Eddie Mathews, the Braves' Hall of Fame third baseman who hit 512 home runs and teamed with Hank Aaron to form the most productive power-hitting combination in baseball history, died yesterday at a hospital in San Diego. He was 69.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his family said.
In a career that spanned 17 seasons, all except his last two with the Braves -- and the only man to play for that franchise in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta -- Mathews was considered baseball's top third baseman of the 1950's and early 1960's.
He captured the National League home run title in 1953, when his 47 homers ended Ralph Kiner's seven-year reign, and in 1959, when he hit 46 homers, and he is tied with Ernie Banks for 13th place in career homers. Mathews and Aaron combined for 863 home runs in their 13 years together on the Braves, the most in baseball history for two teammates.
In helping propel the Milwaukee Braves to two pennants and their only World Series championship, Mathews was a nine-time All-Star.
A left-handed batter adept at waiting until the last instant and then pulling the ball with authority, he impressed the man who was perhaps baseball's greatest hitter.
''I've only known three or four perfect swings in my time -- this lad has one of them,'' Ty Cobb said.
Edwin Lee Mathews was born on Oct. 13, 1931, in Texarkana, Tex., and was raised in Santa Barbara, Calif. When he was 6 years old, his father, a former semipro baseball player, and his mother took him to a junior high school field for workouts.
''At first my mother pitched and my father shagged,'' Mathews recalled. ''But I hit a line drive through the box that almost took my mother's head off. Then they switched.''
Mathews signed with the Braves' organization out of high school in 1949 and made his major league debut in 1952, the franchise's last year in Boston, hitting 25 home runs. He emerged as a star in winning the home run title the following season, when the Braves arrived in Milwaukee to huge adulation and revived fortunes.
It seemed that Mathews might be the next Babe Ruth. In August 1954, his batting swing was depicted on the cover of the first issue of Sports Illustrated. But that was the year that Aaron, who would eclipse Ruth's record of 714 homers, joined Mathews in Milwaukee. For the rest of the 1950's, Aaron and Mathews, together with Joe Adcock, supplied the power to back the pitching of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl as the Braves vied with the Dodgers for National League supremacy.
In 1957, when the Braves played the Yankees in the World Series, Mathews went without a hit in the first three games. But he won Game 4 with a two-run homer off Bob Grim in the 10th inning, scored the only run in Burdette's 1-0 victory in Game 5, then had a two-run double as Burdette won his third game of the Series, stopping the Yankees, 5-0, in Game 7. To punctuate his performance, Mathews ended the Series with a backhanded stab of a hard ground ball hit by Bill Skowron with the bases loaded. The Braves won the pennant again in 1958, but fell to the Yankees in seven games, with Mathews striking out a Series-record 11 times.
Mathews remained with the Braves through 1966, their first season in Atlanta, then played for the Houston Astros and Detroit, appearing with the Tigers' 1968 World Series winners in his final season. He had a .271 career batting average, 2,315 hits and 1,453 runs batted in to go with his 512 homers.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978.
Mathews became the Braves' manager late in the 1972 season, when they finished fourth in the National League West, then managed them to a fifth-place finish in 1973.
In April 1974, Mathews became embroiled in a controversy surrounding Aaron's bid to break Ruth's home run record. Aaron hit his record-tying 714th homer on opening day at Cincinnati. The Braves' management wanted Aaron to break the record in Atlanta, so Mathews held his old teammate out of the second game against the Reds and planned to bench him for the third game as well.
''Once he hit the tying home run, it was fair enough to sit him down,'' Mathews said. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, concerned over the integrity of the game, threatened to impose serious penalties if Mathews kept Aaron out of the last game against the Reds. Aaron was put back in the lineup, then broke Ruth's record in the Braves' first game at home, hitting No. 715 against the Los Angeles Dodgers' Al Downing.
Mathews was fired as manager in July 1974, and the Braves went on to finish fourth. He worked in a variety of posts with the Braves, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Oakland Athletics after his managing career ended.
He is survived by his wife, Judy, of Del Mar, Calif.; two sons, Edwin Jr. and John; a daughter, Stephanie Widule; and a stepdaughter, Sarah Doyle.
Although Mathews was known foremost for his power hitting, he emphasized his competitive drive when reflecting on his career.
''I'd take on the other third baseman,'' he said. ''I wanted to beat him in every department: fielding, hitting, running the bases. I played that game all my life, and it kept me on my toes.''