On January 5, Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame class for 2011 will be announced on a live MLB Network simulcast at MLB.com. Among the distinguished list of candidates are two former New York Yankee first basemen who will always occupy a special place in the hearts of Bronx Bomber fans.
Don Mattingly, one of the most popular players in Yankee lore, is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 11th year while Tino Martinez, who received a curtain call in the old Yankee Stadium as an opposing player, makes his first appearance on the ballot.
A Hall of Fame candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible Baseball Writers Association of America members to garner induction. The ballots are slated to be collected on January 4 and the tallied results will be announced on January 5. All inductees will be introduced at a press conference in New York on January 6.
For the man affectionaly known as “Donnie Baseball”, the likelihood of Mattingly becoming the 45th Yankee player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame diminishes with each passing year he fails the litmus test for enshrinement.
In his 14-year playing career, all spent as a member of the Yankees, Mattingly posted a .307 batting average with 222 home runs and 1,099 RBI’s.
Along the way, Mattingly was a 6-time All-Star selection (1984-1989), a 9-time Gold Glove Award winner (1985-1989, 1991-1994), a 3-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1985-1987) and the American League Most Valuable Player in 1985.
From 1984-1989, Mattingly averaged 27 home runs and 114 RBI’s per season while hitting a robust .327 from the plate.
However, in the following six seasons, back injuries severely hampered Mattingly’s ability to put up the aforementioned prodigious numbers as well as his capacity to stay on the field.
So although he continued to play stellar defense at first base, Mattingly would only hit .286 in these final seasons of his career with per season averages of 10 home runs and 64 RBI’s.
In addition to his longevity, another factor that doesn’t bode well for Mattingly’s Hall of Fame aspirations is that he has only five playoff games to show for his fourteen seasons with the Bronx Bombers.
But despite the 1995 American League Divisional Series against the Seattle Mariners being the only time the Yankees would taste the postseason during his tenure, Mattingly would retire as one of the most beloved players in franchise history.
The organization retired Mattingly's number ‘23’ and a plaque was created in Monument Park to honor his career on August 31, 1997.
The plaque reads, "A humble man of grace and dignity, a captain who led by example, proud of the pinstripe tradition and dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, a Yankee forever."
As for Mattingly’s replacement, what “Donnie Baseball” did in six healthy seasons, Tino Martinez did in 16 by averaging 27 home runs and 102 RBI’s per season.
And what Mattingly failed to do in 14 seasons with the Yankees, Martinez did in seven by winning four World Series Championships (1996, 1998-2000).
So essentially, what Martinez’s career does is provide a small window into what Mattingly’s career could have been had he remained healthy.
Surprisingly though, Martinez was only a 2-time All-Star selection (1995, 1997) during his career, despite driving in more than 100 RBI’s in a season on six different occasions, and he never won a Gold Glove Award.
Nevertheless, Martinez finished with career totals of 339 home runs and 1,239 RBI’s and continues to be considered an integral component to the Yankees’ last dynasty of the 20th century.
All this being said, which beloved former New York Yankees first baseman should first receive the call to be enshrined in Cooperstown?
Another pertinent question is SHOULD Mattingly and/or Martinez be enshrined at all considering their career numbers?
How about this final question: Are Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez any less worthy than the following Hall of Fame first basemen?
Frank Chance – .296, 20 home runs, 596 RBI’s
George Kelly - .297, 148 home runs, 1,020 RBI’s
Bill Terry - .341, 154 home runs, 1,078 RBI’s
Only time will tell the complete story.