Throughout the '80s and early '90s, there was only one Yankee that mattered. It wasn’t Rickey “Ricky says” Henderson and it certainly wasn’t Pasqual “Best Jheri Curl Ever” Perez.
It was Donald Arthur Mattingly.
Representing a bright spot in an otherwise dismal Yankees landscape, Mattingly exemplified the hardworking, no nonsense approach that New Yorkers appreciated. Whether the team was in the cellar of the standings or threatening a playoff run, No. 23 was there.
So, after 14 years of bleeding pinstripes through and through, he was destined to deserve the four-hour voyage from the Bronx to Cooperstown, right? It pains me to say this, but unfortunately his numbers just don’t make the grade.
That’s not to say he didn’t have Hall of Fame potential.
Mattingly had a combined batting average of .336 in the first four full seasons in the majors, which included a Most Valuable Player award in 1985. Sadly, beyond the years of 1984-1987, he only finished with an average above .300 three times.
In terms of power, during those same four years, he produced 119 of his career 222 HR, meaning he averaged only 10.3 HR a year in the other years. The years outside of his “core four” also produced six years with only single-digit home run totals.
At the end of the day, the culprit for the decrease in the initial success was a creaky and achy back that never went away. Balls that once traveled far and over the fence were eventually reduced to lazy fly balls that ended up in outfielder’s gloves. However, it's possible his new occupation might catapult him into the Hall.
It’s going to work for Joe Torre.
As a player, Torre is looks to be in the same vernacular as Mattingly: He's a good player, but not good enough for Cooperstown. Their stats are eerily similar:
BA: . .297 .307
H 2,342 2,153
RBI 1,185 1,099
HR 252 222
OBP .365 .358
Both men had their own signature year, as they both earned one MVP award.
With Torre’s success as a manager, he'll be a shoo-in for the Hall when his eligibility rolls around. Asking Mattingly to come close to duplicating Torre’s managerial achievements is a lot to ask for. Establishing a dynasty isn’t done overnight, but if Donnie Ballgame can resurrect a once proud organization in Los Angeles and win a few titles along the way, the Hall of Fame Committee would be more than willing to roll out the red carpet for him.
In the meantime, Yankees fans sport your “Hit Man” shirts with pride. Growing up watching the slick-fielding first baseman was a dubious honor. While he might fall short of that eternal goal as a player, a few solid years as a skipper might give him the nudge.
Regardless of Cooperstown enshrinement, Mattingly will always represent the true class of the Yankees. Arriving a year after a World Series appearance in 1981 and retiring a year before a Series championship in 1996, he was a true winner all the years in-between for the Yankees.