The third baseman of the Milwaukee Braves awakened at 9. The Braves, who were baseball champions of the world in 1957, had lost the day before and had lost the night before that. They had fallen back into second place, and now they were about to begin a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants, the team that had passed them and taken over the National League lead.
However, the third baseman of the Braves was not thinking of these things as he awakened last Thursday. His long athlete's sleep had been interrupted by the arrival of his son, who had traveled the length of the hall from the back bedroom to the front. He was 2, going on 3, he had a cold and he wanted to get in bed with daddy.
The third baseman and his son bore the same name: Edwin Lee Mathews. They horsed around together, the big man and the little boy, while in the other twin bed Virjean Mathews, wife of one Eddie and mother of the other, and also pestered by a cold, smiled and enjoyed the rare opportunity to sleep on. For in the next room, six-month-old Stephanie Mathews, the third cold-racked member of the family, considerately slept on.
Not until 11 did Stephanie begin to send out calls for room service. Then, while Virjean took care of her and dressed young Eddie, the best third baseman in the world went out to the kitchen and cooked breakfast for his family.
This scene of domestic tranquillity was one to rouse cynical smiles, along with quizzical stares and an occasional loud laugh, from those who knew Eddie Mathews when. Mathews, cooking breakfast? Eddie Mathews?
The mind sped back to the headline days of 1953, when Mathews at 21 was the National League's home-run champion and the matinee idol of the brand-new Milwaukee Braves. That was the Braves' maiden year in Milwaukee, when they finished a completely unexpected second and broke the National League attendance record. Every Brave was a hero, but the handsome, single Mathews was the biggest hero of them all.
Later, however, reports began to leak out of Milwaukee that Eddie pouted occasionally and now and then stamped his foot. The leak became a flood of rumors, most of them unfounded. But enough were true. Mathews, slated to receive an award between games of a double-header late in the 1953 season, had been booed in the first game for a bad play and therefore stubbornly refused to come out of the clubhouse between games to accept the trophy. And the following spring Mathews was arrested for reckless driving in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee. It was night (he was on his way home from Teammate Bob Buhl's house), and he tried to elude the arresting officer by turning off his lights and ducking into side streets. At the hearing the next morning, Eddie threatened to break a photographer's arm if he snapped his picture, and later the judge asked for Mathews' autograph. The publicity was instantaneous, rich and widespread. Here was a spoiled, willful child. Everyone hurried to throw a rock. One New York columnist shed bitter tears over the fate of Milwaukee's children if Mathews were allowed to run loose behind the wheel of a car.
All this was long ago. Mathews is different now, patient with photographers, agreeable with reporters, on splendid terms with the law. In a word, Mathews has changed, as has been attested to in one story after another in sports pages around the country. The new Mathews, he is called, the mature Mathews, the adult Mathews, all of which is fine grist for the mill of the needlers in the Braves' dressing room. (Mathews last week was kidding Joe Taylor, the corpulent clubhouse custodian. "Joe," Mathews said, "if you ever started walking downhill with that stomach of yours, the law of inertia would take hold of you and you wouldn't be able to stop till you got to the bottom." Taylor turned, a look of wonder on his face. "Inertia?" he said. "Inertia? What is this, the new Mathews? You didn't find that word in those westerns you read." Mathews grinned. "I've been reading a mystery," he explained.)
Actually, the change in Mathews was a striking though essentially simple thing. A month after the reckless-driving incident, Mathews' father, long an invalid, died. He had been a profound influence in his son's life. Later that summer Mathews met and fell in love with a girl named Virjean Lauby. They were engaged within the month and married the day after the season ended. Abruptly, Mathews changed from a boy, with nothing but money and time on his hands, to a man, with a wife and, eventually, a home and family.
Mathews was born in Texarkana, Texas, in October of 1931, a Depression baby. He was an only child. His earliest memories are of San Antonio, where the family had gone to live. He remembers going to Brackenridge Park with his father to play a primitive form of catch. Then the family moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., where Eddie grew up and where his mother still lives. He is essentially a Californian, not a Texan. His father obtained a job with Western Union as a telegrapher, work that took him into the press box of the minor league Santa Barbara team and occasionally even into the press boxes of the big football stadiums in Los Angeles. Eddie was often able to go with him, a rare treat for a boy. The father was a gaunt man who had been hit by influenza in his youth; eventually he became tubercular. His love for sport, and particularly baseball, became concentrated in his son.