Proving Thrift correct, Matthews becomes star

al notebook

July 16, 2006|By COMPILED FROM INTERVIEWS AND OTHER NEWSPAPERS' REPORTS.

Former Orioles executive Syd Thrift was right after all.

The much-maligned vice president predicted in April 2002 that Gary Matthews Jr., "the ultimate five-tool player," was a future All-Star.

At that time, Matthews was just an athletic, over-hyped player who had been dealt to the Orioles, his fifth organization in a three-year period.

He played well that season, but struggled early in 2003 and in May was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres.

Last year in Texas, the light seemingly went on for Matthews, who turns 32 in August. This year, he finally made Thrift's prediction come true. After hitting .328 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs, the center fielder made his first All-Star Game, 13 years after being drafted.

"I hoped I'd get this opportunity," Matthews said. "Every kid dreams of playing in the All-Star Game and the World Series. It's nice to have taken care of half of that."

Matthews, the son of former big leaguer Gary Matthews, admits that by this point in his career, he had hoped for several All-Star appearances.

"I dreamed of that, but when you get here, you realize how much goes into it," Matthews said. "And there are things that affect it that are out of your control."

Matthews credits his improvement with knowing he has an everyday role now. But he knows his battle isn't over yet.

"I never doubted my physical skills, but I did wonder if I'd ever wind up in the right place," Matthews said. "I know my skills were OK, but there was a chance of time running out."

The catch

No matter what Matthews does the rest of the season, he'll always have July 1, when he rose above the center-field wall at Ameriquest Field by about 4 feet and robbed the Houston Astros' Mike Lamb of a sure homer.

"The best I've ever seen. Not even close," Texas shortstop Michael Young said.

People continually want to talk about the catch, Matthews said, but he added: "It's hard talking about yourself and sometimes you're uncomfortable. ... It seemed so much easier when I made the play. It looks much harder when I watch the replay."

It's your fault

Commissioner Bud Selig said last week that the All-Star Game tie in 2002, which led to increased rosters and World Series home-field advantage for the winning league, was set up years earlier in Baltimore.

The booing of American League manager Cito Gaston by the Camden Yards fans in 1993 when then-Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina didn't get into the All-Star Game prompted future managers to use their full rosters, Selig said. And that had an embarrassing effect in 2002 when both leagues ran out of players in an 11-inning tie.

"I honestly believe from the day Cito Gaston got booed in Baltimore in '93, managers just thought, `Well we're just going to use every player,' " Selig said.

Quick hits

After 28 errors in the first half and 53 in 2005, Tampa Bay Devil Rays prospect B.J. Upton has moved from shortstop to third base at Triple-A. ... With the bases loaded in the first half, the Cleveland Indians' Travis Hafner was 7-for-10 with five grand slams and 25 RBIs. ... Oakland Athletics designated hitter Frank Thomas has sued two Chicago White Sox doctors for allegedly misdiagnosing and mistreating his broken foot in 2004.

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