The New York Yankees selected Don Mattingly in the amateur draft in 1979 out of Evansville, Indiana. Mattingly would spend the next three seasons in the Yankees minor league system before debuting with the ‘big club’ in 1982. Mattingly would eventually emerge as the teams starting first baseman after a productive rookie season in 1983, and after he caught the eye of his manager, Yankees legend, Yogi Berra.
Don Mattingly’s Impact on the New York Yankees
The once proud dynasties of the 1990’s and 2000’s have become nothing more than distant memories, except for those fans who are old enough to remember the likes of Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Yankees Captain (before Derek Jeter) Don Mattingly. Even before the era of championships, New York always seemed to have an icon or two on the team, plus some self-proclaimed superstars.
Henderson, who the Yankees acquired from the Oakland Athletics, was the best lead-off hitter of all-time in Major League Baseball, and to this day, that opinion hasn’t changed. The ‘Kid’ from Oakland would become the all-time leader in stolen bases (1,406), lead-off home runs (81), as well as recording over 3,000 hits. Henderson would go on to rewrite the record books from runs scored to what it meant to bat lead-off.
Don “The Hit Man” Mattingly, defined what it meant to wear the Pinstripes. To Mattingly, it was a lot more than an honor and a privilege, but a legacy that everyone wearing a Yankees uniform must represent to the absolute best of their ability. For his loyalty and dedication to his teammates, as well as the Yankees organization, former owner George Steinbrenner (7/4/1930 to 7/13/2010) named Donald Arthur Mattingly the tenth Yankees Captain in 1991, the fourth captain since the tragic death of Thurman Munson, who tragically passed away in a plane crash in 1979. Jeter would go on to become the next Yankees captain in 2003.
Even when the Yankees began their run at greatness, which started in 1994 and carried over into 1995, they had two iconic players in Mattingly and former Boston Red Sox great, Wade Boggs. Both players best years were behind them, but their presence, the way they approached the game, as well as their work ethic that they displayed day-in and day-out, certainly didn’t go unnoticed. Not to players like Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and a very young shortstop named Jeter who got to witness it first hand what it meant to be a professional, both on and off the field. Something they’d carry with them through the rest of their Hall of Fame careers.
The 1995 season would be the only year that Mattingly would make the postseason, but man did the Captain deliver. During the 95′ season, Mattingly would bat .288 with seven home runs and 49 runs batted in with 458 at-bats. But as the back and wrist injuries would begin to take their toll on the Yankee great during the late 80’s and early 90’s, Mattingly would often show flashes of what he could once do before his body would betray him once again. About a month and a half before the postseason in 1995, Mattingly found what he called “a little hitch in his swing.” Something that would come in handy for the first ever Wild Card Series against the Seattle Mariners in a best-of-five.
In Mattingly’s first playoff experience, he wouldn’t disappoint. Even though the Yankees would lose the series in dramatic fashion in game five, it was the ailing Mattingly who led New York in hitting with a .417 batting average, as well as him and Paul O’Neill leading the Yankees with six RBIs. Mattingly even had a solo home run in game two.
Don Mattingly’s Accomplishments
‘Donnie Baseball’ would win the 1984 AL Batting Title by hitting .343, and just edging out his fellow teammate, Dave Windfield who hit .340. Donnie Baseball also led the American League with 207 hits, as well as 44 doubles.
Mattingly’s dominance would continue into 1985, where he slashed .324/.371/.567, with 35 home runs and a league-leading 145 RBIs. Not only did the Captain lead the league in homers in 85′, but he also led the American League in doubles with 48. Not only did we see Mattingly’s numbers improve considerably, but we also saw the Yankees first baseman add to his hardware collection by winning the AL MVP Award.
If you thought Mattingly’s AL MVP year in 1985 was special, then 1986 was out of this world. Not only did No. 23 hit for a career-high .352, he also set career-highs in hits (238) and doubles (53), both of which were Yankees All-Time records. For good measure, Mattingly hit 31 home runs while driving in 113 runs. But was ultimately beat out by Boston Red Sox pitcher, Roger Clemens, who went 24-4, with a 2.48 ERA. In 254 innings, Clemens only gave up 179 hits while striking out 238 batters.
Mattingly would go on to retire following the 1995 season, and the New York Yankees promptly retired his No.23 as well as dedicated a plaque of him behind centerfield. Donnie Baseball, as New York fans have come to know him, finished his career in Pinstripes as six-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove Award Winner and a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.