Harvey Frommer / Players / Yankees
Profile Don Mattingly
by Harvey Frommer
The news that Don Mattingly will take over as Yankee batting coach (and possibly manager in the not too distant future) is not too suprising. Always a Steinbrenner favorite, always politically astute, the former Bomber star is a class act who has paid his dues.
The Yankee first baseman at the start of the 1984 season was Ken Griffey Sr. Waiting in the wings was Don Mattingly. Manager Yogi Berra did not make him wait too long. Once he was installed as the full time first sacker, Mattingly really showed his stuff. In his first full season, Mattingly won the American League batting title with a .343 average edging out teammate Dave Winfield on the last day of the season. The player they would call "Donnie Baseball" was the first Yankee left-handed hitter to bat over .340 since Lou Gehrig's .351 in 1937. He also was league leader in hits and doubles. Committing just five errors, Mattingly led all first basemen in fielding.
A throwback to the Yankees of years past, the Evansville, Indiana native wore his cap settled low on his head, bill down, trademark lampblack always under the eyes. The 1980s were his time.
From 1984 until 1989, Mattingly hit more than .300 each season. With the exception of 1988, he tallied at least 20 home runs and drove in 100 runs each season in that six year time span when his combined 684 runs gave him the highest total of any player in Major League Baseball.
MVP in 1985, Mattingly set the major league record for most home runs in seven consecutive games (9), and eight consecutive games (10). He also led the majors with 145 RBIs. In 1986, he batted .352 and topped the American League with 238 hits and 53 doubles. Setting a major league record by hitting a home run in eight consecutive games in 1987, Mattingly also slammed a record six grand slams. On July 20, he made 22 putouts to tie the record for first basemen in one game.
By the late 1980s and into the 1990, back problems affected his skills. But he still ranked from 1990-1994 as the toughest player to strike out in the American League.
He is only one of three players to have produced 2,000+ Hits, 400+ Doubles, 200+ Homeruns, 1000+ RBI, and a .300+ career Batting Average while wearing Yankee pinstripes. The others were Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
A nine time Gold Glove Award winner, a six-time All-Star, Mattingly was the 10th player in Yankee history to be named captain. His Number 23 was retired in 1997.
"He was a great hitter and a great ballplayer," Yogi Berra said. "It's just a shame his career had to end so soon, I guess in the end that back just got too bad."
It was also a shame that after playing for 14 years in 1,785 games, Mattingly's first post-season competition took place in 1995 against Seattle. He batted .417. The quiet star was the greatest Yankee who did not play in a World Series.