“An aggressive, hustling ballplayer with a great attitude” was Wes Westrum‘s description of Gary Matthews as a young outfielder with San Francisco, and the description fit until his retirement 16 seasons later. Matthews teamed with Garry Maddox and Bobby Bonds with the Giants to form one of the best NL outfields in the 1970s. Matthews hit .300 with 10 triples and 17 stolen bases to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1973, and was an amazingly consistent hitter throughout his career, never hitting below .278 or above .304 until 1985. His aggressive playing style was evident on the basepaths, where he grabbed extra bases and upended fielders with a formidable takeout slide, and in the outfield, where he was only average overall, but still made many astonishing catches. The Giants switched him from leadoff to cleanup hitter in 1975, but he broke his thumb and missed 50 games. Then, after a contract dispute to start the ’76 season, he hit .279 with 20 HR and was traded to the Braves.
He had his best season in Atlanta in 1979 (.304, 27 HR, 90 RBI, 97 runs) and made the All-Star team for the only time in his career. He slumped early in 1980 but recovered to post respectable numbers, and when he was traded to Philadelphia in March 1981, he was reunited in the outfield with Garry Maddox. Matthews hit .301 in his first year in Philadelphia, and was brilliant in the 1983 LCS, winning MVP honors with a .429 average, three HR and eight RBI. He homered in each of the final three games, including a three-run shot off Jerry Reuss in the first inning of the finale, which the Phillies won 7-2. The Phillies began to unload their aging veterans in the off-season, and Matthews was dealt to Chicago, where the Cubs hoped he would provide inspired leadership. He led the NL in walks in 1984 as the Cubs won the NL East, and he quickly became a favorite of the Wrigley Field bleacher fans. After 1984 his contributions diminished. He was released by the Cubs in mid-1987, and played 45 games with the Mariners before he retired.