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Adelbert Richard Matthews

(1880, Fox Lake, Wisconsin - 1938, Chicago), Baseball 1900-1902:

Photo of Adelbert MatthewsAdelbert R. Matthews, along with his teammate Julian V. Ware, was the first African-American athlete at the University of Wisconsin. During his three years in school, Matthews was one of the top pitchers for the Badgers, and he helped UW capture its first Big Ten baseball championship in 1902.

A native of Fox Lake, Wisconsin, Matthews was born in 1880 and remained in the Beaver Dam-area until coming to Madison for college. During his first year at Wisconsin, Matthews was a special student in the English department, but he transferred to the pre-law program for the rest of his time in school.

Delbert, as he was known on campus, was a member of his freshman class' track team with future Olympian George Poage, but he made his mark on campus with the Badger baseball team. Matthews had played with the Fox Lake city team before coming to Madison, and he made the UW Varsity during his first year in school as a 19-year old freshman.

He battled control problems throughout his career, but he was nevertheless one of the team's most reliable pitchers during his three years on the mound, recording a 12-8 record against other colleges and universities. Prior to the 1902 season, the Daily Cardinal praised him, by saying "Matthews has a tendency to be wild at times, but at critical moments he can be depended to keep the ball under control. When he lets himself out, he splits the plate without difficulty and keeps the batter guessing."

A survey of the student newspaper reveals that, when he had command of his pitches, Matthews was a formidable opponent. Against Northwestern in 1901, Matthews, according to the Cardinal, "was almost invincible" and later that same season, he struck out ten batters in a win against the University of Chicago.

The following season, Delbert helped lead the Badgers to their first Big Ten baseball championship. After back-to-back .500 campaigns to start the twentieth century, UW put it all together in the spring of 1902. The year got off to a good start when Matthews pitched the Badgers to victory over Milwaukee's professional minor league team in a pre-season exhibition game. Against collegiate competition that year, Wisconsin went 8-4, including a Big Ten-leading 5-1 to claim the title. Matthews was on the mound for two of the Badgers' conference victories, and he picked up another win in a close game on the road at Notre Dame.

Matthews' career at Wisconsin came to an end when he moved to Chicago and did not return to campus for what would have been senior year in 1902/03. After relocating to the "Windy City," he caught the attention of Frank Leland, a long time promoter and manager of black baseball in the city. Leland hired Matthews to pitch for his Union Giants in 1904. "Dell," as he was known in Chicago, had mixed success in his first year as a professional, losing to several minor league teams, but pitching all 16 innings of a 0-0 tie with a semi-pro team from Kanakee, Illinois. Matthews returned to the renamed Leland Giants in 1905, but he played mostly in the outfield. Both the Union and Leland Giants were among the top professional black teams in the country.

The 25-year old hung up his cleats after the 1905 season and opened a barber shop on Chicago's south side. He continued plying his trade until 1924 when he received an appointment as an inspector for the Illinois State Department of Education and Registration, which, among other its other duties, licensed and inspected barber shops. He was reportedly the first African-American to be hired by the Department. Matthews worked as an inspector until 1938 when he died at his home in Chicago.

Gregory Bond, Ph.D.
History, University of Wisconsin

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