Claim to fame: Donnie Baseball, as fans knew him, ranked with Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn as one of the premier hitters of the 1980s. He hit over .300 six consecutive seasons from 1984 through 1989, twice led the American League in hits and was the circuit MVP in 1985, on his way to a lifetime .307 average. Mattingly also won nine Gold Gloves, second-most all-time among first basemen and retired in 1995 having played his entire career for the New York Yankees, a rarity in the era of free agency.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Mattingly has appeared on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot 10 times and has five remaining years of eligibility.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Whether Mattingly belongs in Cooperstown or eventually is honored are different questions to me.
I think Mattingly parallels with Steve Garvey and Nomar Garciaparra, players who would easily make the Hall of Fame had they sustained the early pace of their careers. Mattingly struggled with injuries over his final six seasons, hitting above .300 just once before retiring at 34. Were it up to me, I probably wouldn’t enshrine him. I’ll honor players with truncated careers if there’s a compelling reason, as I wrote last week, but injuries don’t rate as such for me, unless we’re talking Sandy Koufax, and Mattingly was never that dominant.
With that said, I think there’s a better than 50 percent chance the Veterans Committee enshrines Mattingly eventually. Why? Mattingly got 28.2% of the BBWAA vote, his highest total thus far, in his first year of eligibility in 2001.
Not counting Mattingly and five other players still eligible for enshrinement through the BBWAA, 25 players peaked between 20-30% of the writers vote for the Hall of Fame in the past 75 years. Of those 25 players, 13 are now in Cooperstown, and that number could climb as men who peaked in the last 30 years begin to be honored by the Veterans Committee, which sometimes has a slow turnaround.
In chronological order of their peak, the 25 players are:
- Mordecai Brown (HOF): Peaked at 27.0% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1949; sought by Mr. Burns to pitch for Springfield Nuclear Plant (though he kicked Mattingly off the team)
- Fred Clarke (HOF): Peaked at 24.9% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1945
- Joe McGinnity (HOF): Peaked at 25.3% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1946
- Eddie Plank (HOF): Peaked at 27.0% in 1942, enshrined by Old Timers Committee in 1946
- Ross Youngs (HOF): Peaked at 22.4% in 1947, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1972
- Zack Wheat (HOF): Peaked at 23.0% in 1947, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1959
- Casey Stengel (HOF): Peaked at 23.1% in 1953, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1966
- Chuck Klein (HOF): Peaked at 27.9% in 1964, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1980
- Lloyd Waner (HOF): Peaked at 23.4% in 1964, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1967
- Mel Harder: Peaked at 25.4% in 1964
- Johnny Vander Meer: Peaked at 29.8% in 1967
- Billy Herman (HOF): Peaked at 20.2% in 1967, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1975
- Bucky Walters: Peaked at 23.7% in 1968
- Joe Gordon (HOF): Peaked at 28.5% in 1969, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 2009
- Arky Vaughan (HOF): Peaked at 29.0% in 1968, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1985
- Tom Henrich: Peaked at 20.7% in 1970
- Bobby Doerr (HOF): Peaked at 25.0% in 1970, enshrined by Veterans Committee in 1970
- Mickey Vernon: Peaked at 24.9% in 1980
- Elston Howard: Peaked at 20.7% in 1981
- Lew Burdette: Peaked at 24.1% in 1984
- Mickey Lolich: Peaked at 25.5% in 1988
- Minnie Minoso: Peaked at 21.1% in 1988
- Ken Boyer: Peaked at 25.5% in 1988
- Jim Kaat: Peaked at 29.6% in 1993
- Joe Torre: Peaked at 22.2% in 1997
The five players besides Mattingly still eligible:
- Dave Parker: Peaked at 24.5% in 1998
- Dale Murphy: Peaked at 23.2% in 2000
- Mark McGwire: Peaked at 28.2% in 2001
- Fred McGriff: Peaked at 21.5% in 2010
- Alan Trammell: Peaked at 22.4% in 2010
So Mattingly has history on his side, even if I’m not totally.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here that debuted on June 1, 2010.