How in the world is Don Mattingly not a Hall of Famer?

By: Chad Raines

As many of you know, the Hall of Fame inductees were announced today. And after not being inducted once again in his last appearance on the ballot, I simply do not get why this particular player is not in the Hall of Fame.

Let me throw a couple of facts at you, the reader, right now. This Yankee great was a nine time Gold Glover, a six time All-Star, a three time Silver Slugger award winner, an AL batting champion, an MVP award winner, a career .307 hitter, and a former Yankee captain. As you have probably guessed from the title, this player is Donnie Baseball, Don Mattingly. Considering these accolades, it begs the question: Why on earth isn’t he in the baseball Hall of Fame?
(photo via espn.com)
From the get-go, baseball fans could tell that Donnie Baseball was no ordinary first baseman. In Mattingly’s rookie season in 1983, Mattingly hit .283 with 4 home runs and 32 RBI’s with a .333 on base percentage in only 279 at bats. Had he played a full season, he very likely may have beaten out Ron Kittle for the Rookie of the Year award. Following his initial season, Mattingly went on to win the American League batting title with a .343 batting average- narrowly beating out teammate Dave Winfield. He also proceeded to smash 23 home runs and drive in 110 runs with an OBP of .381. From purely a statistical analysis, Mattingly was quite possibly the best first basemen in the game from 1984-1989- if not one of the best players in the whole league.

From 1984-1989, Mattingly put up a slash line of .327/.372/.530 (147 OPS+) and averaged roughly 27 homeruns, 43 doubles and 114 RBI’s. During these six seasons, he was an All Star in each and a Gold Glove recipient in all but one. Mattingly’s best season came in 1985 when he won his first and only MVP award. Mattingly was able to record a stat line of .324/.371/.567 (156 OPS+) with 35 home runs, as well a league leading 48 doubles, 135 RBI’s and 370 total bases. And all of this is without even briefing on how Mattingly is easily one of the top three best fielding first basemen, EVER! His career fielding percentage as a first basemen stands at .9958- the third highest of any first basemen to play at least 14 seasons.

To put this in perspective, these numbers show how Mattingly was possibly the best position player in the late 80’s and his success continued throughout his career.

Shying away from a numbers standpoint Mattingly provided many things to a Yankees team that don’t appear in the box score. Mattingly was a Yankee captain from 91-95, as overtime he built of a reputation as a player who was a class act and a leader (not to mention his continued leadership as the Dodgers manager). Another aspect of Mattingly’s game that stands out to some of the voters is the fact that he spent his entire career with one team- something that rarely happens, especially in the modern era of baseball.

As usual and in this case unfortunately, there are two sides to every story. Mattingly’s steep decline following his 1989 season can be attributed to back issues which affected the latter half of his career to the point that he wasn’t the same player.

As a result of his back problems, his swing wasn’t nearly as powerful or compact as the one he had exhibited in the early part of his career and into his prime. His home run total and slugging percentage took a direct fall as a result of this. In fact, Mattingly averaged just 128 games played over the final six seasons of his career. Had he remained at or near the talent level he possessed before all the health issues, Mattingly would’ve almost surely eclipsed 3000 hits, a number immortalized in baseball and typically resulting in a direct ticket into the Hall of Fame. Even with the back problems, Mattingly still managed to hit to the tune of a .286 average from 1990-1995, but simply wasn’t able to maintain the power numbers or durability of a typical Hall of Fame first basemen. With the type of person he was, Mattingly never publically announced the back problems he had dealt with until his career ended.

Another knock on Mattingly’s career is that he never won a World Series (he is often heralded as the greatest Yankee to have never accomplished this feat). I find this argument to be, for all practical purposes, ridiculous. In 1994, the Yankees hoisted a record of 70-43, putting them atop the American League before the season was cut short due to the player’s strike. Had the season played out in full, the Yankees could’ve met the Montreal Expos (yes, the strike is a shame for them as well, as that was the organizations one chance at greatness) in the World Series which surely would’ve been Mattingly’s best chance at reaching the pinnacle of baseball. 

To continue and interestingly enough, upon doing some research, I discovered that Hall of Famer and Minnesota Twins legend Kirby Puckett possesses fairly similar career statistics to that of Donnie Baseball. But of course only one is in the Hall of Fame (and Puckett even got in on the first ballot!).
Kirby Puckett (FIRST BALLOT HOF 2001)
G
H
2B
HR
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
FLD %
1783
2304
414
207
1085
.318
.360
.477
.989

Don Mattingly (NOT IN HOF) (???)
G
H
2B
HR
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
FLD %
1785
2153
442
222
1099
.307
.358
.471
.996

By no means am I taking anything away from Kirby Puckett; he had an outstanding career. But look at those numbers! One does not need much knowledge about baseball to notice that these two players have incredibly similar stat lines, with Puckett edging out Mattingly in some categories, and vice-versa I guess the main difference between the two is that Puckett has two World Series rings whereas Mattingly never played in a World Series game. Is that considered a failure by Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA)? It’s a likely cause, but only the writers know the true answer to that.  

Anyways, am I saying that Mattingly deserves to be a first ballot Hall of Famer? I don’t think so, but if Puckett got in on the first ballot, what makes Mattingly undeserving of the getting into the hall at some point?

Now, the numbers stand for themselves and frankly I find it quite shocking that Mattingly never got into the Hall of Fame. It is an absolute shame that his career was handicapped by a nagging back injury that he couldn’t shake. Regardless, he was one of our most beloved Yankees and I just wish he could have received the sport wide recognition he deserved.

All in all, today is a disappointing day for us Yankee fans who truly believe Donnie Baseball deserves to be a Hall of Fame baseball player.

Follow me on twitter @Chad_Rain
All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com

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