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Don Mattingly the Second Baseman?

By Mike Silva ~ May 19th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, NY Baseball Memories.

Don Mattingly is arguably one of the best defensive first baseman in the history of baseball. His production from 1984-1989 is right up there with the greats in Yankees history. Many remember that Mattingly started his Yankees career in left field before moving to first base. What they may not know is Mattingly was nearly a second baseman.

In 1980, at the age of 19, Mattingly was playing for Bob Schaefer at Greensboro in A -ball. Yankees brass knew that Mattingly was ambidextrous so they called Schaefer to work him out at second base because they felt he was never going to hit enough to be a first basemen or an outfielder. Also remember that first base was blocked by Steve Balboni. Schaefer worked out Mattingly at second base for a couple of days, but called the brass to talk them out of it. That season Donnie Baseball hit .358 with 9 homers and 105 RBI in the South Atlantic League. Four years later he won the American League batting title playing primarily first base. Who knows what a position change of that magnitude would have done to Mattingly? Credit Bob Schaeffer for saving the career of “Donnie Baseball.”

This is just one of the stories told by longtime journalist Mike Shalin on Sunday’s radio program. Shalin joined me to talk about his just released book “Donnie Baseball.”

Shalin called Mattingly “Derek Jeter without the rings,” but unlike Jeter he was never booed. We discussed his relationship with Wade Boggs, how he put all he had into the final weeks of the ’95 season, and why he walked away after a tremendous performance in the playoffs.

We also discussed Mattingly’s Hall of Fame credentials. I believe that Mattingly falls short for the Hall. Only 13 players with 1,000 or more games at first have been elected. His period of excellence (1984-1989), in my opinion, is too short. The bad back robbed him of production post 1990 meaning he doesn’t have the period of excellence, or the compiled numbers. Some compare Mattingly to Kirby Puckett. Although their numbers are similar, Puckett played a more premium defensive position. Even advanced metrics like Wins Above Replacement and OPS+ put Mattingly on the fringe of Hall of Fame consideration.

Shalin, who is a member of the BBWAA, has changed his mind and believes Mattingly is a Hall of Famer. He evoked the “Koufax Rule,” and believes the five year period should be enough for admission.

To listen to Sunday’s show download the replay here and the Donnie Baseball interview starts at the 35 minute mark.

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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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4 Responses to Don Mattingly the Second Baseman?

  1. Patrick

    If Mattingly is hall worthy Keith Hernandez is, I went back a few weeks ago after getting more deeply educated on statistics and Hernandez career looks even better in retrospect.

  2. Stu B

    Interestingly enough, Mattingly appeared in 1 game at 2B in 1983 and 3 games at 3B in 1986.

  3. B.E. Earl

    @Stu B

    Even more interesting is that Mattingly’s game at 2B in 1983 was in the continuation of the infamous pine-tar game against KC. Ron Guidry played CF. It was a symbol of protest by Billy Martin against the decision to continue the game. Cool, huh?

    Mattingly, by the way, is the last left-hander to play 2B in the bigs.

  4. Stu B

    Right – I forgot about that game.

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