Yankees All-Time Most Underrated Players, Part One

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Don “Donnie Baseball” Mattingly played first base for the Yankees for 14 years from 1982 to 1995 compiling a career batting average of .307, which usually would seriously qualify someone for the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Of that, George Steinbrenner once told the New York Times, “If Don Mattingly isn’t a Hall of Famer, then there shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame.”

Don Mattingly was a carry your lunch pail to work type of person and player. He went about his business with little or no flair. Except that is for one occasion in which he refused to get a haircut, causing a fury that lasted far longer in the newspapers that it did in the clubhouse or the front office. But other than that, he was all about baseball – hence his nickname. Besides, he was playing with the greatest of all showmen perhaps, Rickey “I am the Greatest” Henderson, so there was little need for attention-getting moments by Mattingly.

Not everything in Mattingly’s career was smooth sailing, though. At the end of his time with the Yankees, which coincided with ongoing issues with his back and other body parts, he hemmed and hawed about retiring but could never make the leap on his own. Finally, it all caught up to him after the close of the 1995 season when he told the NY Times, “I wasn’t willing to pay the price it was going to take to be able to succeed. At that point, I knew it was time to step away.”

Ironically, 1995 would be the only time in Mattingly’s career that the Yankees would qualify for the playoffs, only to lose to the Seattle Mariners. From there (and without Mattingly), the Yankees would win a World Series in 1996 that marked the beginning of what became known as “The Run” that would add three more titles before ending in 2001.

For the record though, his final numbers show that besides finishing with a batting average over .300, he collected 2153 hits, won a batting title in 1984 with a .343 average, was the AL Most Valuable Player in 1985, appeared in seven All-Star games, and led the American League five times in fielding percentage for a first baseman.

Which may just go to show that Steinbrenner was speaking metaphorically when making his claim about Mattingly and the HOF. He was good, magnificent, but not quite good enough. Perhaps to close the argument himself, Mattingly was quoted at the time saying “It’s all been stated, It’s all out there. The final arguments have been made. As a player, I am what I am. I did what I did. I don’t know if that puts me in the category or not.

Steinbrenner would add, ”They should close the building if he isn’t in it.”

At the ceremony in which his Number 23 was officially retired (Steinbrenner had pronounced it “retired” on the day Mattingly made his retirement announcement), Mattingly would say, perhaps fittingly, “To come from where I came from to this point is a long road for the guy who couldn’t run, who couldn’t throw and who didn’t hit for power, It’s a long ride. It’s been a great ride.”

Next: Yankees Starting Pitcher Sleeper - Nestor Cotes

Following his retirement, almost immediately there was a clamor about Mattingly becoming the manager of the Yankees. And when Joe Torre stepped down, the din got even louder. But as we know, the job eventually went to Joe Girardi. Eventually, Mattingly would land a job managing the Dodgers and then move on to the Florida Marlins, where he still is today.