11/29/10 2:00 PM EST
Lack of longevity lengthens Mattingly's odds
Donnie Baseball's early success limited by back injuries
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Don Mattingly may spend his days wearing Dodgers blue now, but for 14 seasons, he was the face of the New York Yankees.
Even as he begins his managerial career in Los Angeles, Mattingly's pinstriped history is never far from the discussion. One of the most popular players in franchise history, his ovations have ranked among the loudest during appearances in the Bronx.
A sweet-swinging first baseman from Evansville, Ind., who rose to become team captain, Mattingly flourished in the 1980s, but was ultimately hindered by back injuries, curtailing what may have been a Hall of Fame-caliber career.
Mattingly was among the game's premier offensive players from 1984-89, but the trouble, when it comes to his case for Cooperstown, is that his career lasted from 1982-95, leaving voters to consider more than his amazing six-year stretch.
"The Hall of Fame would be a great honor, but I don't live my life based on whether or not that will ever happen," Mattingly has said. "So in the grand scheme of things, it's not that important."
Heading into his first season managing the Dodgers, after serving for three years on Joe Torre's coaching staff, Mattingly is in his 11th year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot.
Mattingly received 87 votes (16.1 percent) in 2009, a slight uptick from the 64 votes (11.9 percent) he tallied in '09.
Mattingly's best showing was 28 percent in 2001, his first year on the ballot, and the nine-time American League Gold Glove Award winner isn't holding out hope for a miraculous turnaround.
"I don't think I'm a Hall of Famer," Mattingly has said. "I don't think I have the numbers. Part of it is longevity, and I wasn't able to do that and do the things that I did early in my career."
A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election. Bert Blyleven (74.2 percent), Roberto Alomar (73.7 percent) and Jack Morris (52.3 percent) stand as the top three returning vote-getters.
During a six-year run beginning in 1984, Mattingly averaged 26 home runs, 114 RBIs and a .327 average, and he represented the Yankees on the AL All-Star team in each of those seasons.
No player during that stretch had more RBIs than Mattingly's 684, while only Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (1,269) had more hits than Mattingly's 1,219.
"Donnie Baseball" also accomplished an incredible feat in 1987, setting or tying five Major League records:
Though Mattingly appeared to be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, he was slowed by back injuries over the next six years.
"Mattingly was a great player, there is no question about that," said one Hall of Fame voter. "But when you stack his career up against those guys in the Hall, he just doesn't make the grade."
Mattingly won the AL MVP Award in 1985, batting .324 with 35 homers and 145 RBIs, also finishing in the top five in the MVP voting in 1984 and '86. Mattingly, who won the AL batting title in 1984 (.343), also won nine Gold Glove Awards at first base in 10 years.
But from 1990-95, Mattingly averaged fewer than 10 home runs and 64 RBIs per season, topping the .300 mark just once, in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
"After the first half of Mattingly's career, I would have said he was a lock for Cooperstown," said another voter. "It's too bad he had as many physical problems as he did, because he could have been one of the all-time greats."
While voters may not feel that Mattingly's career matches up against those who have been inducted into the Hall, Donnie Baseball's supporters raise the comparison to the Twins' Kirby Puckett, a first-ballot inductee in 2001.
Mattingly's career totals are similar to those of Puckett, whose career was cut short after the 1995 season due to irreversible retina damage in his right eye. Mattingly retired with 2,153 hits to Puckett's 2,304, 442 doubles to Puckett's 414, 222 homers to Puckett's 207 and 1,099 RBIs to Puckett's 1,085.
Mattingly posted three more 100-RBI seasons than Puckett and two more 30-homer seasons, while winning one more MVP Award and the same number of batting titles.
Puckett's advantage comes in team hardware, as he played an integral part in the Twins' two World Series titles in 1987 and '91. Mattingly, on the other hand, appeared in the postseason just once, losing in the AL Division Series in his final season, 1995.
Mattingly's No. 23 was retired by the Yankees in 1997, and a plaque was posted in Monument Park to honor his career.
"A humble man of grace and dignity," reads the plaque. "A captain who led by example. Proud of the pinstripes tradition and dedicated to the pursuit of excellence. A Yankee forever."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.