COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – The Houston Astros trailed the San Francisco Giants 4-3 in the sixth inning on July 14, 1967, when a matchup of future Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Juan Marichal ensued.
The result was history.
Forty-three years ago this week, Mathews belted a three-run home run 335 feet over the right field fence at Candlestick Park for the 500th long ball of his career.
In doing so, Mathews became the seventh player to reach the plateau joining (in order) Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Mantle hit his 500th home run two months to the day before Matthews.
“No matter how hard I tried not to think about hitting this homer, it’s still been on my mind,” Mathews said.
Mathews did not have to think about it long. He hit No. 499 the Saturday before the All-Star break and needed just three more games to become the only member of the 500 home run club (to date) to reach the milestone against a future Hall of Famer.
The milestone home run came in his first season in Houston, after the Atlanta Braves traded Mathews to the Astros in December 1966. Mathews spent the first 15 years of his career with the Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta franchise.
His first big league home run came at age 20 on April 19, 1952 against Philadelphia left-hander Kenny Heintzelman. It was the first of 25 for Mathews his rookie year, a campaign he followed by hitting 47 home runs to lead the National League in 1953.
The nine-time all-star still holds the record for most home runs hit before turning 25 years old with 190. Mathews’ gaudy numbers also landed him the spot as Sports Illustrated’s first ever cover subject in August 1954.
While with the Braves, Mathews teamed up with Hank Aaron to hit 863 home runs in their 13 seasons together. Only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit more home runs as teammates, going deep a combined 879 times from 1923-34.
Mays and Willie McCovey are the only other set of teammates to come close, hitting 800 long balls from 1959-71 with the Giants.
Ironically, two years earlier, Bob Wolf wrote in the Sporting News that with fewer than 125 home runs between the Braves pair and Ruth-Gehrig, “it would seem that only a trade could keep (Mathews and Aaron) from breaking it.”
Mathews finished his career with a .271 batting average, 512 home runs and 1,453 runs batted in over 17 seasons – and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978. He is one of 10 players to hit 30 or more home runs in nine straight seasons.
A two-time National League home run champion, the Texas native played on two championship teams: with the Braves in 1957 and the Detroit Tigers in 1968.
Matthews died on Feb. 18, 2001 in La Jolla, CA.
Chris Blake is the 2010 publications intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum