I know that the phrase "objective and unbiased Yankee fan" probably sounds like an oxymoron, but in my case it happens to be true. Even the founder of this blog has said that I'm the most rational and non-obnoxious Yankee fan he knows. Coming from a dyed in the wool Red Sox fan that means a lot.
It is with this sense of objectiveness that I can honestly approach the issue of whether or not Don Mattingly belongs in Cooperstown. Mattingly has had his share of supporters and detractors over the last ten years. There seems a kind of bizarre fondness when it comes to Mattingly on the part of Yankee and non-Yankee fans alike. Unfortunately, this attachment often times generates blinders larger than Donny Baseball's sideburns. However, sentiment cannot mask the fact that while Donald Arthur Mattingly was a very good baseball player he was never a lifelong elite baseball player.
On paper Mattingly's career statistics are strong. His lifetime batting average was .307, with 2153 hits, 1007 runs scored, 1099 RBI, and 442 doubles. What's even more impressive is that his 14 seasons he never struck out more than 43 times in a season. In 1985 he was voted the American League MVP. If you compare his numbers to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett who played at the same time albeit at a different position, in many aspects Mattingly's stats are just as good if not better. Mattingly's career homeruns and RBI are higher than Puckett's and his OBP and SLG are on par as well. Donny Baseball also hit more doubles and Puckett never won an MVP award. (Totally off topic: I personally believe that Kirby Puckett has no business being in the HOF. Just because you win two World Series and make a great catch and a crucial homerun does not make you a Hall of Famer.)
There are some glaring problems with Mattingly's career that makes it difficult to argue in favor of his HOF worthiness however. He only hit 222 HR in his career which is pretty weak considering he played first base, a known power position. Furthermore in five of his fourteen seasons Mattingly failed to reach even double digits in homers. The Hit Man's patience at the plate left something to be desired as well. Throughout his entire stint with the Yankees he never walked more than 61 times in a season. Although he won nine gold gloves the award seemed to be more about reputation rather than skill as time went on.
From '84 to '88 Mattingly was an elite first baseman but afterwards his skills diminished considerably mostly due to injuries. Additionally his career WAR is 39.8 and he only had four seasons with a WAR of 5 or higher. Some could also argue that the fact he never won a championship hurts his chances. I'm not one of those people. To me championships should have nothing to do with whether or not a player gets into the HOF and in recent years this seems to be an annoying trend. But that's a topic for a different post.
Mattingly is one of these guys I classify as a tweener, someone who is just on the cusp of getting into the Hall of Fame. The problem is that it is the Hall of Fame not the Hall of Very Good. People can't vote based on what might have been, they have to go with what the reality is. Sorry Don Mattingly but having a sharp mustache and one MVP season does not get you into the Hall of Fame.
MY VOTE: NO