“Because it’s the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Really Good.”
That was my dad’s sage advice to me, when I was a 13 year old in 1994, already preparing for life without Don Mattingly. At the time I thought he was a lock for the hall of fame. Of course he was getting in. He was my favorite player. Of course he was only my favorite player because he was my dad’s favorite player. And for the first time in my life, I began to question whether my dad really had my interests at heart. Did he want the best for me? Then why would that idiot trick me into rooting for somebody who isn’t elite? Why were we even Yankee fans? The Yankees had sucked all my life. And now that Donnie Baseball was on the decline, they would probably suck for the rest of my life. My classmates who had been Mets fans were making fun of me.
Yeah. Wrap your fucking mind around that.
Of course the Yankees didn’t suck. They trotted out Don’s corpse for one more year, and then once he was finally buried went on to win everything, every single year, and turn me into the self-entitled piece of garbage that was reviled throughout high school and college. Nobody mourned Mattingly. Too much winning going on. And now nobody knows how to feel about the Don Mattingly years. Were they good? Bad? Look at this guy hitting a walk off donger to an empty stadium.
The Yankees didn’t win anything during his stay. They didn’t make the playoffs until his final year. And even that playoff experience is murky. Don gave us all the Hollywood ending we hoped for, hoping in his time machine and mashing an OPS of 1.148, which given the state of his decomposing back, was about as unlikely as my cat hitting .300.
But then that asshole Ken Griffey Jr. slid home in game five, and the choking Yankees lost to the butthole Mariners, a team that would lose to the goddamn Indians, a team who would lose the World Series to the fucking Braves. The Braves. We couldn’t beat the team that lost to the team that lost to the Braves, baseball’s answer to the Bills. So nobody remembers the brilliant playoff career of Clutch McSwagger, God of Postseason Magic.
The truth is, I was too young to enjoy peak Mattingly. The eight game Home Run streak, and the six grand slam season of 1987 took place when I was six and decidedly more interested in watching Ghostbuster cartoons and convincing my two year old brother that our parents didn’t love him.
I didn’t even become aware of Mattingly until 1988. In actuality all I remember today is a good Simpsons episode, that sweet stroke, and the even sweeter Tom Selleck-caliber mustache, a look so nice, he apparently had to retire it to look like a confused, middle aged dad, who has a good relationship with his ex-wife.
And that’s what he was like for me. A dad. My own dad worked on the road and it wasn’t uncommon to go weeks at a time without seeing him, so Don Mattingly was my platonic ideal of a father figure. He was the guy I wanted to be despite being a shorter than average little leaguer, who “hit” right handed for a .000 batting average, and played left field with my glove over my face and my throwing hand covering my crotch.
Also, I can’t grow a mustache for shit.
Looking back, my real dad was probably right. The guy wasn’t a hall of famer. He only hit 222 Home Runs, and I’m sure his advanced stat guys will laugh at his numbers right in their stupid face. But the guy is a lock for the Hall of Really Good, and today, we immortalize his career for what it was. Good hitter, better defender, great mustache, and a solid makeshift dad.
And as such I hate the thought that some stuck up loser hall has decided that you don’t quite make the grade, because damn it, you were pretty amazing. And for you I create this new hall of recognition, where you will be forever semi-immortalized for your still excellent career.
Donnie, you were really good.