SALT LAKE CITY — Tom Weber was all of 6 years old when he had a life-changing event on the little league fields of Idaho. A teammate handed him a baseball magazine on the bench one day. Weber opened it and there was a photo of Eddie Mathews, a rookie third baseman with the Boston Braves. Weber read the article and that was that. He was a Mathews fan, for life, a fan so devoted that 65 years later his devotion would be undiminished.
“It just happened,” says Weber. “It was magic. He was my guy.”
Sometimes there’s no explaining the heart of a fan. It might be a hometown connection. It might be his talent. It might be personality. It might be championships won. It might be the result of seeing him play on just the right day. It might even be just a picture in a magazine.
Weber, who is 71 now and lives in Kearns, might be the most zealous fan ever. In his spare time earlier this year, he wrote and self-published a book about his hero — “Eddie Mathews: Why He was the Greatest Third Baseman of All Time.” So what if other authors had already written at least a couple of biographies about Mathews. Weber soon will begin work on a second book: “What People Have Said About Eddie Mathews.”
This might be TMI for most people. Maybe you don’t even know who Mathews is. Or maybe you think Mike Schmidt or Brooks Robinson, or even Chipper Jones and George Brett, were better third basemen. Don’t go there with Weber.
Mathews is his obsession. Weber has an undergrad degree in political science from BYU and a law degree from the University of Utah. He’s never used either one of them. Instead, he took a series of what he calls “office jobs,” that is, between long stretches when he was unemployed. Never married, he had time on his hands. He filled the hours with his love of baseball and a certain baseball player, just as he did growing up in Idaho.
“There was little to do in the summer except play baseball, read baseball magazines (oh, how precious The Sporting News was every week!) and listen to the Game of the Day on the radio,” he says of his youth.
As a boy he ran to get the newspaper every morning and searched for the box score that would measure Mathews’ performance the previous night. “If he had hit a homer I was so happy,” he says. He watched him play on TV whenever one of Mathews’ games was televised. While serving a mission for the LDS Church, he was invited into the homes of strangers; at some point in the conversation he worked up the courage to ask if he could look at their newspaper.
He managed to see Mathews play in person on two occasions — an exhibition game in Boise and a game at Dodger Stadium. He never met his hero, but he came close. He was in Georgia to visit a girlfriend. For a date he took her to — you guessed it — an Atlanta Braves game. By then, Mathews was a Braves coach. After the game, Weber saw Mathews exit the stadium and head for the parking lot. Weber ran after him, but Mathews got in his car and drove away before he could reach him.
Weber of course is not the only one to recognize Mathews as a great player, just the most obsessive and enduring. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Mathews 63rd on its list of the top 100 greatest players. Playing for all three iterations of the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves as well as the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers from 1952-68, Mathews collected 512 home runs, 1,453 RBI and 2,315 hits. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978. He died in 2001.
Weber began to do the research for his book early this year, but really he had been doing it all his life, collecting articles and gleaning information from books. During his unemployed stretches he filled the time by writing letters to Major League Baseball officials trying to elicit comments about the retired star.
“He clearly was the best third baseman of all time his first 10 years,” says Weber. “Then early in his 11th season (1962) he tore his shoulder swinging at a pitch … Unfortunately, the Braves pushed Eddie back into the lineup almost immediately and his shoulder never healed properly.Comment on this story
"He went from being one of the greatest power hitters of all time to being an average player. The basic thesis of the book is that had he received proper medical care his offensive stats would be so impressive there would be no argument as to who was the greatest third baseman.”
Meanwhile, Weber’s obsession shows no signs of slowing. He is going to compile quotes from former players and various baseball officials about his hero.
“There will also be a section in which pitchers who pitched in both leagues compare Mathews and Mickey Mantle as hitters,” says Weber. “People may find that it was closer than they think.”