It’s that time of year, folks. Writers across the nation will be casting their votes for the newest members of the baseball Hall of Fame. Some of the choices will have fans rejoicing, some will have us scratching our heads. Sometimes, it’s the people not voted in that upset us the most. The Bronx is boiling and I need to blow some steam.
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THE LAST CHANCE
A bevy of former Yankees grace this year’s Hall of Fame Ballot. Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Tim Raines, Aaron Boone, Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield headline the list of big names with a strong possibility. Although it won’t happen, there is one Yankee deserving of the Hall of Fame. And it’s his last shot to make it before being removed from future consideration.
Why is Don Mattingly not in the Hall of Fame? The answer is simple. No, it isn’t that his career was cut short due to that tricky back. The problem is that Don Mattingly played on the winningest team in baseball during their losingest (I think I may have made up a word, but stay with me) era in their history. If Donnie Baseball had just one World Series ring, #23 would be in Cooperstown by now.
Every real Yankees fan knows the Kirby Puckett debate by now. Their stats are nearly mirror images of each other and both careers were cut short before they should have been. The difference is that Puckett won two titles, and Mattingly saw one playoff series. You can come up with any other excuse in the world, but none are as logical as that.
Don Mattingly wasn’t just good, Don Mattingly wasn’t just great. Don Mattingly, from 1984-1988, was the best first baseman in baseball, and arguably the scariest offensive threat in both the National and American League. Four years in a row, Mattingly put up numbers that had people dreaming about a Triple Crown. It doesn’t matter that he fell short, he wasn’t bad in any aspect of hitting.
Three years in a row he amassed over 205 hits, leading the league in two of those seasons. He led the league in doubles three years in a row. 1985 was one of the best seasons anyone had in the 80s. Mattingly struck out 176 times TOTAL over that five year span. That’s right around where most power hitters strike out PER SEASON these days. Yet people don’t deem him a Hall of Famer.
What about his fielding? Simply put, there was no one better. Mattingly won five Gold Gloves in a row from 1985 to 1989 and then four in a row from 1991 to 1994. Mattingly finished with a career .996 fielding percentage in over 1600 games at first base. He made 64 errors over that same time period. Read that again: He made 64 errors in 14 years at first base.
The league average fielding percentage for first baseman over the same span was .992. His career range factor per nine innings was 9.71, also above the league norm. So, he wasn’t simply the best offensive weapon in the game, he was arguably the best defensive weapon in the baseball as well.
What about being clutch? Donnie Baseball was never surrounded by amazing pitching like other Yankees dynasties, and there was only so much he could do by himself. Baseball is the least individualized sport of the Big Four, and you can’t blame Mattingly for the Yankees not making the playoffs. But take a look at the one year in his career that they did.
It was his last season, the season that everyone said Mattiingly was done and could barely walk because his back was so bad. So Mattingly put the Yankees on that sore back and hit .417 with six RBI and one of the most memorable home runs of my childhood. So, to recap, Mattingly was also super clutch.
Maybe it’s because you need records to be in the Hall of Fame. Well, Donnie Baseball has those, too. Remember 1987, when Mattingly tied the record by hitting a home run in eight consecutive games? Or how about when he set the record with an extra base hit in ten consecutive games? You probably forgot those, because that was also the year he set the record by blasting six grand slams in one season. So clearly, it isn’t about records.
The Hall of Fame shouldn’t be about the hardware. It should be reserved for the most talented players in the game. Like I said, Don Mattingly wasn’t just another All Star, he was the best player in baseball for half of a decade. He dominated first base, was a perennial all star and the Gold Glove could have been named after him. Over the next few years, the Hall of Fame will have a lot of questions surrounding the legitimacy of who should be in and who shouldn’t. This question is a no brainer.