Recent Hall of Fame elections have featured plenty of highlights for Yankees fans, as Mariano Rivera became the first unanimous electee (to the chagrin of Billy Wagner backers) and Derek Jeter gained election while narrowly missing the same threshold.
Still, the generation of fans that grew up just before the Core Four remain pained by the exclusion of Don Mattingly, a perceived slight that has only grown in power as more and more "less famous" names have been elected (or admitted by Veterans Committees) in recent seasons.
Mattingly was, without a doubt, a bigger star and brighter face of the decade he occupied than (short list): Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Mike Mussina, Craig Biggio and the Hall's latest choice, Scott Rolen.
That said, new-look metrics quantify more than just star power. They reward consistency. They embrace the subtler contributions that help a good team become great (and that may go unnoticed on a perennial loser). WAR is good for helping players like Rolen, who rarely wowed but always added, cross the finish line.
Unfortunately, it doesn't do much for Mattingly, who dominated at his peak, but left the game by the age of 34 as Jay Jaffe's 39th-best first baseman of all time, per his JAWS system of evaluation. That places the sum total of his contributions behind players like Jason Giambi, Will Clark and Mark Teixeira. Felled by his own longevity.
Rolen? He is JAWS' 10th-best third baseman of all time, and with his election, the Hall of Fame now includes Jaffe's Top 11 names (with Edgar Martinez bringing up the rear). It's a criminally underrepresented position in Cooperstown -- mostly because, outside of Brooks Robinson, third basemen are often more like Rolen. Seen and not heard. That tide is starting to turn, and even though he wasn't the flashiest addition to the Hall, he earned his admission and (sigh) deserved to cut Mattingly in line.
Don Mattingly deserves Hall of Fame spot, but Scott Rolen surpasses Yankees legend
Mattingly has the edge on Rolen in one area and one area only: the indefinable "fame" signifier. Yes, the Yankees' Captain was more famous than Rolen was at their respective career peaks. Mattingly has the hardware, too; his MVP win (and position in the voting throughout the '80s) made him an upper-echelon star who owned an entire decade. Rolen doesn't have that panache.
What he does have is a level of durability that would've absolutely changed the way Mattingly was perceived. Donnie Baseball is a "What If?" with a stunning peak -- a peak good enough that the Veterans Committee might still push him over the edge in a few years. Rolen is a rock-steady leader with 17 years of defensive excellence (Jeff Bagwell once compared him to "an office building" at third) and offensive relentlessness.
Nomar Garciaparra debuted by Rolen's side, and was the textbook definition of a Cooperstown lock if he'd only had a semblance of Rolen's longevity. David Wright is the next step up. Mattingly is the absolute, unparalleled peak of the "Gone Too Sooners" ... which means he has a chance at Cooperstown because of how well he's remembered.
Rolen? He wasn't exactly a metronome at third for 17 years. He battled shoulder surgeries several times throughout his career. Some years were halved. Mattingly, shockingly, wasn't too far behind the ex-Cardinal; he fell off offensively from age 29-31, then garnered MVP votes during the next two seasons and wrapped his career 253 games played behind Rolen.
But Rolen always came back. Without medical advances, maybe he would've been a Mattingly. Maybe he would've lost his trademark zip. But he stayed alive -- and hit every step of the way.
No, JAWS or WAR or any other metric should not be the sole decider of who makes it to the Hall and who doesn't. Sometimes, when the Veterans Committee is involved, it gets so much less scientific; a whole bunch of retired Cardinals and Giants spent the 1970s electing their friends and throwing off the museum's balance.
That's why I endorse Mattingly's eventual election, and actually wish it had happened this past cycle when Fred McGriff made it and Dale Murphy and Donnie didn't.
Unfortunately, in every metric other than "splash," Rolen surpasses the Yankees icon.