December 26, 2009

Hall of Fame 2010: Don Mattingly

From now until the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2010 is announced, The Hall is going to be breaking down each candidate. Some write ups will be lengthy...some will be the opposite. Some will be brand new pieces...some will be re-hashes of previous pieces.

The “Bronx Bombers” owned baseball in the late 70s. They averaged 98 wins from 1976 to 1980 and took home two world championships.

Owner George Steinbrenner was at his most colorful. He hired and fired Billy Martin twice (he’d make three more stints as manager throughout the 80s) and brought players in left and right to capture the pennant.

Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Goose Gossage all brought in to win.

And they did.

In the decade following, Steinbrenner again opened up his wallet to buy some hardware. He brought in Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Don Baylor to round out a lineup already chock full of established stars like Guidry, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles and a certain up and coming first baseman.

Steve Balboni.

Problem is…this didn’t work.

The Yankees went from dominating the American League to going twelve straight years of NOT making the playoffs…their longest such streak since BEFORE Babe Ruth came over from BeanTown.
Apparently, you can’t buy chemistry.

Now, to think I’m going to spend the next dozen (or more…probably many more) paragraphs trumpeting Balboni’s career would be insane. Granted, his lifetime numbers of .229, 181 homeruns and 495 RBIs are as rotund as he was, but it’s the Lou Gehrig to Balboni’s Wally Pipp that I’m excited about.

Don Mattingly.

I know what you’re thinking…did this guy lose his mind? He must’ve just got done watching the Cheers finale (that’s a 1993 reference, gang), because “Donnie Baseball” hasn’t been relevant since before the strike of 1994.

Like most of the world, I was enamored with Mattingly when he hit the scene. I had his 1984 Donruss rookie card encased in Lucite and thought I was witnessing the second coming.

That being said, I’m not so sure we weren’t.

During a six-year run beginning in 1984, Mattingly averaged 26 home runs, 114 RBIs and a .327 batting average. No player during that stretch had more RBI than Mattingly's 684, while only Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (1,269) had more hits than Mattingly's 1,219.

That six-year peak (from 1984 to 1989) is clearly one of the best of his generation and overall, his brief career stacks up with some others in the Hall.

Let’s compare him with a recently inducted Hall of Famer and YOU explain to ME why Mattingly can’t get more than 28 percent of the vote. Matter of fact, if someone can tell me how less than ten percent of the voters in 2007 thought Mattingly was Hall worthy…I’m waiting.

So, let’s compare!

HALL CANDIDATE A played in only 1785 games at the major league level. However, in that short career…he notched 2153 hits, 222 homeruns and 1099 RBI.

Known primarily as a contact guy, this player had a career batting average of .307 and an on base percentage of .358. Seven times, this player finished in the top ten in hits and five times, he was in the top ten in batting average…leading the league only once. He had a stretch of five out of six years, where he finished in the top five in RBI.

Let’s look at the trophy case.

HALL CANDIDATE A was once a league MVP and four straight years, he finished in the top ten in voting. He was an All-Star six times and had a surprisingly spectacular glove, bringing home the Gold Glove at his position in nine out of ten seasons.

As I’ve said before, post season accolades can make you or break you. In this player’s career…he had a career post season batting average of .417.

Now…let’s check out the resume of HALL CANDIDATE B by using the same exact criteria. Matter of fact, I’m going to cut and paste the preceding and make the appropriate changes.

Here we go.

HALL CANDIDATE B played in only 1783 games at the major league level. However, in that short career…he notched 2304 hits, 207 homeruns and 1085 RBI.

Like HALL CANDIDATE A, HALL CANDIDATE B was also known as a contact guy. He had a career batting average of .318 and an on base percentage of .360. Ten times, this player finished in the top ten in hits and seven times, he was in the top ten in batting average…leading the league once. Only twice did he finish in the top five in RBI.

Let’s look at the trophy case.

HALL CANDIDATE B was never a league MVP, but there was a stretch where nine times in eleven years, he finished in the top ten in voting. He was an All-Star ten straight years and while he was heralded as having a spectacular glove, he was only golden six times.

Again, as I’ve said before, you have to look at post season accolades. In this player’s career…he had a career post season batting average of .309.

Now, here’s the part where you can separate who is who.

HALL CANDIDATE B has two World Series rings in two chances and if you paid any attention in the first half of this post, you know that Mattingly has none.

So, who is HALL CANDIDATE B? It’s the very guy who gave Mattingly the moniker “Donnie Baseball” of course…Kirby Puckett.

Yeah, the same Kirby Puckett who went into the Hall in 2001...coincidently, both his and Mattingly’s first year on the ballot. 2001 also yielded the highest amount of support for Mattingly…28.2%.

"I don't think I'm a Hall of Famer," Mattingly told Newsday a couple years ago. "I don't think I have the numbers. Part of it is longevity, and I wasn't able to do that and do the things that I did early in my career."

Mattingly is a modest, modest man.

If his numbers show anything it’s that he HAS the numbers. As I’ve shown, his numbers are on par with Kirby Puckett. Sure, neither had the longevity (both were forced out due to injury)...but there are a number of players in the Hall who played in LESS games.

If you’ve heard me sound off about Albert Belle…you know I think the longevity argument is flawed. On the flipside, I think some players play their way into the Hall by playing in too MANY games.

Simply put, the “longevity” argument is garbage and Mattingly is, again, being modest by bringing it up. But I get it, he’s not out there playing the “I’m a Hall of Famer” game like some players do...he’s allowing others to bang his drum.

And I guess that’s what I am doing.


BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

LargeBill said...

Mattingly is a tough case. In the 80's there was no doubt in my mind that he was better than Boggs and several others of that era who have made it to Cooperstown. Problem is his back caused his career to fall of a cliff.

In my opinion, once you get past the ridiculously obvious choices like Aaron, Mays, Seaver, etc, you have two routes to Cooperstown. You can have a peak of decent length (5 - 6 years) where you were absolutely incredible - Koufax route. Or you can be very good for such a length of time that your overall career merits inclusion in the HoF - Don Sutton/Lou Brock route. Obviously, Mattingly would have to be considered for the Koufax route. I don't know. Puckett breezing in on the first ballot definitely is at odds with how some other similar players were treated by the voters. Is that a third route? Sympathy votes for a career ending injury. Obviously, Gehrig and Clemente would have ended up in Cooperstown regardless of sympathy. I'm sure there are other players I'm not thinking of who got extra consideration because of an unexpectedly sudden decline/end to their career. Kiner?