Today on the Mitchell & Ness blog we pay tribute to Don Mattingly. The "Hit Man" stroked his 2,000th hit 18 years ago today. Perhaps the greatest Yankee never to win a World Series, Mattingly was the anchor of the Yankees teams through the 80's and into the 90's.
Born and raised in Evansville, Indiana, Mattingly was a high school star. After getting drafted by the Yankees, Mattingly forgoed a scholarship to Indiana State to begin his baseball career. Mattingly got a cup of coffee with the Yankees in 1982, and became a part-time player in 1983. However, it would be Steve Balboni's trade to the Kansas City Royals before the 1984 season that would give Mattingly his big opportunity.
'84 was Mattingly's breakout season, as the first baseman hit .343 and won his first All-Star Game appearance. The subsequent season would see Mattingly win his first and only MVP as the Yankees won 97 games, yet missed out on the playoffs behind the 99 win Blue Jays. Mattingly also took home his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger that year, but that failure to qualify for the post-season would haunt the Yankees during the Mattingly era.
'86 saw Mattingly hit a career-high .352 as he finished 2nd in MVP voting and took home yet another Gold Glove/Silver Slugger combo, but the Yankees fell even deeper away from the playoff hunt. 1987 would see the last year of prime Mattingly, as he again took home a GG/SS combo with an All Star Game appearance.
The remaining years of the '80s into the early '90s saw an increasingly irrelevant Yankees side that tumbled down the standings of the American League East and posted losing records. Mattingly remained a sole bright spot of the era, as he became a fan favorite with his gritty play.
However, the end of Mattingly's career saw him help lead a rise of the Yankees. The '93 season saw the Yankees win 88 games after posting four consecutive seasons of losing records. 1994 saw Mattingly get his 2000th hit, becoming only the 6th Yankee to do so. But the '94 MLB Players strike robbed Mattingly of his best chance to win a World Series, as the Yankees had a 70-43 record, best in the American League at the time of play halting.
1995 would see Mattingly's first and only playoff appearance, as the Yankees became the first team to win the American League Wild Card. That Yankees team fell in five games to to the Mariners, but Mattingly made the most of his lone opportunity, hitting .417 with a home run in the series. That lone playoff berth would mark Mattingly's last games of his career, as he retired after the 1995 season. The Yankees would win their first World Series the next year in 18 seasons, launching the rise of the Yankees dynasty of the era.
Mattingly has gone on to have a long coaching career. He was a spring instructor through 2003, when he took the job as the Yankees hitting coach before moving on to the same position with the Dodgers in 2008. In 2011 Mattingly was given his first chance to manage when he took over the Dodgers, and has held that job ever since.
Mattingly was unlucky to fall between eras of greatness for the Yankees. But you cannot underrestimate his impact on a generation of Yankees fans, where he was the lone star of a struggling team. The Yankees have not forgotten Mattingly, as his #23 was retired on August 31, 1997. His plaque in Monument Park calls him, "A humble man of grace and dignity, a captain who led by example, proud of the pinstripe tradition and dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, a Yankee forever."
Mitchell & Ness pays tribute to "Donnie Baseball" and is proud to offer Mattingly authentics in our Cooperstown Collection:
1995 Home Jersey
1984 Batting Practice Jersey
1995 Batting Practice Jersey