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The Don Mattingly HOF Debate

By Mike Silva ~ January 2nd, 2010. Filed under: Hall of Fame, Mike Silva, New York Yankees.

One of the names that struck a chord for fans on Jon Heyman’s Hall of Fame ballot is Don Mattingly. Ever since Kirby Puckett entered the Hall, many believed the case for Mattingly became even stronger. If you look at Puckett and Mattingly the numbers are staggeringly close:

Puckett vs. Mattingly

Game: 1783 – 1785

Hits: 2304 – 2153

HR: 207-222

RBI: 1085 – 1099

BA: .318 – .307

OPS: .837 -.830

OPS+: 124 – 127

Yrs: 12 – 14

Clearly these are two players that compiled nearly identical offensive numbers. Puckett, just like Mattingly, was considered one of the defensive class of his position winning six gold gloves. Mattingly, of course, is considered maybe the best defensive first baseman of all time and has the nine gold gloves to prove it. I personally would give it to Keith Hernandez, but you can’t go wrong either way.

The difference between Puckett and Mattingly is postseason opportunity. Puckett made his mark with an historic World Series home run in 1991, and was the offensive cog for two championship teams. Mattingly carried the Yanks on his back in the 95’ ALDS, but in a losing effort to Seattle. Could this be the difference? No doubt, as a large number of writers are swayed by postseason success.

Where I believe Mattingly falls short is comparables against his position. The Puckett argument is fair, but when you look at the list of Hall of Fame first baseman, Mattingly, for the most part, doesn’t stack up. There is, however some precedent that makes it a fair debate to consider his enshrinement.

First, Mattingly had a stretch from 1984 to 1987 where he was considered the best player in baseball. In 14 seasons, there were about 7 that I would call Hall of Fame worthy. The injury to his back clearly robbed him of increased production, which would have made this debate nonexistent.

Players like Billy Terry, Johnny Mize, Hank Greenberg, and George Kelly are great comparables to Mattingly in terms of overall production. Where Donnie falls short is all had longer stretches of greatness. Mattingly compiled a large majority of his numbers in that 84′ to 87′ period. His numbers post 87′ are just nothing that stand out to me.

The real “x” factor is defense. How much do you weigh Mattingly’s glove? I definitely am one to weight it heavily, but it just doesn’t make up for his production at a position, first base, that has so many heavy hitters. If Mattingly is a second baseman or short stop the conversation changes.

In the end the voters are correct leaving Mattingly out. He was short on compiling numbers, and didn’t have a long enough stretch to make up for the shorter career. I give him a bump on defense, but just don’t feel comfortable including him with the all time greats. Can’t criticize Heyman for voting for him, but I don’t see “Donnie Baseball” garnering enough support.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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6 Responses to The Don Mattingly HOF Debate

  1. birtelcom

    Sean (“Rally”) Smith has developed an uberstat he calls Wins Above Replacement. It has been referred to as rWAR, for “Rally’s WAR”, to distinguish it from other WAR formulas. rWAR has become pretty well-respected in Internet sabermetric circles, though as with all uberstats it has its quirks. Rally’s formula gives 45.0 rWAR to Kirby Puckett and 39.8 to Don Mattingly.

    To put this in context, the average career rWAR total for the 73 non-pitchers elected to the Hall by the BBWAA is 80.2. The median career rWAR total among these 73 guys is is 69.2. The top 5 career rWAR totals among non-pitchers who have been elected to the Hall by the writers are Babe Ruth’s 190.0 (including 18.0 rWAR as a pitcher), Ty Cobb 159.3, Willie Mays 154.7, Hank Aaron 141.5 and Honus Wagner 134.7. The lowest career rWAR totals among non-pitchers who have been elected to the Hall by the writers are Jim Rice 41.5, Lou Brock 39.1, Rabbit Maranville 38.0, Pie Traynor 37.0 and Roy Campanella 36.3.

    The career rWAR totals of the non-pitchers on this year’s BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot are:

    Barry Larkin 68.8
    Edgar Martinez 67.2
    Alan Trammell 66.8
    Tim Raines 64.9
    Roberto Alomar 63.6
    Mark McGwire 63.2

    Andre Dawson 56.8
    Robin Ventura 55.1
    Fred McGriff 50.5
    Ellis Burks 47.9
    Dale Murphy 44.4
    Don Mattingly 39.8
    Ray Lankford 38.4
    Dave Parker 37.9
    Harold Baines 36.9
    Andres Galarraga 26.8
    Todd Zeile 15.1
    Eric Karros 9.1
    David Segui 7.8

    I’ve inserted a line break below McGwire and above Dawson because there’s a pretty obvious break point there in the numbers between guys who would fit pretty well in the mid-range of rWAR totals among BBWAA elected non-pitchers over the years and guys who would fall in the lower reaches or below.

    There are only four non-pitchers in history with higher career rWAR totals than the McGwire level who were eligible to be elected to the Hall but have never been inducted into the Hall at all — not through the BBWAA and not via any Veterans Committee. Those four guys (with their career rWAR totals) are:

    Bill Dahlen 75.9
    Lou Whitaker 69.6 (Alan Trammell’s long-time double play partner)
    Bobby Grich 67.6
    Ron Santo 66.4

  2. HOVG

    Hey guys…here’s my take on Mattingly.


  3. edwards

    the author of this article has never been to yankee stadium and can shampoo my crotch.

  4. ERX

    It is called the Hall of Fame not the hall of good!!! No one on the list of candidates is more FAMOUS than Don Mattingly. His merchandise as of today was among the highest sold on eBay. I don’t understand that some players can compile their way into the hall while others who are truly spokespersons for the game itself are slighted.

  5. DR Len

    The defense of the infield is what makes teams great. Donnie made his infield as great as they could be with his glove and example.
    Wade Boggs was never considered a good third baseman until he came to the Yanks. Then he won 2 gold gloves with Donnie. After
    Donnie retired he went back to be a lousy third baseman.
    Donnie would move runners over where Wade and other hitters would just go for there hits or take a walk.

  6. Maroussia

    It will be great to watch ALCS: New York Yankees, i have bought tickets from
    http://ticketfront.com/event/ALCS_New_York_Yankees-tickets looking forward to it.

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