It is still extremely bizarre for baseball fans — not just New York Yankees fans — of a certain age to believe that Don Mattingly is not a member of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, especially after the way his career began before it petered out.
You can add former rival players of the era to that list of shocked faces, as well.
Cal Ripken Jr. joined MLB Network the morning prior to the Hall of Fame’s announcement, one in which Alex Rodriguez’s candidacy was largely dismissed by the voters, to talk about the players left behind in recent decades.
Surprisingly, the Iron Man sympathized most with one star who burned extremely bright during the 1980s and early 1990s, but whose career longevity was ultimately what did him in during the balloting process.
Ripken Jr. advocated for Mattingly’s candidacy, naming him the No. 1 most shortchanged personage in modern Baseball Hall of Fame history.
Due to his back issues, Mattingly certainly is a case of “high peak, quick disappearance,” but his star power ranks among the brightest bulbs of the ’80s. Fame? Absolutely. Enough of it to make Cooperstown? We’d say no, but No. 8 disagrees.
Cal Ripken Jr. says Yankees’ Don Mattingly is No. 1 player Baseball Hall of Fame disrespected.
Not just the top Yankee who’s been disrespected, but the No. 1 MLB player who’s been disrespected overall! It’s time to change the calculus in this discussion, perhaps.
Surprisingly, the Mattingly case didn’t blow up the internet when Harold Baines, his inferior peer who compiled stats over a long career instead of leading MVP races, was elected in 2019.
From 1984 to 1989, Mattingly was a top-five baseball player on the planet. He never batted below .300. He never had an OPS+ lower than 128. He never had below 186 hits — and from 1984 through 1986, age 23-25, he piled up 207, 211, and 238. He was the 1985 AL MVP, and finished fifth, second, and seventh in the surrounding years. After 1986, he was a shoo-in for Cooperstown.
From 1990-1995? Mattingly was a solid, but not great, player. He never again hit over 17 home runs, though he could shake off his back issues and summon the power when he needed it, like in his first and only playoff series in 1995. He was still a Gold Glove winner from 1991-1994. He was still a rock at first. He just wasn’t Mattingly anymore, and his departure left most voters feeling cold, unlike Ripken Jr.
What does Ripken’s admission mean? Could the Veterans Committee eventually grow sympathetic to Mattingly as he becomes more of a peer, as the core of voters turns over?
Is Keith Hernandez’s future induction the harbinger for Mattingly? Is Thurman Munson close behind when Mattingly’s short peak gets him a plaque?
It’s borderline stunning that the Donnie Baseball we watched prior to the age of 26 was unable to put together a career that merited enshrinement once all was said and done, but we certainly understand voters who don’t want to induct a player based on six elite years.
If his peers disagree, though, and believe he’s been disrespected more than any other beloved player, who are we to disagree?