Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Don Mattingly

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.

10 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Don Mattingly”

    1. Keith Hernandez is Don Mattingly with a bad reputation. The two had amazingly similar careers, from being first and second all-time for Gold Gloves among first basemen to winning MVPs early on and hitting well to retiring early.

      Had Hernandez’s name not surfaced in the Pittsburgh drug trials, I venture he’d have gotten more Hall of Fame votes instead of never getting more than 11 percent of the vote and failing to go the full 15 years of eligibility with the BBWAA.

  1. Seriously? I am a die hard Yankee fan and without even blinking I can tell you Mattingly does NOT deserve to be in the HOF. He isn’t even on the fence.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, Don was my favorite player growing up, but he’s probably borderline at best. As far as comparing him to Hernandez, there is no comparison. Put Mattingly on those Mets teams of the mid to late 80’s & you might be talking dynasty. Keith was never the leader Don was in the clubhouse. Who knows? Maybe with Donnie Baesball’s influence instead of partyboy Keith’s Straw & Doc don’t end up as baseball tragedies.

  3. Don Mattingly is a tough call. Graham’s statement that he does not rank at the level of another great player with a shortened, injury prone career is correct, but they are not that far apart.

    Koufax was considered the greatest pitcher in the majors from 1963-66. Mattingly similarly was considered the greatest player by his peers also for four years. His back injuries brought on in part by the so-called locker room incident was ironically further exacerbated by Mattingly’s intense work ethic. He would spend hours at a time hitting; even in the off-season.

    Mattongly’s excellence on the field, at bat and as a leader for those years between 1984-7 were spectacular seasons that harkened back to the days of Mantle, Ted Williams and an earlier Yankee icon at first base, Lou Gehrig. Mattingly indeed was the dominant player in the game then. The next three seasons were very good ones, but not at the same level and then after that Mattingly turns into an excellent fielding first baseman, still the tough team leader, but now only a decent hitter for average with little power.

    Koufax started out as a mediocre pitcher and retired when he was just getting better and better having four spectacular years that no pitcher in the modern era ever equaled.

    Mattingly’s career took an opposite trajectory, He started out on fire, compiling some of the best four years that any player ever had since Williams and Musial. And then slowly his hitting stats faded.

    I’ve been a Donnie fan all my life. But I would not see him in the HOF. Neither do I see Keith Hernandez, who was a tremendous fielder and a fine hitter with little power at a position that usually has your best power hitters, as a member of the HOF. Donnie, Keith and a number of others in this series belong in the unofficial Honorable Mention Category, imho.

    It would be nice if the HOF did have a catagory like this. I think it would help clarify the lines between the greatest ever and those near-great players that cause a whale of debate, but are deserving of some recognition for their great careers, contribution to the game and the joy they gave to their fans.

  4. Don Mattingly is a Hall of Famer, especially if someone as average as Blyleven is in. Sure, Blyleve had 60 shutouts…but that’s it. The comaprison with Koufax is a good one. This is not to say that he was in the same leaque as Koufax, who I think is the GREATEST pitcher of all-time. The voters need to take into account the injuries players have, if, and only if, they were a dominant player. Mattingly was THE player from 1984-1987, and if he didn’t hurt his back he would have easily had the numbers. And let’s not forget leadership, defense, and clutch hitting. One final note, Hernandez doesn’t even come close to Mattingly.

  5. Hernandez doesn’t have the power numbers that Mattingly does. Hernandez has 162 HRs and Mattingly has 222.

    According to the 4 instruments on baseball used to determine HOF candidacy, Mattingly is higher than Hernandez in 3 of them. Only Grey Ink is Hernandez better at.

    Also in the comparable players category, Mattingly is connected to two players in the HOF: Kirby Puckett and Jim Bottomley. Hernandez is connected to none.

  6. Mattingly is a Hall of Famer. If they vote Kirby Puckett in than Mattingly should have gone in also.
    Mattingly:.307-1107 runs-2153 hits-442 doubles-222 hr- 1099 rbi-444 so-.358 obp-.471 slg-9 gold gloves-1 mvp- 1 batting title- 6 as games
    Puckett: .318-1071 runs-2304 hits-414 doubles-207 hr- 1085 rbi-965 so-.360 obp-.477 slg- 6 gold gloves- 0 mvp- 1 batting title- 10 as games

    Both players are very comparable statistically. It seems to me that if Kirby Puckett is a HOFer then Don Mattingly is also.

    The 4 instruments on baseball used to determine HOF candidacy Mattingly was 1 point behind Gary Carter, higher then Blyleven, Dawson,Gossage, and Sutter.

    Come on writers, get it right and put him in.

  7. As a Yankees fan, Donnie does not belong in the HOF. He is not even a top thirty all time first basemen. Keith is 17th all time at 1B.

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