Don Mattingly spent parts of 14 seasons as an everyday first baseman for the New York Yankees, tallying an astounding nine Gold Glove awards at the position along with 1985 AL MVP honours and a jersey retirement from baseball's most historied franchise.
His identity as a slick-handed fielder and a high-contact hitter well describes his stat page, but doesn't merit enough honour from Cooperstown to receive an induction. Mattingly's career falls into the category of a player who thrived in his 20s but dropped off in production with the coming of their 30s. His career as a head coach spanned over a decade, winning NL Manager of the Year in 2020 with the Miami Marlins and currently as the bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. Mattingly's presence in the young Blue Jays' clubhouse has not gone unnoticed, and his Hall of Fame case deserves a deeper look.
A quick glance at Donnie Baseball's stat page shows a clear star who led all of baseball in prominent hitting stats year after year. He finished top-10 in AL MVP voting every year from 1984 to 1987, slashing .337/.381/.941 and averaging 30 homers while driving in 121 over this stretch.
Mattingly was awarded three Silver Slugger awards at first base during this four-year span to go along with nine caeGold Gloves and a batting title, cementing a career of accolades that would surely land a player in Hall of Fame contention on its own. Not to mention, he was only 27 years of age at the end of this stretch, establishing him among the best early careers baseball has ever seen. However, Mattingly spent 15 years on the HOF ballot from 2001 to 2015, never garnering more than 28% of the 75% needed to be elected to the Hall.
It was nothing more than wishful thinking that Mattingly might find another way into the Hall through the Veterans Committee, a group of voters who focus on players or coaches who may have been wrongfully overlooked in previous HOF consideration processes. He has appeared three times on their ballots, in 2018, 2020, and 2022 but never received enough votes to be inducted. The story of Mattingly's Hall of Fame case is plentiful but bears eerie similarities to one of the newest Hall of Famers, Joe Mauer.
Joe Mauer was elected into the Hall of Fame in January of 2024, receiving just over 76% of BBWAA votes in his first year on the ballot. By all means, Mauer was essentially a slam dunk Hall of Famer and one of the greatest Minnesota Twins players in MLB history.
A quick look at stat comparisons between Mattingly and Mauer sees the Twins legend edging out Donnie Baseball in career WAR, on-base percentage, and games played. However, Mattingly tallied 79 more homers, 176 more career RBI, 30 more hits, and a greater OPS+ among other statistics. One of the most shockingly impressive stats of Mattingly's career is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. He notched just 444 career strikeouts at the plate while walking 588 times, resulting in approximately 1.3 walks for every strikeout he faced. Mauer on the other hand, struck out more than he walked, tallying 939 walks to 1034 strikeouts.
Mauer's ratio is still incredible considering the era of 'three true outcomes' baseball that a large part of his career took place in, but Mattingly's lack of swing-and-miss cements him among the greatest hitters of his time. Mattingly's career numbers trump Mauer's over their primes, but one of these mentioned stats likely carried Mauer and put down Mattingly: WAR.
Mauer finished his HOF career with 55.2 bWAR, good for seventh all-time among catchers behind six fellow Hall of Famers headlined by the likes of Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and Carlton Fisk. Mattingly, however, tallied just 42.4 bWAR, as his career tapered off before Mauer's, ranking him below the likes of current-day star first basemen like Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman. The key difference between the two players is their post-age 30 WAR. In Mauer's age 30-35 seasons, he was worth 16.1 WAR as a primary first baseman. Mattingly, however, tallied just 9.3 WAR. So clearly, Mauer has Mattingly beat in the highly accredited WAR stat, but should that count him out of Hall of Fame voting?
JAWS is a stat developed to measure a player's "Hall of Fame worthiness", according to Baseball-Reference, and Mattingly ranks top-40 all-time among first basemen. It's also worth noting that on this list, Mattingly surpasses several Hall of Famers including Gil Hodges.
Mauer appears on the catchers' all-time JAWS leaderboard in seventh place, but also played 913 of his 1858 career games at first base or DH, allowing for less wear and tear from defensive capabilities as a catcher to potentially weigh his hitting numbers down. Overall, Mauer's Hall of Fame case is probably better than Mattingly's, but there are so many factors that deserve to be considered about Donnie Baseball's career that ought to land him in the Hall of Fame one of these years.