To be fair -- to be PERFECTLY FAIR -- this column is not a shot at Joe Mauer's Hall of Fame candidacy. Neither is this graphic. Mauer is a deserving enshrinee, and while the ease with which he slid in on the first ballot was stunning, it dropped my jaw in a pleasant way. You know, like when you smell a fancy teapot, not like when you confidently stride into a nudist colony when you were trying to open the door to a CVS.
But Mauer, the face of the modern Twins' franchise, earned election based almost exclusively off his splendid peak, spent primarily as a catcher through 2013 before he transitioned to first base to end his career. His time behind the plate was not "impressive for a catcher"; he hit .365 with 28 home runs in 2009 at the age of 26. His offensive peak was impressive, full stop. Eventually, though, a cascade of injuries ravaged him, and he became merely a pretty good first baseman on the back nine of his career.
Mauer, rightfully, earned a "Catcher Bonus" for being the game's best for a nine-year period (though injuries started to swipe games away from him from 2011-2013). His offensive peak popped more eyes, given what he was assigned to complete defensively as he was compiling the numbers.
But both Mauer and Yankees fan favorite Don Mattingly, mid-career, turned into broken down first basemen. And while Mauer's numbers through the age of 27 are absurd for a catcher, they're nearly as impressive for a slick-fielding first baseman like Mattingly.
Yankees fans have been waiting for the dam to break on Mattingly's candicacy for decades. Perhaps it's just a matter of the correctly framed case being made to the committees? Mauer's prime and eventual regression, when lined up with Mattingly's tenure, might just make the difference.
Yankees icon Don Mattingly earned Hall of Fame look after Joe Mauer's election
This shouldn't be a "One or the Other" scenario. Both should be in. But while Mauer's election should be applauded, the only area where he edges Mattingly significantly is WAR (55.2 bWAR to 42.4). That earned him a 20-year head start on Donnie Baseball, and that should be more than enough.
The comparison also continues deeper than surface stats and an injury-marred back end. Mauer was the face of a Minnesota Twins team that reached the postseason routinely, but couldn't get past the Yankees. Mattingly was the face of a Grade-A brand in New York (yes, it should matter), though he was famously the only "Captain" devoid of postseason success in the Bronx, making the playoffs only in his final season. If the Wild Card had existed (or two, or three) in the 1980s, Mattingly would've had a chance to burnish that resumé and get out of the first round of the postseason (midway through his peak in 1984, 1985, and 1986), something Mauer never did.
Sorry. Sorry. Promised this wouldn't be a Mauer dig. I'm getting a little impassioned, like a guy who's just trying to shop for allergy medication at what's clearly some kind of all-nude CVS.
The positional difficulty bumps Mauer's WAR far enough ahead of Mattingly's that his swift election computes. But we're not asking for both men to sail past the guards. We're just asking for Mattingly to get the fair shake he's clearly earned, especially if peaks are now being considered without much qualification.
Expect a second impassioned column when Chase Utley follows his early positive voting results with more momentum in Year 2. Mattingly, unfortunately, will have to wait for 2025 after receiving only eight of the necessary 12 votes in 2022's committee balloting.