The Case for Don Mattingly

By: William Robinson

Growing up in the 1980’s there was only a few baseball players that were quite as iconic to me as Don “baseball” Mattingly. Whether it was his iconic mustache or his batting style or the fact that it felt like he was always clutch, Don Mattingly was one of my favorite players of the Era. He was also one of the most dominant and entertaining. I still remember playing with his starting lineup figure and invariably Donnie baseball would always come through with a hit. I collected his cards with a passion just knowing that he would one day be in the Hall of Fame. However, injuries would shorten his career and so he never hit any of the magic numbers that are required for the writers to vote him into the hall of fame. Now it’s time for the veterans committee to consider his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, and I am very curious as to how this is going to turn out.

If only Mattingly could have played a few more seasons he would have had a couple World Series titles. That would have put him in the HOF for sure.

Don Mattingly played baseball from 1983 to 1995 which amounts to 13 seasons in which he played amazing baseball. They say that those fires that burn the brightest burn out fastest and in the case of Mattingly this was definitely true. During those 13 seasons Don suffered with chronic back injuries and only played one complete season. However, during those 13 seasons he was also an MVP, 1 time runner up to MVP, 6 time All-Star, 9 time Gold Glove winner and 3 time Silver Slugger winner and one time batting title winner. This is pretty stellar work during such a short time period. His career stats are important if you look at averages since he played such a short time period. During his career he averaged 165 hits per season, 17 HR, 84 RBI’s, batting average of .307, an OPS + of 127 and OPS of .830 and had an average WAR of 3.2.

Lets compare him to two other players who were his competitors in the American League at first base. Eddie Murray (HOF) and Mark McGwire. Eddie Murray played 21 seasons of major league baseball. He was a Rookie of the Year, 8 time All Star, won 3 Gold Gloves and 3 Silver Slugger awards. He was never an MVP. He was much less heralded even though he played such a longer amount of time. His average stat line was: 155 hits, 24 HR, 91 RBI, .287 BA, OPS .836, OPS + 129, and WAR of 3.25. Mark McGwire played 15 seasons and also had issues with his back; he also had some PED rumors that surrounded his career so his numbers are a bit skewed.  Still his averages are: 108 Hits, 39 HR, 94 RBI, BA of .263, OPS of .982, OPS + of 163, and WAR of 4.1.

Looking at McGwire’s numbers you can see that his numbers skew towards the power hitter that he was. With McGwire he pretty much either walked or hit a home run. Murray though is the much better comparison to Don Mattingly. One could probably assume that had Mattingly played 21 seasons he probably would have gotten to 3,000 hits considering that he averaged about 10 per season more than Murray. He also had a better batting average than Murray and comparable OPS numbers. His WAR number is comparable too. Mattingly though was only in two less All-Star games, and was a Gold Glove winner much more often and won the same amount of Silver Slugger awards. To me that means that in a shorter period of time Mattingly was much more dominant than the Hall of Famer Eddie Murray. But does that mean he should be in the Hall of Fame?

Does length of career matter? And I think that ultimately that’s the deciding factor for Don Mattingly. He obviously played Hall of Fame caliber baseball while he was playing, but he just didn’t do it for as long as other Hall of Famer did. Me personally I’d rather have a dominant player who played only a short period of time in, than a player who hung on too long and put up big numbers, but we’ll leave that to the veterans committee.

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