The Case for Cooperstown: Don Mattingly

With the release of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, Waiver Wire writer Greg Kaplan will explore the candidacy of numerous names on the ballot. Points for and against induction will be presented, and we’re forcing him to make a decision at the end of each post to decide if that player should be placed alongside the immortals that have played baseball throughout history.

Previous Cases – Jack MorrisJeff BagwellLee SmithTim RainesAlan TrammellEdgar MartinezFred McGriffLarry WalkerMark McGwire

1989.yankees.mattingly(2)Don Mattingly

Year(s) on ballot – 13th (received 17.8% of vote last year)

Credentials – 14 years in MLB (all with New York Yankees), career .307/.358/.471, 222HRs, 1,099RBI, 442 doubles, 2,153 hits, six-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove winner, three-time Silver Slugger, 1984 American League batting champion, 1985 American League MVP

The Case For:

Donnie Baseball was truly a great all-around first baseman who excelled in the toughest market on the most notable of baseball teams. When he was truly at his peak, he was one of the hardest hitters in the game to get out. Never in his Major League career did Mattingly strike out more than 50 times in a single season. He almost had as many doubles (442) in his career as strikeouts (444). That’s remarkable.

Mattingly was more than just a hitter, of course. He’s probably one of the 10 best defensive first baseman to ever man the position. His nine Gold Gloves are second-most by any one player at first base in the history of the game.

The Case Against:

Two very big arguments work against Mattingly in his case to try to get into the Hall of Fame. The first of which is that during the peak of Mattingly’s career, he may not have even been the best first baseman in his own city. Remember, the 1980s were ruled by the New York Mets in the Big Apple, and while the Yankees were enjoying everything Mattingly was doing, it was Mex, Keith Hernandez, owned the position. Let’s stack up their careers side-by-side:

Mattingly – .307/.358/.471, 2,153 hits, 222HRs, 1,099RBI, 127 OPS+, 1,007 runs, 9 GGs, 1 MVP, 1 Batting Title, 39.8 WAR

Hernandez – .296/.384/.436, 2,182 hits, 162HRs, 1,071RBI, 128 OPS+, 1,124 runs, 11 GGs, 1 MVP, 1 Batting Title, 57.1 WAR

Seriously, the two are nearly mirror images of each other. The big difference? Hernandez is possibly the greatest defensive first baseman of all time and has a pair of World Series rings. There’s also the massive difference the two in WAR.

Which brings us to our second point. After his age 28 season, when Mattingly posted a .303/.351/.477 with 23 home runs and 113 RBI, Mattingly became a fairly pedestrian hitter that maintained value to a team because he played such a great defensive first base. Mattingly was still a tough out and made more contact each time he went to the plate than the majority of the league, but historically, it is hard to justify small offensive outputs from the first base position.

Defense can get you into the Hall of Fame (ask Ozzie Smith), but you have to be the best of the best. Hernandez, a player that fell off the ballot well before Mattingly has, was a better defensive option at first who put up very similar numbers without having the luxury of Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field. I don’t see how Mattingly can be a Hall of Famer when Hernandez is not. The two players are much too similar across the board, with the exception that Hernandez played on better teams.