Gary Matthews was one of the first generation of baseball free agents, coming to Atlanta in 1977 after four-plus seasons in San Francisco (the free agency eligibility rules were different then) where he’d won the Rookie of the Year in 1973. The Braves also traded for Jeff Burroughs that offseason, having already signed pioneer free agent Andy Messersmith. These deals were supposed to turn the Braves into a pennant winner. Instead, they lost 101 games and finished last. And in 1978, they finished last again. And again in 1979. They got to a little above .500 in 1980, which was the obvious signal to trade Burroughs and Matthews and bring in Claudell Washington, about whom enough said.
It wasn’t their fault that the team didn’t win, of course; both players played well, but the Braves didn’t have any other good players at that time, not until Horner arrived. I can’t even blame Ted, because he couldn’t be expected to know what he was doing yet, but I have to wonder who was giving him advice. Matthews was a little above league-average in his first year in Atlanta, hitting .283/.362/.438 with 17 homers, going 22 of 30 on stolen bases, and playing an adequate left field.
He and Burroughs swapped positions in 1978, Matthews moving to right, where he put up basically the same numbers as the previous year. In 1979, Matthews had his best year as a Brave and made his only All-Star team, hitting .304/.363/.502 with a career-high 27 homers. In 1980, however, he had an off year, hitting .278/.325/.419. As usual, the Braves sold low, trading him to the Phillies for Bob Walk, who never did anything for the Braves but had a nice career after he left. So did Matthews, who won the NLCS MVP in 1983 for the Phillies and finished fifth in the MVP voting in 1984 for the Cubs.
The Braves had Gary Jr. in spring training last year, but cut him to make room for DeWayne Wise. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.