Sunday, November 29, 2009

Donnie Baseball likely to fall well short again

There was a six-year stretch in the 1980s when Don Mattingly was the most dominant player in baseball. Even opposing players marveled at the Yankee captain's exploits on the field and his class and dignity off of it.

No doubt Mattingly put up tremendous numbers during his career, with a lifetime .307 batting average, 222 home runs, 2,153 hits and 1,099 ribbies. His defense at first base was stellar and he won nine Gold Gloves at the position during his 13-year career. Mattingly won the 1985 American League Most Valuable Player award. He still shares the record of most grand slams hit in a season (6) and most consecutive games with a home run (8).

I'm obviously biased, but that level of domination to me makes Mattingly a Hall of Famer. But the people whose opinions matter don't agree. His highest vote total was 28% in his first year of eligibility in 2001 and he only got about 12% of the vote during the last round of balloting. Unfortunately, with the influx of strong first-time candidates on this year's ballot, Mattingly will likely continue to see his support for the Hall drop and he may even fall below the 5% threshold needed to continue to be listed on the writers' ballot.

The back injuries Mattingly suffered in the second half of his career resulted in a sharp decline in his power numbers, which hurts him in the voting. The fact that the Yankees never made the playoffs during his years of domination likely costs him some votes too. But he almost single-handedly willed the Yankees to a division series win in his only playoff appearance against the Seattle Mariners in 1995 by hitting .417 with six ribbies. Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who coined the nickname Donnie Baseball, had similar career numbers, but he won two World Series titles with Minnesota.

I think Mattingly's best shot at the Hall of Fame will come from the Veterans Committee, made up of current Hall members, many of whom played with or against Mattingly. I believe they are the ones who truly appreciate his dominance during their era and will welcome Donnie Baseball into their exclusive club.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

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