We’re 23 days out from the start of Spring Training and there was only one choice for today’s post.
Don Mattingly is the reason I love baseball and Don Mattingly is the reason I became such a rabid Yankees fan when I was a kid.
So rabid that I was convinced I was going to name my firstborn Mattingly regardless of gender. Unfortunately, I am more than likely never having any children unless some knight in shining armor comes along, sweeps me off my feet and gets me pregnant within the next couple of years, it seems, the next cat I get will have to be named after my favorite first baseman of all time instead.
When I attended my first games, a doubleheader in 1983, Mattingly served primarily as a part-time first baseman and outfielder.
The next season, 1984, was when I became a regular visitor to Yankee Stadium. It was also when Mattingly became a full-time player.
His chance came when the Yankees traded Steve Balboni to Kansas City before the season and Mattingly made the most of his opportunity by winning the batting title with a .343 average. He also finished with a league-high 207 hits.
In 1985, Mattingly won the American League Most Valuable Player award after finishing with 35 home runs and 145 RBI. Mattingly finished with 100+ RBI from 1984 – 1988, a streak that ended in 1988 when he collected (only) 88 RBI.
The next season Mattingly finished in the M.V.P. vote with a .352/.394/.573/.967 line while hitting 31 home runs and collecting 113 RBI.
Mattingly seemed to be on his way to a Hall of Fame career until he suffered a back injury in 1987. He still managed to finish with strong numbers – .327/.378/.559/.937, 30 HR, 115 RBI – and in that same season, he homered in eight-straight games and he hit six grand slams.
Amazingly, those six grand slams would be the only ones of his career.
Because of his back injury, Mattingly had problems regaining his power stroke and after 1989, when he hit 23 home runs, his highest home run total was 17 in 1993. He also saw his average, which always seemed to be above .300, dip to a career low .256 in 1990.
In his later years, he became more of a singles and doubles hitter.
After the strike shortened 1994 season, Mattingly found himself in unfamiliar territory in 1995. He was in a playoff series for the first time in his career.
Thanks to baseball’s playoff expansion and the addition of a Wild Card team, the Yankees made the playoffs for the first time since 1981 – the year before Mattingly first played with the big club as a late season call-up.
Alas, the Yankees were eliminated during that five-game series with the Seattle Mariners but Mattingly put on a hell of a show. He batted .417/.440/.708/.1.148 with 10 hits, two doubles, one home run and six RBI. His home run was a memorable one, his last hurrah at Yankee Stadium on the night of October 4, 1995.
Mattingly came up in the sixth inning behind Ruben Sierra who had just hit a home run to tie the game at two and took the second pitch he saw into the right field bleachers. It gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
After 1785 regular season games, Don Mattingly finally hit a home run in the playoffs.
As we all know, that 3-2 lead didn’t last and that the game was won on a walk-off home run by Jim Leyritz in the 15th inning. We also know that game was the last Mattingly would play in Yankee Stadium because he called it quits after the season ended.
To close out this post, I’m going to include a video of a walk-off home run Mattingly hit on May 13, 1985. It was a game in which they were down 8-0 and came back to win 9-8.