Contributed by Richard Cuicchi, 08/01/2016
Marcus and Matt Lawton grew up in a baseball family and then went on to professional careers in the sport. The brothers from Gulfport, Mississippi, shared their experiences at a luncheon last Friday at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi. The luncheon is part of a series entitled “Our Love Affair with Baseball,” which features weekly speakers with Mississippi ties in baseball. The museum currently has exhibits containing artifacts and memorabilia from teams and players from the Mississippi Gulf Coast region.
Barry Lyons, a Biloxi native and former major league player, was the host for the luncheon. As guest curator for the museum’s baseball exhibit, he provided the introductions of the Lawton brothers. Lyons recalled a 1995 big league game near the end of his career in which he played against Matt, then a rookie, and threw him out attempting to steal second base.
Older brother Marcus was signed out of high school by the New York Mets after being selected in the sixth round of the 1983 Major League Draft. The outfielder played in the Mets organization until 1989 when he was traded to the New York Yankees. At 23-years-old, he appeared in ten games with the Yankees before being released. He played three more seasons in the White Sox, Angels, and Royals organizations before retiring from baseball.
Matt had a more substantial major league career than his brother, as he played twelve seasons in the big leagues, primarily with the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians. After playing at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he was drafted by the Twins organization in the 13th round in 1991. He became an American League all-star in 2000 and 2004.
In their luncheon presentations, the brothers talked extensively about growing up in a family where baseball was often the center of attention. Along with a third brother, they provided their own competition playing in backyard games. Their recalled attending games played by their father, who was a catcher on local Gulf Coast teams. As youngsters, they were coached by Leon Farmer, a teammate of their father’s. Both Marcus and Matt attributed their love for the game to those childhood experiences and family influences.
Marcus offered advice to several segments of the audience. To the youngsters, he related that “you have to love the game” if you want to play at the highest levels. He noted that the baseball season is a grind and one has to be ready to play every day, and that takes an unwavering commitment to the game. His counsel to parents was to allow the kids to decide if they really want to play the sport–that youngsters shouldn’t be pushed into playing and living out their father’s dream. He admonished high school coaches who tend to discourage today’s youngsters from playing multiple sports.
Marcus also commented about his own career that he literally “saw the world” without having to be in the military. He said his baseball travels took him to 47 of the 50 states, as well as to Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela. He said the two biggest highlights of his pro career included his first game at Yankee Stadium, where he was in awe that legendary players such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had graced the diamond; and one of his minor league seasons in which he stole 111 bases, getting thrown out attempting to steal only a handful of times.
Matt gave credit to his college coach, Cooper Farris, for teaching him the finer aspects of the game. Having an older brother in pro baseball, Matt felt like his own introduction into the pro ranks was made easier, because he knew what to expect from various facets of the game, both on and off the field. He related stories about being a Twins teammate of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. He said Puckett would often take him on shopping sprees. Matt recalled that Puckett routinely carried large amounts of cash with him in a travel bag, and would often put Matt in charge of taking care of it, which he said made him extremely nervous.
A two-time all-star outfielder, Matt remarked that he reached a point in his playing career when “the game really slowed down” for him, generally meaning it became easier to compete. But then he suffered a shoulder injury that plagued him the rest of his career, which ended at age 34.
As evidenced by the luncheon’s large audience and the media presence, the Lawton brothers continue to be popular sports figures on the Gulf Coast, where they still maintain close ties to their family roots.