, 1967)
1 season, Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt (Phillies, 1983)
1 season, Rickey Henderson and Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, 2000)
1 Season, Rickey Henderson and Joe Morgan (Athletics, 1984)
1 season, Rogers Hornsby and Mel Ott (Giants, 1927)


Mathews was the starting third baseman in one or more World Series games for both the World Champion Milwaukee Braves and the World Champion Detroit Tigers.  He and Mike Lowell are the only third basemen to start a World Series game for World Championship-winning teams from both the AL and NL.


Observations regarding the 1930 round of voting:

–No player from the birth year class of 1930 received more than a single vote.

–None of the 13 men on the holdover list fell below the 10% vote threshold.

–With Mathews winning induction from the holdover list, with no other holdovers dropping off and with no one from the 1930 birth year group earning a second ballot appearance, the holdover list for next time is at 12, a rather low level — but we have a redemption round about to start.

–Ron Santo, Sandy Koufax, Ernie Banks and Juan Marichal all earned a bonus year of guaranteed  ballot eligibility to add to their stash.  Koufax is now tied with Lou Whitaker for the largest collection of stored ballot eligibility; they each now have six rounds on the ballot guaranteed.   Santo, Banks and Marichal each had come into this round with two rounds of eligibility assured, and each leaves this round with three.  The six holdover guys who were on the bubble coming into this week remain on the bubble: McCovey, Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Grich, Lofton and Sandberg.

The full spreadsheet showing this round’s vote tally is here: COG 1930 Vote Tally.

The vote summary for recent Circle of Greats voting rounds is here: COG Vote Summary 2 .  An archive with fuller details of the 1968 through 1939 rounds is here: COG 1968-1939 Vote Summary .  In both cases, raw vote totals for each past round appears on Sheet 1 and the percentage totals for each past round appears on Sheet 2.


A spreadsheet listing the full membership to date of the Circle of Greats is here: Circle of Greats Inducted Players . You can also now find that same link any time by clicking on “Circle of Greats” at the top of the High Heats Stats home page.


COG 1930 Results: Mathews, At Last, is Ed of the Class — 24 Comments

  1. Thanks, birtelcom. Mathews, from what I can gather, seems to have been somewhat underrated for what he achieved – whether this was being ignored at third base, or being overshadowed by the also-often-overlooked Aaron… he just doesn’t seem to be a guy that narratives of baseball history have ensconced as a position-redefining third baseman. Anyone who was following baseball in those years want to add some context around the perception of Mathews while he was playing?

    Anyone think that maybe Mathews is the most overlooked player of 90+ WAR in league history? Okay, a quick look at the list shows Blyleven may be secure in that crown. Who else is in the picture? Perry?

    Also, birtelcom do you have a link to an updated version of the cumulative vote tally spreadsheet? That’s always enjoyable to look through.

    • I started following baseball about the time that Mathews was being supplanted as the premier 3rd baseman in the press by Robinson and to a lesser degree Boyer. I don’t recall a lot being made of his reaching 500 home runs and the big knock against him was his batting average, especially when they were voting for the Hall of Fame.

      • I think not much was made of Mathews reaching 500 HR because:
        a) Mays (and, by a couple of months, Mantle) beat him to it; and
        b) the speculation 5 years before was which of those three would catch Ruth, so 500 seemed pretty anti-climactic as a result

        But, Mathews wins the prize for hitting no. 500 off a HOF pitcher (Juan Marichal)

        • Mathews deserves a prize also for hitting 500 homers without a home field hitting advantage.

          Using tOPS+ splits, Mathews and Reggie Jackson are the only two players to hit better on the road than at home and still hit 500 home runs.

          Mathews tOPS+: 94 at home, 106 on the road
          ReggieJ tOPS+: 96 at home, 103 on the road

          Mathews in his age-21 season, where he hit a career-high 47 home runs — 17 at home, 30 on the road.

    • I believe Bill James stated somewhere that Mel Ott, Mathews, and Eddie Murray were the greatest players not to finish first in MVP voting. Reading James’ writings there seems to be a sense that Mathews was under valued (?) in his time. But, I really don’t know as he was on the way out when I was a child and new to the game

      • @5/Paul E,

        If you go strictly by career WAR for position players, the best players not to win an MVP vote are:


        Murray is behind a few other guys, like Boggs and Gwynn.

    • @1/bells,

      I think that a big part of Mathews being underrated was that he was _so good_ so young, that the rest of his career after age 23 seemed like a mild disappointment, even though he had a number of other excellent years after his awesome peak of 1953-55.

      Many observers thought he should take the next step forward, into the Mantle/ Mays/ Aaron class, but he never quite did that.

      Most overlooked player of 90+ WAR might be Phil Niekro – most fans know he’s a HOFer, but a lot don’t realize he was THAT good at his peak, probably the best NL pitcher for the 1975-1979 period.

  2. Mathews towered over the 3B field even by conventional offensive measures. Through ’68, he led the field in:
    — HRs, by 82%
    — Extra-base hits, by 41%
    — Total Bases, by 25%
    — Times on Base, Runs and RBI

    He was 2nd in BB, 32% above #3. His four 40-HR seasons were more than all other 3Bs combined. And although Runs Created had yet to be created, he led that measure by 44%.

    I’d agree with bells that the historical narrative as of today underplays Mathews’s greatness. But I don’t think contemporary notice was lacking. He was an All-Star in 9 of his first 11 years, and 10 times drew MVP votes (placing 2nd in both of his HR title years). No doubt teammates Aaron and Spahn cut into Eddie’s MVP votes.

    It took 5 ballots for him to reach the Hall, which is absurd no matter how you parse it. But those were some crowded years. Mathews placed 9th on his first ballot, 1974, which elected Mantle & Ford, with Robin Roberts falling short. Seven of the eight who placed above Mathews that year eventually gained election.

    Anyway, he’s a sure COG in our circle.

  3. Mathews was my dad’s favorite player growing up. I’ve always felt a special attachment to him for that reason. I’m really pleased to see him in the COG.

  4. I see Mathews (and many other great 3Bs) being underrated because so many of the opinion makers discounted, undervalued or were simply not aware of the defensive value of playing 3B well enough. Brooks Robinson gets defensive credit because he was spectacular, the best ever. Schmidt gets some because he was very good, and people don’t expect a big power guy to be that good defensively. Boyer probably doesn’t get that much, even though he was excellent — Boyer isn’t in the hall and probably belongs.

    The 3B that have been elected by the BBWAA since Mathews are all *easy* COG guys. Robinson, Schmidt, Brett, Boggs. Santo is the only other that’s even made it through the vets who *played* after Mathews.

    So Mathews revolutionizes the position, but suddenty he (or something pretty close to him) becomes the hall of fame standard for voters. So guys who are better than everybody who came before Mathews and pretty clearly belong in any non-tiny hall (Nettles, Boyer, Bell, Santo) got almost no play from the voters. I think those guys coming soon after, got compared unfavorably to Mathews, and voters didn’t realize that Mathews was borderline inner-circle, not a fair comparison. Then the 70s/80s come along and you get three roughly contemporary guys who were comparable, so nobody thought twice about it.

    Anybody think Scott Rolen has a real chance at the hall? Or Adrian Beltre if he doesn’t put a few more good seasons together? Both clear choices, but I doubt they make it. Chipper probably gets in, but he’s *way* over the normal line and into no-question COG territory — the scary thing is that I’m not all that sure about him.

    3Bs are massively undervalued by hall voters, as bad as pitchers.

    • The umpire in the photo was Augie Donatelli, who was still umpiring in the NL into the 1970s. A night game in County Stadium in 1954, Braves vs. Giants, Mathews playing for the Braves and Westrum for the Giants, with Donatelli behind the plate, means the picture had to have been taken at the game of June 9, 1954. The unseen pitcher who threw the pitch had to have been Johnny Antonelli (complete game shutout for the Giants that night).

      Hank Aaron, a rookie in his 42nd major league game, had a sac bunt in this contest, something he did 17 times before age 23 but only three more times after he turned 23.

      Note that the issue date of the magazine was August 16, 1954, so the photo was over two months old when it made the cover.

      • I forgot, Mathews played a year in the old Braves field, now Nickerson field on BU’s campus. Would have loved to have seen that place. Green Line down Mass Ave. 281,278 attendance though, time to move on. (Sox had 1,115,750.)

        • Mathews was, of course, the only Brave to have played for the Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta incarnations. The story was that the team gave him a plaque to commemorate his service. It was, supposedly, addressed to Edward Mathews. Which is all well and good, except that Eddie is short, in this instance, for Edwin. Apocryphal, I would say. I’ve never seen any sort of tracer about the story.

          • It certainly would have been theoretically possible for someone to have played for the A’s in Philly (final year 1954), KC and Oakland (first year 1968), I believe the last guy in the majors remaining who had played for the A’s in both Philly and KC was Vic Power, who played his last season in the majors in 1965.

  5. Mathews finished his career winning the WS with the 1968 Tigers. I wonder how many other HOFers did that?

    Scanning the HOF inductees list, the only other ones I saw were Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto; LaRussa if you count managing. Willie Mays in 1973 came close.

    • Stan Coveleski played his last season for the 1928 Yankees, who went on to win the World Series, but Stan was released in August and thus was not on the club during the Series. Eddie Collins was a coach for the 1930 A’s, and at age 43 actually came in to pinch-hit for the club three times during the season. He also did not play during the Series.

      • @19/RC,

        I know that it’s a technicality, but couldn’t you still say, “Rizzuto played on the team that won the WS in 1956”?

        Yes, I know; not quite what I said in #16 above.

        • @20, LA: I was following the lead of birtelson in post 17. But you are right, Rizzuto was on the team that won the WS. No question though about Johnny Mize in 1953.

        • @21/RC,

          Good catch on Mize! I did see his name, but didn’t make the connection.

          So I guess that Mathews, Joe DiMaggio, and Mize were the only MLB players to retire being on the World Series roster of the team that won the WS?

          I was trying to think of an analogous list – players who retired on a WS-losing team. Koufax and Mays are the obvious ones, but scanning the list again I didn’t see any others. Winfield and Seaver were on the losing teams, but not the WS rosters.

          • Among the winners there is also Lou Gehrig. Among the losers would be Larry Doby, 1959 White Sox, Bill Terry and Travis Jackson, 1936 Giants and Home Run Baker 1922 Yankees.

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