On Jan. 12, the Hall of Fame will unveil its class of 2009, and yet again, Don Mattingly, despite the beliefs of many a fervent Yankee fan, will not make the Hall of Fame. His career was cut short by a bad back, and he never put up the totals that the voters like to see from the Cooperstown bound. For a few years, however, in the late 1980s, Donnie Baseball was quite literally the best player in baseball, and in interesting glimpse into Yankee history, Larry at wezen-ball has explored what the press had to say about Mattingly in the 1980s. Year after year, the Athlon and Street & Smith previews heaped praise upon the Yankee Captain. It’s a shame back problems robbed him of what otherwise would have been a Hall of Fame career.
For all the talk about the current face of the Yankees, whether it be A-Rod, Derek Jeter or someone else, Don Mattingly was the clear symbol of the team during the 1980s and early 1990s. Many of us grew up watching and idolizing Donnie Baseball, and no topic generates more discussion than whether or not Don Mattingly belongs in the Hall of Fame.
For the most part, Yankee fans agree that Don Mattingly was very good. He was a bright spot on a franchise that made the playoffs once during his tenure and generally wasn’t good. In fact, the team finished first just once during his career, and that just happened to be in a year with no postseason. But Mattingly, these fans, argue just wasn’t a Hall of Famer. He never reached those benchmark Hall of Fame levels, and while he certainly deserves to see his 23 hung up, a spot in Cooperstown would not be warranted.
Sometimes, though, we lose sight of just how good Don Mattingly was. For those of us who grew up watching him, we didn’t really start to appreciate baseball until Mattingly’s quick and rapid collapse. For five years, Don Mattingly was one of the best players in baseball.
Between 1984-1989, Mattingly’s peak and among players with at least 1000 plate appearances, he was one of the top offensive players around. His OPS+ of 147 was seventh best in the Majors, and his 160 home runs were sixth best. His overall line was .327/.372/.530. As 1989 was his age 28 season and he was just entering his peak, anyone watching would be right in expecting a future plaque on the wall in the Hall of Fame.
But Mattingly’s career didn’t follow that typical path. From 1990 until he retired following the 1995 season, Mattingly’s numbers weren’t as impressive. His OPS+ over that period ranked him just 147th out of those with 1000 plate appearances, and he hit just 58 home runs. He hit a pedestrian .286/.345/.405. Injuries derailed his career and sapped his power. He was out of baseball before his 35th birthday.
So Mattingly was very good, but he wasn’t the best. He had a five-year peak that ranks up their in the 1980s, but at a time when he should have gotten better, at a time when most sluggers enter their peak, he declined. It was a fast and painful decline.
Had Mattingly sustained his early production over a long career, he would have been a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, but he didn’t. He’ll always be remembered as a very good player, an icon of the Yankees and one who declined quickly and painfully. Cooperstown will forever miss him, but that’s just the way it should be.
Shawn Green, a 14-year veteran, called it quits today, and something David Pinto wrote about him made me think about his career. Let’s play the comparison game.
Player A played in 1951 games spanning 15 years. He racked up 2003 hits, 445 doubles, 328 HR, 1070 RBIs and a hitting line of .283/.355/.494. No one is talking about his career as anything close to Hall of Fame-worthy. Nevertheless, during Player A’s five best seasons, he was quite the hitter, racking up a .288/.369/.545 line with 192 home runs.
Player B played 1785 games over 14 season and knocked out 2153 hits, 442 doubles, 222 HR, 1099 RBIs and a hitting line of .307/.358/.471. With nine Gold Gloves in tow, fans of Player B love to make his case for the Hall of Fame. During his six best years, he hit .327/.372/.530 with 160 HR.
Both players saw their playing time, power numbers and careers cut short by various injuries.
As you may be able to guess, Player A is of course Shawn Green, and Player B is Yankee fan favorite Don Mattingly. When all is said and done, their career numbers are remarkably similar, but Mattingly seems to enjoy the grassroots Hall of Fame support among die-hard Yankee fans while Green and Cooperstown won’t ever end up in the same sentence.
Now, you can look closely at these numbers and see differences. Mattingly was a more prolific hitter and won more Gold Gloves, for whatever those are worth. Green, playing in a power era, had a higher career slugging percentage and launched over 100 more home runs than Mattingly. It all evens out in the end.
So what is it about Donnie Baseball that drives Yankee fans so crazy? To me, it’s what he epitomizes. The Yanks in the 1980s and early 1990s were barren wastelands of teams, but Mattingly was a real throwback to the days of Yankee greats. He came to play every day, health-permitting, and he gave it his all. When he called it quits at a young age, New Yorkers didn’t embrace Tino Martinez, his replacement, for some time.
This isn’t meant to tear down Mattingly. I grew up idolizing Donnie Baseball, and I always wanted Number 23 for whatever after-school team I was on. He was my favorite. But Yankee fans get blinded by their love sometimes. Mattingly was great; he was a real presence on the team. His number deserves its spot in left-center field. But he doesn’t really warrant the Cooperstown support he seems to get from a lot of fans. If you don’t believe me, just ask Shawn Green.
Yeah, it would have been strange to see Donnie Baseball in Dodger blue. But I think I speak for the Mattingly fanatics when I say we wished him the best. Then we heard of his divorce filing, which was going to take him away from his hitting coach position and put him in a special assignment role. Well, it seems things are pretty bad for the Mattinglys. Kim Mattingly was arrested over the weekend
As the Joe Torre Job Watch nears some sort of resolution, we’ve got some interesting developments courtesy of Ed Price from The Newark Star-Ledger. According to Price, Don Mattingly has told the Steinbrenner brothers — now in charge of the team — that he is not ready for the Yankees managerial post and does not feel comfortable replacing his current boss and mentor.
Price has more:
The friend, who requested anonymity because the situation is unresolved, said he spoke directly with the former Yankees great in recent days. Mattingly’s stance could open the door for the Yankees to bring back Torre for a 13th season because he was the leading candidate for the job.
The development comes as George Steinbrenner and his sons, Hank and Hal, convene an annual top-to-bottom review of the organization Tuesday. A Yankees official, who speaks often with top management, said Torre is a candidate for the job. The official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the owners, said the discussion was expected to center on who is the best man for the job as opposed to a referendum on Torre, whose contract is expiring.
Now, as every Yankee blogger and their uncles are trying to find something, anything, new to write about concerning Joe Torre, this news, if true, is quite the curveball. First, much like we’ve done, the Yankees aren’t discussing Torre’s future in black and white terms. Rather, they are going to figure out which available target is the best man for the job.
In other words, they will try to figure out who can handle up-and-coming young pitchers, who can best deal with the bullpen, who can best placate veterans sticking up for their current manager and who can deal with the scrutiny of managing the Yankees in New York. When all is said and done, can the Yankees braintrust really find someone better than Torre for the job right now? My money’s on no.
At the same time comes the Mattingly bombshell. At the end of the playoffs, it seemed as though Donnie Baseball was gearing up to take the reins from Torre. He was deferential toward Torre, but at the same time, it seemed as though he anticipated being named manager sooner rather than later. I guess those writers speculating as such were reading Mattingly incorrectly.
If Mattingly is hesitant about taking the job — and I think anyone with any sense of the situation would be hesitant to follow up Joe Torre coming off a 94-win season — the Yankees will not give it to him. That hesitancy would automatically make Mattingly the wrong guy for the job right now. This isn’t to say he won’t be the manager; it’s just to say that he won’t be the manager at the end of the day today.
So as the Yankees brass gather in Tampa, we’re really no further along in this saga than we were on Friday. Joe Torre still seems like the best man for the job, and the number one candidate to replace him isn’t quite as interested as everyone figured. Yet.