August 31, 1997: In front of a crowd of 55,707, Don Mattingly’s uniform number 23 is added to the list of retired numbers on the wall at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
Don Mattingly will probably be one of the greatest baseball players ever not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Who is the first person to say that he won’t ever be inducted? The man, himself. I worked a charity dinner in January at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant that was hosted by Mattingly charities and during a Q&A session, someone asked him that very question. His answer was pretty simple: he didn’t put up Hall of Fame numbers for a long enough period of time. After being drafted in the 19th round of the 1979 amateur draft, Mattingly made his debut with the Bronx Bombers in 1982, and manned first base until 1995, when he had to retire due to recurring back problems.
In his 13 years with the Yankees, he earned six All-Star appearances, nine gold glove awards, three silver slugger awards, one batting title, was in the top-20 for the MVP voting seven times, and won the AL MVP in 1985. He was the epitome of consistency both at the plate and in the field, taking every aspect of his game seriously. His lifetime batting average was .307, with 222 home runs, 1099 RBI, and over 2,100 career hits. He also had a career fielding percentage of .996. Donnie Baseball was able to amass these types of statistics while the Yankees weren’t that great of a team. Yes the late 1980s were one of the few times in Yankees history where they were not very successful. In fact, throughout Mattingly’s career, he only reached the post-season once, which was in 1995, his last season (he hit .417 with 6 RBI in a 5-game series loss to the Mariners).
Could a case be made for Mattingly to get into Cooperstown? Absolutely. However, he made the right assesment about himself; he didn’t have enough longevity as a player to be able to show the Baseball Writers of America that he would have been able to keep up his statistics for 16 or 17 years, but his health just wouldn’t allow that to happen. The best part about Donnie Baseball? He’s a helluva nice guy. I’ve met him on a few occasions and had the opportunity to work for his baseball bat company in Shelton, CT and every time we cross paths (which isn’t often, mind you) he remembers who I am and asks how I’m doing. So, even though I’m a diehard Met fan, there are a handful of Yankee players I have a soft spot for, and Don Mattingly is definitely one of them.