New ex­hibit to honor area man’s base­ball ca­reer

Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Jim Wil­liamson

A base­ball mem­o­ra­bilia dis­play will be un­veiled at 2 p.m. Sept. 30 in the Two Rivers Mu­seum in Ash­down, Ark., hon­or­ing the late Wal­ter Ray Matthews and his base­ball ca­reer with the Hous­ton Astros.

Matthews came from a place called Hicks, Ark., east of Ash­down, Ark.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Ash­down

High School, he at­tended the Univer­sity of Arkansas and be­came a two-sport let­ter­man in base­ball and foot­ball. He av­er­aged 20 yards a catch as a 6-3, 200-pound end and one of coach Bow­den Wy­att’s famed “25 Lit­tle Pigs” that lost to Georgia Tech in the 1955 Cot­ton Bowl.

Matthews, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 79, served the Hous­ton Astros or­ga­ni­za­tion for 51 years, which is the long­est in fran­chise his­tory.

“The Hous­ton Astros are lead­ing their divi­sion this sea­son and Wal­ter Ray would be so proud. I think this is the per­fect time in the sea­son to share his story. We ap­pre­ci­ate the

Two Rivers Mu­seum for al­low­ing us to show­case Wal­ter Ray’s ex­ten­sive sports mem­o­ra­bilia col­lec­tion from his collegiate foot­ball ex­pe­ri­ence with the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs, as well as his ca­reer with Mi­nor and Ma­jor League Base­ball, and as one of the Hous­ton Astros’ most re­spected tal­ent scouts,” said Vicki Matthews, who is Matthews’ widow.

Astros vet­eran pro scout Paul Ric­cia­rini was a close friend of Matthews and cred­its him with be­ing a ma­jor in­flu­ence on his ca­reer.

“I think of Walt, the man, so un­selfish and just so much larger than life,” he said. “I used to call him an­other Duke Wayne. He had that kind of pres­ence and just that en­gag­ing per­son­al­ity. He had a great sense of hu­mor, great wit. Boy I tell you, he was as good as it gets be­cause he would al­ways take the time for all of us. If we had ques­tions, he could sense if we were con­fused about an is­sue with scout­ing and he’d sit right in with­out em­bar­rass­ing or un­der­min­ing and just help you work through it,” ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by Brian McTag­gart, who is a re­porter for MLB.

com and writes an MLBlog, Tag’s Lines.

Upon grad­u­a­tion from the Univer­sity of Arkansas, he was drafted by the St. Louis Car­di­nals but would spend the ma­jor­ity of his Mi­nor League ca­reer as a first base­man and out­fielder in Hous­ton’s farm sys­tem with the Durham Bulls be­gin­ning in 1961. Matthews set a fran­chise record with 30 home runs in 1963 while with the Bulls.

More im­por­tantly, Matthews was cred­ited with help­ing many young play­ers, most no­tably an 18-year-old Joe Mor­gan, with whom he played with at Durham in 1963. As a re­sult of the racial slurs and threats Mor­gan faced from op­pos­ing fans that sea­son, he in­tended to quit the team and re­turn to his home in Cal­i­for­nia.

But Matthews en­cour­aged Mor­gan to stay and was suc­cess­ful in re­duc­ing the racial abuse. As a re­sult of Matthews’ en­cour­age­ment, Mor­gan stayed the course and con­tin­ued to flour­ish, ul­ti­mately go­ing on to a Hall of Fame ca­reer. Mor­gan has of­ten spoke about the in­flu­ence that Matthews had on his early ca­reer.

Matthews be­came a tal­ent scout for the Astros in 1967 and would re­main with the or­ga­ni­za­tion un­til his re­tire­ment in 2012. Af­ter a lengthy ill­ness, he passed away on April 28, 2014.

“He was a tremen­dous in­spi­ra­tion and in­flu­ence on so many peo­ple, not just be­cause of the wis­dom from a scout­ing and base­ball acu­men, but for the per­son that he was,” Ric­cia­rini said. “There was so much char­ac­ter, so much fun to be around. Walt was a ter­rific ath­lete him­self, so he could re­ally back up what he used to talk. We miss him ter­rif­i­cally. Each day I think of him, and that says a lot about some­one. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think of Walt.”

Af­ter learn­ing about

Matthews’ death, Mor­gan wanted to talk about his friend­ship with Matthews.

“Walt was my Pee Wee Reese to Jackie Robin­son. He helped me to sur­vive the racism,” Mor­gan said in a tele­phone in­ter­view with the Texarkana Gazette

“Look­ing back now, I wish I made it a lit­tle more pub­lic how he helped me. He didn’t want that. We had a spe­cial bond, and he didn’t want me to tell peo­ple. I would talk about it, and he would say ‘Oh, shi—.’

But he said (that) to ev­ery­thing,” Mor­gan said.

It was Matthews’ con­fi­dence and swag­ger that helped

Mor­gan sur­vive.

“Hell yeah, he (Matthews) was like John Wayne. He was a big guy and had an air about him and con­fi­dence. He was a man’s man. He had a walk and helped ev­ery­body,” he said.

“I just knew he was in my cor­ner. When I needed some­body to talk to, he was al­ways avail­able,” Mor­gan said.

Mor­gan never knew what Matthews said to the racists to calm down the taunts. Matthews de­scribed them as “big old to­bacco farm­ers” sim­i­lar to the “big old cot­ton farm­ers” back home.

Two Rivers Mu­seum is lo­cated at 5 E. Main Street in down­town Ash­down. The mu­seum is open Mon­day through Satur­day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The tele­phone num­ber is 870-898-7200. The dis­play will be on ex­hibit through March 30.

Some of the base­ball dis­play in­cludes au­to­graphed items by: Sandy Ko­ufax, Stan Mu­sial, Pete Rose, Joe Mor­gan, Nolan Ryan, Roger Cle­mens and Craig Big­gio.

Spe­cial Con­tributer Dy­lan McNiel

n Vicki Matthews poses with a por­trait of her late hus­band and for­mer Astros player, Wal­ter Ray Matthews. The Two Rivers Mu­seum in Ash­down, Ark., will host a trib­ute to Matthews on Sept. 30. Matthews was from Hicks, Ark., and grad­u­ated form Ash­down High School.

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