Why Don Mattingly Does Not Belong In The Baseball Hall Of Fame
Why does everyone care about Don Mattingly?
Every January the Baseball Hall of Fame announces which players have received at least 75% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America and will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York later that summer. Each year, people come out of the woodwork to gripe about the low vote totals received by former New York Yankees first baseman and current Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.
I'm really not sure why Mattingly has so many Hall of Fame supporters. There are plenty of other players who have been overlooked by the voters who are far more deserving. Perhaps it's because most of these other players were never the most popular player on the New York Yankees.
I'm going to take a look at each argument made in favor of Mattingly, and one by one I'm going to tear them down.
The Kirby Puckett Argument
The first thing that many Mattingly supporters will point out is that Kirby Puckett had very similar offensive stats, and he was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. This seems valid at first, but we have to dive in a little deeper. For one, Kirby Puckett hit for a higher average. 10 points higher, in fact. His on-base percentage is just a little better than Mattingly's, but a hit is better than a walk in most situations (runners often advance two bases or more on a hit).
Kirby Puckett also lacked the advantage of being a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium, a park built for left-handed hitters. He had to do his home hitting in the Metrodome, a stadium that did not deserve its "Homerdome" reputation as much as most people think.
Puckett was a far more consistent player than Mattingly. His worst batting average in a season was .288. His best was .356. Mattingly's worst was .256, while his best was .352. One look at their stats side-by-side reveals that Puckett was consistently very good, while Mattingly was great for two seasons and a little above average for most of the rest.
It's hard to compare Mattingly and Puckett in the field. Mattingly was a great first baseman, winning 9 Gold Gloves. Puckett was a great center fielder, winning 6 Gold Gloves. A manager values a great fielding outfielder over a great fielding first baseman, and statistics will back that up. The value of a first baseman is above that of a DH, but below that of any other defensive position. The key factor behind this is the fact that they rarely have to throw the ball. Catching a throw from an infielder is far less challenging that throwing it accurately across a diamond. Most first basemen are playing that position because they aren't good enough to play elsewhere. That's a hard pill for some to swallow, but it's true.
The "Donnie Should Have Won 2 MVPs Argument"
This one I find interesting. Many people claim that Don Mattingly should have won the MVP award in both 1985 and 1986. He won the award in 1985. I would argue that Mattingly deserved only 1 MVP award, and it was in 1986 when Roger Clemens won. The MVP that Mattingly did win should have gone to either George Brett or Rickey Henderson, Mattingly's teammate. George Brett was the only bright spot in a Royals lineup that was rather weak in 1985. He hit 30 home runs and had a higher batting average and slugging percentage than Mattingly. He also won a Gold Glove at third base, a more valuable position than first base. That Royals team won the World Series that year, thanks in large part to George Brett. That's "most valuable" in my book.
If you're going to look at the most valuable Yankee in 1985, I would argue that Rickey Henderson was far more valuable than Mattingly. Statistics back this up. Mattingly's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is 6.4. Henderson's is a whopping 10.0. He had 80 stolen bases and a .419 on-base percentage. The voters during that era loved the Runs Batted In statistic, which is why Mattingly won. If he hadn't had Henderson batting in front of him and getting on base, he wouldn't have had nearly as many RBIs. Mattingly may have had more plate appearances with a runner in scoring position (second or third base) in 1985 than any other batter in the history of the game.
So, I'll concede the 1986 MVP award to Mattingly because I don't like giving that award to pitchers. But I will not let Mattingly keep his 1985 award, because he should have come in 3rd place in the voting.
The "He Was Great In The Postseason" Argument
Don Mattingly led the Yankees to exactly 1 playoff appearance. He did well in that divisional series, except when he was facing Randy Johnson. The Yankees lost that divisional series 3 games to 2 to the Mariners. Mattingly was the captain of Yankees teams that consistently underachieved. I'm not saying it's his fault, but it did seem to be part of the culture. The Yankees were World Champions the year before Don Mattingly arrived, and they World Champions the year after he retired. They were nothing in the years in between.
Breaking Down The Stats
Let's take a look at Mattingly's career stats and access whether they are Hall of Fame worthy. Remember that he had a short career, but it was not cut short by war or tragedy (some have argued that Puckett gets some extra credit because he was cut down in his prime by a bean ball). Mattingly's career was cut short by back problems, likely the result of his awkward swing.
- 222 career home runs. That's 20 per 162 game season. Yawn.
- .307 career batting average. That would be good if he was more of a power hitter.
- .358 on-base percentage. Very poor for a non-slugger
- 14 career stolen bases. The guy was a base clogger. That hurts the rest of the team.
- 1007 runs scored. Good, but not great.
- 1099 RBI. Considering he got a good chunk of those in a few seasons when he had Rickey Henderson batting in front of him and Dave Winfield providing protection behind him, that's not good at all.
- 0 World Series rings
- 0 World Series appearances
- 0 playoff series wins
Wins Above Replacement
Wins above replacement is a complicated stat that attempts to figure out how many wins a player is worth to his team when compared to a replacement level player. Replacement level is not an average player, but actually a below average player. It's basically what you'd get if you called a guy up from triple A.
Don Mattingly's career WAR is 39.8. That's an average of about 3 wins per season. That isn't terrible, but it's also not Hall of Fame level. To put it in perspective, Tim Raines has a career WAR of 64.6, and he hasn't been voted into the HOF yet. Alan Trammell is at 66.9 and his teammate Lou Whitaker is at 69.7. Whitaker received less than 5% of the vote on his first ballot and thus is ineligible until his name appears on the Veterans Committee ballot in 2015.
Mattingly In The Hall Of Fame
Don Mattingly would not be the worst player in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he might be the worst player of the modern era (post-1980). There's no reason the Baseball Hall of Fame should lower its standards just to let in a player who was popular on teams that never came close to being champions. I know Yankees fans were bored during those years, but in hindsight their childhood hero just wasn't as good as they remember. That's a hard fact for many people to face, but it's still a fact.