One of the most underrated players in the top 55 my inner circle. Why you might ask. His career was a little short, he played 17 years. However, he still earned 96.2 WAR in Baseball Reference which is 23rd on the list for position players. He wasn’t a great fielder, but WAR does have him as a slightly above average fielder. However, I think in part because he wasn’t a great fielder, no one considered him the greatest 3rd baseman of all time. A lot of people picked Pie Traynor as he was supposed to be a great fielder. Ironically Traynor is shown as a below average fielding third baseman. I think they probably have that one wrong. I have Traynor in 29th place at third base and 405th overall, so it well be a long while before I get to him in these articles.
Mathews had his best triple crown statistics in his rookie year, but so did Al Kaline which doesn’t hurt people’s and critic’s views of him. One thing Mathews didn’t have a great batting average. He batted .271 in his career. That made a lot of people think he was a great hitter, just a home run hitter. Mathews walked a lot which is recognized as a good thing now, but not so much when he was playing. The walks made his on base average pretty strong at .376. He topped 100 RBIs “only” 5 times but scored 100 or more runs 8 times. Also, he drove in 90 runs or more 5 times he didn’t have 100 RBIs. He never won an MVP but was runner-up twice.
Mathews had two other things that hurt his recognition as a superstar. First, he was teammates of Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn for years. Mathews and Aaron hold a lot of two men batting records or are close. However, Aaron broke the all-time home run record. Mathews wasn’t close with 512. Aaron holds other career records and is close to the record in a few he doesn’t hold. Spahn has won more games than any left-handed pitcher and is 33rd overall on my list. They played in a smaller city Milwaukee. They only won two pennants and one World Series during their years together. They were together a lot of years as teammates. The three played on the same team 11 years from 1954 thru 1964. If anyone was going to be pushed to the side it was Mathews, and that is basically what happened.
The other thing that happened was when Sabermetrics was becoming popular with great books by Bill James and Pete Palmer, there was a third baseman who was definitely better than Mathews, Mike Schmidt. So, while for years Mathews should have been recognized at the best third baseman in MLB history, when people were developing objective evidence to prove this, a better third baseman came along. Bill James let it be known the best 3rd baseman was playing at that time. To make matters ever worse, there was a more charismatic 3rd baseman who was arguably as great as either of them George Brett. So, the argument became who was better Schmidt or Brett, forgetting about old Mathews. However, lists like these keep coming out getting Mathews some delayed recognition.
I do have Brett 3rd at 3rd base and 41st overall.