With Don Mattingly also on the Hall-of-Fame ballot, I figured that I should also take a deep dive into seeing if he truly belongs in the Hall-of-Fame.
To do this, I decided to follow the same thought process I used to determine Thurman Munson's worthiness for this honor.
The Low Bar
How does Mattingly stack up as compared to Harold Baines, a Hall-of-Famer? The thought here being, if you're not better than Baines, all bets are off. If you can't beat Baines, you don't deserve to be in the Hall-of-Fame.
Harold Baines' lifetime bWAR (Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement) was 38.7 (good for 552nd all-time).
In the first good news for Mattingly's candidacy in this exercise, he does top Baines. Mattingly's lifetime WAR was 42.4 (hardly great, he's 454th all-time) but he's 98 players better than Baines. That must mean something.
Other Hall-of-Famers Below Mattingly
Since Don Mattingly’s WAR is at least Hall-of-Fame worthy (it must be, it's better than Baines'), I decided to see at least a partial list of Hall-of-Famers (non-pitchers) who had a lower lifetime WAR than Donnie Baseball.
Here are the Hall-of-Fame players who rank lower than Mattingly on baseball's all-time WAR list:
Red Schoendienst (42.3)
Phil Rizzuto (40.8)
Hack Wilson (38.9)
Harold Baines (38.7)
This, sadly, doesn't help Mattingly's case. If we judge by WAR, and WAR alone, Mattingly sets a higher bar than Baines, but not by much.
Maybe By Position?
Like I did with Munson, I figured I'd look to see where Mattingly ranks among all-time first basemen. For this, I also went to the JAWS rankings of which WAR is only a portion of the player's overall worth.
This also doesn't help Mattingly's case.
By JAWS, Don Mattingly ranks as baseball's 39th best all-time first baseman. Being the 39th best first baseman ever doesn't scream, "Hall-of-Fame Worthy." in my book.
I decided to make a list of the Hall-of-Fame first basemen who ranked below Mattingly in JAWS.
That list included the following players:
High Pockets Kelly
That’s it. (Ouch.)
The Eye Test
This next test became one that is purely subjective, based on my own perspectives and thoughts about individual players. I decided to look at the 38 players above Mattingly on the JAWS First Basemen chart to see what type of reaction I got when I compared my impressions of Don Mattingly to my impressions of them. This was sort of a reverse Harold Baines test. If Mattingly deserved to be in the Hall-of-Fame, than these players, all ranked higher than him would also have to go in. Would I be comfortable putting all these guys in the Hall along with Donnie Baseball?
The answer, sadly, was no.
If all the players were Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg and such, being 39th on that list would be something. But not all the players above Don Mattingly were superstars and they would not belong in the Hall-of-Fame.
Included on this non-superstar list were (among others) the following:
Norm Cash and
BUT, This Was Donnie Baseball, The Hit Man, Donald Arthur Mattingly...
And that's what makes me so sad.
Don Mattingly is one of my all-time favorite players. I loved watching the great Mattingly play. Don Mattingly, for many years, was a great player - a great Yankee. He was the Yankees.
My heart wants him in the Hall-of-Fame.
Mattingly led the league in hits twice, in doubles three times, and in batting average and runs batted in once each. He was a Yankees captain. He was the American League MVP in 1985. He won nine Gold Gloves. He won three Silver Slugger Awards.
Mattingly was so awesome, he was so great.
He was Don Mattingly.
For four seasons, Don Mattingly was a true baseball great. Just look:
1984: .343/23/110, 207 hits, 43 doubles
1985: .324/35/145, 211 hits, 48 doubles
1986: .352/31/113, 238 hits, 53 doubles
1987: .327/30/115, 186 hits, 38 doubles
That player was a Hall-of-Fame player. Absolutely. Positively.
For the rest of his career, though, Don Mattingly wasn't that player.
From 1988 through 1994, he never hit over .311 (he batted over .300 only three times in that period), he never hit more than 23 home runs (only reaching or exceeding 20 once in all those years), he never had 200 hits in a season again (though he came close once with 191), and he only drove in over 100 runs once more (and never again even had 90 RBI's).
For four years Don Mattingly was a baseball god. The problem was that it didn't last.
It just didn't last.
This saddens me. When I think of Don Mattingly, I remember the player he was from 1984-1987. That was (and is) the Don Mattingly I wish we were discussing.
He was something else back then. He was the best.
It just didn't last.
I hate to say it, I really hate to say it, but Don Mattingly does not belong in the Hall-of-Fame.
I wish it were otherwise. I really, really do.