In 2006, the stars aligned for Texas Rangers outfielder Gary Matthews Jr.
In the years leading up that season, Matthews had hopped from one club to the next—playing for six teams in total—scraping by on one-year contracts and shuttling between AAA and the majors. In other words, his career was hanging on by a thread. His average season? A woefully pedestrian 104 games, 8 HR, 34 RBI, .249 BA, and .723 OPS. Playing in the shadow of his father, 1972 National League Rookie of the Year and four-time all-star Gary “Sarge” Matthews, “Lil’ Sarge,” now 31, hadn’t materialized into anything more than a career journeyman.
But a slumping starting center fielder, a sprinkle of HGH, and a spectacular catch changed everything.
Then came his first stroke of luck. Laynce Nix, pegged by manager Buck Showalter as the starting center fielder, pulled an 0-fer on opening day versus the Red Sox.
Nix then proceeded to go hitless over the next five games.
By the ninth game of the season, with only three hits under his belt, Nix was unceremoniously shipped off to the Milwaukee Brewers, paving the way for Matthews Jr.’s promotion to the starting lineup.
Unbeknownst to fans, teammates, and the media, Matthews, reportedly, had added a new element to his offseason regimen: human growth hormone (HGH). Faster, stronger, and more athletic, he returned to the lineup and wowed crowds with his acrobatic catches, while pummeling pitchers who had dominated him in years past.
Wait, isn’t this guy supposed to be a guaranteed out?
Then came the $50 million catch. With the Rangers facing the Astros before the All-Star break, Mike Lamb hit a shot to dead center. Sprinting towards the wall, planting one foot on the padding, Matthews, Jr. launched himself into the air, snatched the ball with his outstretched glove, and landed with both feet on the warning-track dirt in one swift, smooth motion. Just like that. Easy.
It was superhuman. Astros manager Phil Garner was left in shock: “That was disgusting. I thought he was jumping for the heck of it—one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Even a year later, people were still talking about it.
“People still ask me about that catch,” Matthews Jr. told MLB.com in August 2007. “I’ll be out at dinner, or people in the stands will mention it. They want to know what it’s like to climb a wall, if I thought I’d catch it, how hard the wall is.”
Matthews Jr. went on to earn his first trip to the All-Star game, and at the break his average stood at a robust .328, with 10 HR and a .912 OPS.
After the season ended, citing his breakthrough performance, Matthews’ agent sought big bucks for his client. The catch from back in July—still buzzing through conversations—had further jacked up his value. The only question: who would bite? The guy was 32 years old, with only one good season under his belt and whispers of steroids following his every move.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ended up as the unfortunate victims.
“Guys learn at different times in their careers,” General Manager Bill Stoneman rationalized after shelling out $50 million for the aging center fielder. “Gary’s coming into his own.”
In his first season with the Angels, Matthews Jr. predictably returned to form, hitting .252-18-72. That offseason, the Angels signed free-agent center fielder Torii Hunter to a monster five-year, $90 million deal, effectively relegating Matthews Jr. to his new role as the $50 million fourth outfielder—the highest-paid bench player in the game.
He’s now a free agent—released by the New York Mets this past offseason, even though the Angels were on the hook for $10 million of his $11 million salary.
But hey, the guy has $50 million in the bank. Who wouldn’t take a little HGH for that? Plus, he earned the vaunted spot of center fielder on our All-Steroids team.
Over the next few weeks, every weekday, we’ll be unveiling another member of the All-Steroids team. Check back tomorrow to see who joins Gary Matthews Jr. as the second member of our 15-man roster.
More From the All-Steroids Team:
- C: Todd Hundley
- 1B: Phil Nevin
- 2B: Bret Boone
- SS: Rich Aurilia
- 3B: Ken Caminiti
- OF: Brady Anderson
- OF: Jay Gibbons
- UTIL: Jay Bell
- DH: David Ortiz
- SP: Edinson Volquez
- MRP: Brendan Donnelly
- SU: John Rocker
- CL: Eric Gagne