Feb
23

Learning from history with Don Mattingly

By

Buck Showalter, George Steinbrenner and Don Mattingly in 1993. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

As the Yankees spent Spring Training in 1990 in Fort Lauderdale, Don Mattingly found himself getting ready to play out the final season of a three-year contract. He was a month away from his 29th birthday and over the last six years had hit .327/.372/.530 with 161 home runs. He had made six straight All Star appearances and had earned himself five Golden Gloves and an MVP award. While his seasonal numbers had declined from his gaudy totals he put up in 1985 and 1986, he was one of the league’s top first baseman and the Yanks’ biggest superstar. He would, in other words, earn his money.

That spring, a year before Mattingly was to hit free agency, the Yankees made the point moot. They signed him to a five-year extension worth $19.3 million, and until Jose Canseco topped that total a few months later, Mattingly’s $3.86 million annual salary was the highest in baseball. Donnie Baseball would be the Yanks’ marquee name for years to come.

But for Mattingly, disaster struck. Number 23 had injured his back in a clubhouse incident in 1987, and in 1990, his back problems would flare up again. He played just 102 games and hit .256/.308/.335 with five home runs. While he recovered some of his health, over the duration of that five-year contract, Mattingly was a shell of his former self. From 1991 until his retirement in 1995, he hit .291/.350/.416 with just 53 home runs. His playing time dipped from 153 games per season to 134, and he went from a superstar with top power to an above-average hitter with recurrent health problems and little power.

Over the weekend, Steve Lombardi at WasWatching highlighted the Mattingly saga. With much attention on the Yanks’ decision not to extend Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter right now, Lombardi focused on how Steinbrenner used to operate his club. He wouldn’t let his star players approach free agency and treated them well. “Don’t tell Jeter this is how the Yankees used to roll,” he said in the headline.

To me, though, Mattingly’s contract status and his subsequent decline serve as a warning to the Yankees in 2010. When George Steinbrenner jumped the gun and overextended Mattingly, the team paid a high price. The club knew that Mattingly’s back problems sapped him of his power in 1988 and 1989. They could have waited out 1990 to see how he fared. Had he duplicated his 1990 season, there’s no way the Yanks would have extended him that $19.3 million offer.

Today, Rivera and Jeter find themselves in similar situations. The two are in the latter stages of Hall of Fame careers and both are still very productive players. The Yankees will, as Hank Steinbrenner has noted, take care of these guys when the season ends. There is no reason to do it a day sooner. What happens if age catches up to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera this year? The Yanks can’t reward these two for the past if the future doesn’t hold similar levels of productivity.

As always, baseball is a business, and putting money into a risky investment before the investment requires it is rarely a good idea. The Yankees didn’t wait with Don Mattingly twenty years ago, but they will wait with Jeter and Rivera today. Both players know and accept that they’ll get their dollars when the time is right, and the Yankees know to be careful when the big bucks are concerned. That’s just smart baseball.

Categories : Days of Yore, Musings
  • Regis

    Great picture!

    • Mike HC

      agreed. Love the picture.

  • Bo

    Lets be real here. if they didnt want to invest in risky investments they wouldnt even entertain money/contracts for a 40 yr old pitcher and a 37 yr old SS.

    The thing is these are the Yankees and for their biz model these two mean more to them long term than a salary now.

    Luckily they have no worries with the money for them.

    • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      I don’t know why I’m bothering with this reply… But this isn’t a question of whether the Yankees ever assume any risk, it’s a question of how much risk the Yankees assume and why they should or shouldn’t act as they do. Surely you must understand the difference.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Sal, Bo, Grant, and Lanny may be a lot of things, but he’s not Shirley.

        • JGS

          I’m familiar with Bo and Lanny, but I don’t recall ever seeing comments from Sal or Grant. Are they still around or just before my time here

          • Big Juan

            The theory is that they’re all the same person. But I’ve been around here for about a year now and Sal/Grant sightings are rare.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            Those two versions of SBGL disappeared shortly after he was outed as a serial name hopping crazy fucker.

            Search “Sal says:” or “Grant says:” in the RAB search box and you’ll find SBGL’s typical boversimplifying, boverpunctuating, boverreacting inane non-statements, though.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        Mondesi’s Head, meet wall.

  • Ed

    While I agree with your premise Ben, I think you’re making it sound more clear cut than it is.

    Posada wanted to negotiate an extension before the ’07 season. Instead the Yankees waited, and Posada had a career year. He also hit the market at a time when the Mets were willing to spend big on a catcher, and people were believing that he might jump ship. If the Yankees extended Posada before the ’07 season, he probably doesn’t get the 4th year and possibly a lower AAV as well.

    It cuts both ways. With the size of the Yankees budget though, the possible extra expense from waiting longer is more easily absorbed than it is for other teams, so they don’t have to do as many early signings.

    • Chris

      I would think that the chances of a player in his late 30′s having a career year and earning a larger contract are much lower than the chances of him collapsing.

      • Snakes on the mother effin plane

        Exactly. On balance this strategy would play into the Yanks hands more than not. Remember we’re talking about *re* signing existing players, so they’ve already done a tour with us as a FA or at least already burned through their arb years and possibly a year or two of FA (ala Cano when his turn comes up). All a way of saying: older players in general.

        And for the very few Jeters and Mos of the world, for whom “it doesn’t matter either way” anything other than a career ending injury, or off-a-cliff decline in production, probably doesn’t impact too much at the margin in terms of years and salary.

      • Ed

        Of course, that’s why I agree with Ben’s premise. But it does happen on occasion, which has to be acknowledged.

        Also, the rule applies to everyone coming up on free agency, not just older players. It could easily be an issue with someone like Swisher, Cano, or Granderson in a few years.

    • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      “With the size of the Yankees budget though, the possible extra expense from waiting longer is more easily absorbed than it is for other teams, so they don’t have to do as many early signings.”

      This is the important point, and I’d add to it the related point that the Yankees’ financial advantages also mean that they don’t have to worry as much as other teams about the risk of losing a free agent to another team. The Yankees’ financial advantages make a big difference in this discussion – the utility of extending a player prior to the expiration of his contract is much less important to the Yankees than it is to other teams because they can absorb any additional salary that the player might earn himself and they can spend enough money that they don’t have to worry as much about the risk of losing the free agent.

      Extending a guy and then watching him suffer a career-altering injury during the first year of the new contract, at a point in time when he still would have been under contract to the team in the absence of such new contract and would have been approaching the expiration of his old contract, would hurt the Yankees much more than waiting until the end of the previous/existing contract and risking having to spend a few more dollars for a player who has earned the money.

      Not to mention that we can’t disregard the utility gained by the Yankees by sticking to a rule across the board and not picking and choosing who they extend prior to the expiration of their current contract, which helps with media relations and with contract negotiations since no player/other employee can feel slighted by the Yankees’ decision to not negotiate until the expiration of the existing/prior contract.

      In sum… There are a ton of reasons to wait until the expiration of the current contract instead of extending a player before he reaches free agency, and those reasons all, in my opinion pretty significantly, outweigh the utility of extending a player prior to the expiration of the current contract in order to maybe save a few dollars and keep the player away from the open market.

      • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        “While I agree with your premise Ben, I think you’re making it sound more clear cut than it is.”

        So, for the reasons stated above, I think the quoted language is wrong… I think it’s just as clear-cut as Ben implied in his post, and probably even more so.

  • Sam P.

    I noticed that Mattingly’s sideburns were well within the Yankee facial hair policy’s limit in the above picture.

    “I still like him better than Steinbrenner.”

  • Chan HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Park

    Edited by RAB: Why, oh why, do people continue to comment off-topic when we’ve created an off-topic thread?

    • Tom Zig

      Silly goose

    • Chan HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Park

      My bad guys sorry i didnt realize there is a off-topic thread. Btw, nice picture. Way to dig it up.

      • Tom Zig

        You live and you learn.

      • whozat

        Though said thread is new, the guidelines have always specifically asked that people do not post off-topic. There is also a button right at the top of the page that says “off-topic”

  • Efram Goldman

    The Yankees know to be careful when the big bucks are concerned? What were those Pavano and Igawa contracts?

    • Tom Zig

      Pavano was done by Steinbrenner

      Igawa was just poor scouting I guess, but definitely not big bucks.

      • Chan HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Park

        Pavano was done by Cashman. Ken Davidoff wrote an article discussing this topic dissecting the free agent signings/trades that Cashman himself “actually” did. Pavano was on the list of “Cashman all the way”.

        • Tom Zig

          Was he? I was always under the impression that Pavano was done by Steinbrenner. I guess I was wrong.

          • whozat

            Yeah, but everyone wanted Pavano. The Red Sox offered him a bit more money, actually.

            Also, the guy was 29 and had thrown 200+ innings the last two seasons. It’s not like he came with a host of injury red flags.

            • Big Juan

              This. I remember being ecstatic over the Pavano signing.

            • Tom Zig

              He also pitched 200 innings last year…that jerk.

    • ROBTEN

      Whether it was Cashman or Steinbrenner (and, FWIW signing a young free-agent pitcher rather than trading for an aging one seems like a Cashman move), it is easy to criticize the signing in retrospect. At the time, a number of teams were trying to sign him:

      “On Thursday morning in Detroit, coveted free agent pitcher Carl Pavano began an adventure that he hopes will help him decide where to spend the next few years of his blossoming career. He will travel to five cities in less than a week and a half. After Detroit, Pavano stops in New York, Baltimore, Seattle and Anaheim — an itinerary that seems more appropriate for a rock tour. Some have dubbed Pavano’s trip ‘Carl-a-palooza.’

      [...]

      A 2004 season in which he was 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA has put Pavano squarely at the top of the list of many teams seeking a starting free agent pitcher. Pavano, 28, is younger than Brad Radke, stronger and sturdier than Pedro Martinez and more consistent in the strike zone than Matt Clement. He will likely never face another opportunity again to command top dollar for his services. This contract will likely be the biggest of his career in terms of monetary gain, length and stability.”

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....4Dec3.html

      • Tom Zig

        Pavano, 28, is younger than Brad Radke, stronger and sturdier than Pedro Martinez and more consistent in the strike zone than Matt Clement.

        Oy vey

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Templeton_Peck Templeton “Brendog” Peck

        but like radke and clement, he stinks.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        I also hate how the Pavano and Igawa signings are treated like some massive traveshamockeries when neither of them were all that bad.

        If you made a list of the worst free agent contracts that all 30 MLB teams have agreed to over the past decade, neither the Pavano or Igawa deals would be top 10. They wouldn’t be top 20. Might not even be top 30.

        Go peruse the Russ Ortiz and Chan Ho Park and Kevin Millwood and Darren Dreifort and Barry Zito and Vernon Wells and Alex Rios and Travis Hafner and Julio Lugo and etc. etc. etc. deals and then tell me how awful Pavano and Igawa look.

        They’re OUR worst contracts. But, looked at holistically, if Pavano and Igawa are your two biggest mistakes this decade, you had a damn fine decade.

        • Tom Zig

          Igawa makes $4 million a year. That’s half of what Johnny Damon will make in 2010. That’s like what Barry Zito makes for just getting up in the morning.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            When you remove the posting fee paid to his old NPB team, we’re paying about half of what the Giants paid for 7 years of Zito for 9 years of Pavano+Igawa.

            Perspective FTW.

            • Tom Zig

              Is Zito the winningest pitcher in SWB history? No?

              Case closed

            • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              I don’t think you can remove the posting fee, though. The Yankees paid that money in order to sign Igawa, and what matters in this conversation is not what Igawa puts in his pocket but what the Yankees had to spend, so not including it is unfair. The Yankees paid over $46M for 5 years of Igawa.

              It was a bad signing, I don’t think we can argue that it wasn’t… What we need to keep in perspective is that you have to keep in mind that this is the Yankees, so the sunk money didn’t kill them. That signing would have been a killer for most teams, while for the Yankees it was an inconvenience.

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

                I’m not saying Igawa wasn’t a bad signing; paying a total of 46M for five years of Igawa is bad.

                Still, 46M total for five years of Igawa is also not the worst contract of the past decade, even though many want to portray it as such.

                • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                  Oh totally, I agree, I just don’t think you can remove the posting fee from the conversation, I think you have to count that money. That’s all… I agree with the rest.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

                  Well, in my defense, I wasn’t removing it from the evaluation altogether, just removing it vis-a-vis the one-off comparison to the Barry Zito contract.

                  If you prefer, I can say this:

                  When you remove the posting fee paid to his old NPB team, We’re paying about half two-thirds of what the Giants paid for 7 years of Zito for 9 years of Pavano+Igawa.

                  … whatevs.

                • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                  Mondesi = content

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

                  Mondesi = content jolly

                  /fatjoke’d

                • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                  Haha… No matter how many times that happens, I’m always still kinda blindsided and like ‘that snarky motherf*cker.’

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

                  Your reaction times are slowed because you’re morbidly obese.

                • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi
        • bexarama

          this.

          (Igawa might be on there. Pavano is easy to criticize in retrospect, but at the time, we needed pitching. Badly.)

          • ROBTEN

            Pavano is easy to criticize in retrospect, but at the time, we needed pitching. Badly.

            We did need pitching. We had gone from this:

            Yankee Pitchers’ WAR 2003:

            Mussina: 6.4
            Pettitte: 5.5
            Clemens: 4.9
            Wells: 4.1

            all four over 200 innings

            to this:

            Yankees Pitchers’ WAR 2004:

            Lieber: 4.0
            Mussina 3.3
            Brown: 2.5
            Vazquez: 2.2

            only Vazquez at 200 innings.

            However, at the time Pavano looked like a solid contract. He was a young pitcher who looked to be hitting his prime.

            Pavano’s WAR (leading up to the signing):
            2003: 3.4
            2004: 4.4

            and roughly 200 innings both seasons.

            In other words, it wasn’t just a desperation move. And, as TSJC points out, the Pavano contract is not even really a “bad” contract when compared to some epically bad contracts. If it had worked out, it would have looked like genius. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

            /still hates Pavano.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

              And, as TSJC points out, the Pavano contract is not even really a “bad” contract when compared to some epically bad contracts.

              Or even the mildly bad contracts. Or even the “perpetually injured” contracts.

              In the winter of ’04-’05, we gave Pavano a 4/39. Four winters earlier (i.e., anti-inflation-adjusted), the Dodgers gave Darren Dreifort a 5/55.

              Why is Carl Pavano the posterboy for injury-related contractual waste, again?

              • Tom Zig

                because the Yankees are hell bent on murdering baseball history.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

                  When the Yankees win, America loses. And puppies and orphans get tortured to death by al Qaeda and Nancy Pelosi.

              • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                I agree… But, to be fair, before Pavano was the posterboy, Dreifort was. Pavano just came later, so now he holds the title.

                (Pavano’s injury history with the Yanks was also comical, which didn’t help matters re: him being the posterboy for high-priced and subsequently oft-injured free agent signings. The guy hurt his buttocks, for crying out loud.)

            • bexarama

              this is very well said.

              /still hates Pavano.

              /still traumatized over Andy leaving

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Igawa and Pavano were free agents available on the open market.

      This post is about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of offering contract extensions to aging/injury-risk players already under contract.

      Apples, oranges.

  • Buddy Biancalana

    What was the clubhouse incident involving Mattingly in ’87?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      He stabbed a guy.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Check out this article. He and Bob Shirley were wrestling in the clubhouse. Despite their contemporaneous denial, the two eventually owned up to the truth.

      • ROBTEN

        That this is his Wikipedia entry is both hilarious and cruel:

        “Robert Charles Shirley (born June 25, 1954 in Cushing, Oklahoma) was a Major League Baseball pitcher from 1977 to 1987 for the San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals. Shirley was a southpaw pitcher who worked both as a starter and in relief. Most notable for injuring Don Mattingly’s back in the clubhouse in 1987 and ruining his career.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          Most notable for injuring Don Mattingly’s back in the clubhouse in 1987 and ruining his career.“

          I wonder if the “his” refers to Mattingly’s career being ruined, or Shirley’s career being ruined. Post-fight, we cut Shirley loose, he went to KC, stunk, got cut again, signed a minor league deal with us, and was never heard from again, even though he was only 34.

          • ROBTEN

            George: You have to answer for Mattingly, Bob. You gave the finger to the fans when you threw him against the trainer’s table.

            Bob Shirley: George, you got it all wrong.

            George: Ah, that little farce you played with my daughter. You think that would fool a Steinbrenner?

            Bob Shirley: George, I’m innocent. I swear on the kids.

            George: Sit down.

            Bob Shirley: Please don’t do this to me, George. Please don’t.

            George: Steve Trout is dead. So is Cerone. Phil Lombardi. Rich Bordi. Dan Pasqua. Today I settled all family business so don’t tell me that you’re innocent. Admit what you did.

            [Bob starts sobbing]

            George: Get him a drink. Don’t be afraid, Bob. Come on, you think I’d make my daughter a widow? I’m Godfather to your son.

            [Bob get handed a drink]

            George: Go ahead. Drink. Drink. No, you’re out of the family business, that’s your punishment. You’re finished. I’m putting you on a plane to KC. Lou?

            [Lou hands George an airplane ticket]

            George: I want you to stay there, you understand?

            [Bob nods]

            George: Only don’t tell me that you’re innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry. Now, who approached you first? McNamara? Yawkey?

            Bob Shirley: It was Yawkey.

            George: Good. There’s a car outside that will take you to the airport. I’ll call your wife and tell her what flight you’re on.

            Bob Shirley: Listen, George…

            George: Go on. Get out of my sight.

            /and scene

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

              (golf clap)

  • Rick B

    I agree with the general message of this article, but I do think the situations are a little different. Mattingly came up in 1982 and wasnt an everyday player till ’84. That means that he was only an everyday player for 6 years prior to the new contract. Jeter and Mo have both been everyday players for more than twice as long. They are also far older than 29, but neither has showed any real sign of decline.

    Essentially, I think the Mattingly situation shows exactly why the current Yankee policy is a sound one. There is nothing worse than resigning a guy before his contract expires only to see him go down with an career threatening injury.

    However, (and this is where I know you will all disagree with me), the Yankees will not and should not be considering paying Jeter and Mo only for what they will do going forward. They should be getting payed partially for the service they have done for the franchise over the course of their careers. From a financial perspective the money those to bring in from merchandise easily covers any lack of performance. Even if they both absolutely suck, I want them to finish their careers in New York. I want to be at Yankee Stadium when Jeter gets his 4000 hit (God willing) even if he’s getting payed 25 million to hit .280 and the Yankees are stuck toward the bottom of the division for a few years. Therefore, I could care less whether we resign them now or later, because I do not view their value at this point in their careers only in terms of statistics.

  • Hughesus Christo

    Do Rivera and Jeter have some degenerative/chronic injuries we haven’t heard about?

    In before someone writes “age”

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Jeter’s degenerative injury: repetitive stress-induced chafed wang
      Mo’s chronic condition: omnipotent benevolence-related fatigue

    • http://iheartrerun.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/rerun.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Your comment is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma, shrouded in mystery. If we haven’t heard about them… How would anyone know?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        If we haven’t heard about them… How would anyone know?

        /Hurley’d

  • Pete C.

    This off topic, but Don Mattingly is in L.A. wearing Yogi’s number. Jesu Christo, doesn’t that skeve anybody out?
    Somewhere out there Jackie Robinson is laughing his ass off.

  • DSFC

    That was 20 years ago? My God I’m getting old…..

  • Geek

    The times have changed. There is no doubt that Jeter will remain a Yankee as long as he wants to play, and the same is true of Mo although with a pitcher there is less flexibility. Neither are the type to demand terms that are unreasonable. The problem is the other players and agents who will say me too and the Yankees are smart enough business people to do the deal when it needs to get done.

    I was thinking about Don Mattingly today and how he picked up roots when he did not get selected to be manager. I noted that when Torre said he is staying 1 more year that there was no story about Mattingly. Jetter will always be a Yankee.

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