The Tuesday Discussion: Don Mattingly and the Hall of Fame
December 13, 2022
This week we asked our writers to respond to the recent Hall of Fame announcement and Don Mattingly. In short, we asked, "Does Don Mattingly belong in the Hall of Fame?"
Here are their replies:
Paul Semendinger - I thought this was Donnie Baseball's year. I am actually very disappointed, and a bit sad he didn't make it.
I think Mattingly will, eventually, get into the Hall of Fame. Don Mattingly was an iconic player. He was the sport's biggest star for a long time. He went on to be a long-time manager and coach. I think that will only help his legacy. It'll now take some time, but I think Mattingly will, one day, be in Cooperstown.
All of that being said, if one to look only at the numbers, Mattingly, except for his 9 Gold Glove Awards and .307 lifetime batting average, falls short of typical Hall of Fame standards on many levels. That hurts his case. Mattingly's lifetime WAR ranks him as only the 39th greatest first baseman in baseball history. If 60 WAR is the cut-off, Mattingly (at 42.4) falls way short. Mattingly's JAWS and WAR7 scores also don't help his case.
Still, I think there are times when those tools don't tell the whole story. They tell a story, and it's a compelling one to keep Don Mattingly out of the Hall of Fame. I get it. Mattingly has a weak Hall of Fame case.
Still, as I wrote often enough here these last few weeks (and talked about on various podcasts), I thought this year was his big chance. Sometimes a player is seen outside of WAR and baseline stats. This was the year and the committee for that.
In my heart Don Mattingly is a Hall of Famer. My mind tells me otherwise.
I do think he'll make it one day. And when he does, it'll be deserved because sometimes a player means more to the game than just his numbers. It's rare that that happens, but I think for Mattingly, the case can be made that it does.
One day Donnie Baseball. One day, Cooperstown will welcome you. For today, and right now, I'm a little sad that you didn't make it.
Patrick Gunn - Donnie baseball holds a special place in Yankee legacy, but I can't say I'm surprised he came up short of the hall again. His played a brilliant peak, but that period was short and injuries affected his career too strongly. Mattingly's fWAR of 40.7 is not at the level for a Hall of Famer. I imagine he'll get another chance given his support, but I don't think he's at that level. (To me, the more interesting conversation is "should he have finished second on this ballot?")
Lincoln Mitchell - Failing to select Don Mattingly to the Hall of Fame was the right call because he was not a good enough player. Mattingly’s peak was very strong, but it was too short. There are better players than him who played the same position at roughly the same time like Will Clark and Keith Hernandez who should get in before Mattingly. Mattingly also benefited by playing in the last era before advanced metrics began to influence the game, so his relatively low walk rate was not held against him, while his gaudy RBI numbers impressed people more than they would today. However, the Hall of Fame’s continued snubbing of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds leads me to care less every year about who gets in and who does not.
James Vlietstra - The Contemporary committee surprisingly elected Fred McGriff into the Hall Of Fame. I say surprisingly, not because he didn’t deserve it, but because they only allowed their 16 person panel 3 selections each.
So as I believe each of the candidates worthy to be enshrined, they made it extremely difficult. Specifically for Don Mattingly, whose playing career comes up just short, but combined with his managerial credentials should be an easy choice. However, for this particular committee, only his playing career was under consideration.
75% is a lofty number. I could present a group of 16 people a ballot of 8 fast food restaurants and allow each person three choices, does any make it? In and Out would get the California vote, BoJangles in the South, Dunkin Donuts in New England. Add in Arbys, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Whataburger, and KFC and I challenge any to reach the 75 plateau. This doesn’t even include the steroid candidates of Burger King and McDonald’s, nor a dozen other deserving participants.
Mike Whiteman - Don Mattingly didn't make it into the Hall of Fame. That was the right call because...
For the six years of 1984-89, Mattingly played like an all-time great. He could do it all, and was mentioned often as the "best player in baseball". When can we recall that being said about a first basemen? Those six years were special.
The next six weren't nearly that good. His OPS+ was 105 - about average. Sure, he was still a very good fielder, and still a very tough out, but the drop-off was significant.
Intellectually I see the denial for the HOF. That being said, I found myself Sunday rooting hard for Mattingly to make the Hall, appealing more to my emotional side. I mean, he is Donnie Baseball, a favorite player of my youth, one of the most respected people in the game. Surely, there's room for him in the Hall. Here's where I leaned in hard on the FAME.
Alas, it was not to be. That doesn't change how I or others of my age feel about him. Here's hoping we see his plaque at Cooperstown someday.
Andy Singer - It really makes me sad that Don Mattingly didn't make it into the Hall of Fame on this shot. He was the first player I was consciously aware of as a kid, and he's one of the great tragic heroes in baseball history, a player whose peak was truly great, but incompetent management couldn't even get him to the playoffs consistently despite a willingness to spend (a cautionary tale to those that yearn for the days of yore).
From a purely logical standpoint, no, I don't believe Donny Baseball was a Hall of Fame player. His 6-year peak was excellent, producing 33 bWAR from 1984-1989 while batting .327/.372/.530 with 160 HR. I also very much wonder if modern defensive metrics would have helped his WAR calculations, as he was a very good defensive first baseman at his peak who could even moonlight in the outfield. Unfortunately, most Hall of Famers have a peak of 7+ years, and a bad back really hurt Mattingly's counting stats and production after his peak.
I can't help but think that if he had been able to play more in the playoffs (he was fantastic in the ALDS in 1995, his only playoff appearance), he might get a boost in candidacy, but I can't in good faith make the argument that Donnie Baseball should be in the Hall of Fame. He's oh so close for me, but not quite over the line.