MLB Players to Tell My Kids About, Vol. 4: Don Mattingly

Zander FreundSenior Writer IOctober 26, 2007

"Just Win, Baby." 

That's not only the slogan of the Oakland Raiders—it's also the philosophy that the majority of 21st century American parents subscribe to.

"Not me," says soccer mom Mary Beth.  "After all, winning isn't everything."

Mary Beth's husband Dale is a rising star at a computer software company—his $150,000 salary pays for Mary Beth's BMW sedan and their children's private-school education.  When Dale first got his job, he took out a loan and bought a beautiful Victorian home, with a backyard big enough for his kids to frolic and a Labrador to run amok.

Mary Beth is in the PTA, and Dale plays poker every Thursday night with his co-workers—making sure to only drink Diet Pepsi and never gamble away more than a few bucks. The couple belongs to the local country club, where they meet their friends on Saturdays for brunch and a few games of tennis. 

Mary Beth drives her seven-year-old boy to soccer practice on Mondays and Wednesdays, and her ten-year-old daughter to the local pool for swim meets on
Tuesdays and Thursdays.  She never misses any of her son's tennis matches or her daughter's piano recitals.  She appears to be the most supportive soccer mom in town.

On Friday evenings, the family goes out for pizza night.  And on Sunday mornings, you can find them in church by 9 a.m., prayer books in hand.

Simply put, Mary Beth and her family are perfectly content in their wonderful little world.  Life is beautiful, and so are Mary Beth, Dale, and their bright-eyed children.

And the best part about it?  Mary Beth never pressures her kids to be "winners."

"There's simply no need," she remarks.  "When you have two perfect little angels like these [rubs children's heads] why would you ever do anything to pressure them?"

"Like they say: if it ain't broke, don't fix it," says Mary Beth with a grin.

Fast-forward ten years: Things are majorly broke.

Dale got laid off when the software company downsized, and hasn't been able to find work ever since.  He and Mary Beth were forced to sell their house, and begrudgingly moved into a modest apartment in a shabbier part of town. 

Mary Beth traded in her BMW for a used Honda—the tires are worn and the glove box doesn't shut all the way.  Meanwhile, her husband has taken up heavy drinking as a hobby, and she herself is regularly turned down at the pharmacy for trying to refill her Valium prescription too soon.

The kids are a wreck.  Her son has piercings in twenty places and wears black lipstick—he's been held back two grades in high school.  Mary Beth's daughter became anorexic when she went to college and started sleeping around—she was sent home by a concerned administrator to live with Mom and Pop for the rest of the year and pull it together.

It's three years later, and Mary Beth's daughter ain't going back to school.

A bundle of support just a decade previously, Mary Beth's true colors have now been revealed. She is more critical of her children than Simon Cowell is of American Idol contestants.  She cusses at them and regularly informs them of their laziness and lack of direction—and warns them to shape up or ship out.

She is fond of using her husband and herself as examples of what can happen if you don't "try to stake your claim in life."  When her daughter first came home from school, Mary Beth asked her why she was trying so hard to end up as a has-been housewife, wearing knock-off jewelry and trading in the recycling at the supermarket for spending money.

And one night, after swallowing a handful of her "medication" and sucking down a few martinis, Mary Beth even told her son that he was a complete loser—and that being a loser sucks.

And you know what?  She's absolutely right.
Nobody wants to be a loser.  Losers are unhappy people.

Losers get picked last for the team on the playground.  They get laughed at and terrorized by their peers. 

They often have trouble finding friends. And without exception, they find extreme difficulty in getting laid.

But the truth is, even losers can have their moments in the sun.

Steve Urkel was king of the nerds—but in one unforgettable episode of "Family Matters," he got to dance with Laura Winslow at the prom.  Billy Madison was a spoiled brat, sitting on his ass at his father's estate—yet eventually found the ambition to seek out a college diploma and develop the game necessary to bang Pete Sampras' wife.        

Losers have won the lottery and losers have been elected to national office.  They've become musicians, supermodels, athletes, and movie stars.

The point is universal: Sometimes, losers end up being the biggest winners.

Maybe Mary Beth should take some advice from Don Mattingly.

Donnie Baseball first played in the major leagues in 1982—a year after the Yankees lost the World Series. In all of his years with the Yanks, they would never return to the championship game.  

The "Mattingly Years" were, for all intents and purposes, some of the worst in franchise history.  In fact, their championship drought from '82–'95 was the longest since the Babe Ruth era. 

Then Mattingly retired—and within a year the Yanks were back in the Series (and as you know, they won this time).  The facts are simply undeniable: the Yankees were a bunch of losers for the majority of the time that Mattingly was on the team, but were damn good both before and after his tenure.

Thus, Mattingly was a loser in the truest sense.

But there was something about Mattingly that the fans of New York really liked.

Maybe it was his beautiful left-handed swing, or his ability to whack the long ball. Or maybe it was his defensive skills at first base—which were so impressive that Yankee management allowed him to play second and third early in his early career, even as a lefty.

Perhaps he was a fan favorite because of the way he could suddenly catch fire, or the way he came up big in clutch situations.  Who could forget 1987, when Mattingly went yard in eight consecutive games, and hit a record six grand slams? 

Don Mattingly may have been a loser, but he was damn popular.  And in the end, his popularity and classy performance on the field made him a winner in the hearts and minds of the baseball world.

Mary Beth could learn a lot from Don Mattingly.  She could learn that there is more to life than winning.  That you can still be a respectable human being even if you are unable to overcome the obstacles that life throws your way.  That you should be happy to be alive, and be proud of who you are, regardless of your material success.

Most importantly, Mary Joe could perhaps realize that it's not whether you win or lose that really matters—but how you play the game.

A lot of folks in 21st century America care only about winning; they seem to have forgotten the importance of playing the game. Politicians will reverse their stances on the most important issues in their platform if they think it will help them at the polls.  Business leaders no longer care about putting in a hard day's work—the production value of the employee alone determines whether he stays or goes.

And sports fans?  They're more concerned with the outcome of their team's performance than they are with the style of ball their squad plays, or the characters that comprise the roster.

Back in 1962, the New York Mets entered the league as one of the biggest jokes in the history of baseball.  But despite posting an abysmal 40-120 record, they somehow managed to outsell the World Champion Bronx Bombers.

The thought of anything like that happening in 2007 is simply unimaginable.  Just like Mary Beth, Americans these days don't care about playing the game—and as a result, often end up feeling unsatisfied with their lives. 

Donnie Baseball, on the other hand, was someone who was satisfied regardless of the result—and took pleasure in every chance he got to swing a bat or field a grounder in the big leagues. 

Our children would be wise to take notice.  I hereby pledge to tell them about Don Mattingly.

Read Volume One of the Series Here

Read Volume Two of the Series Here

Read Volume Three of the Series Here 

Read Volume Five of the Series Here


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