Don Mattingly’s first game in a Yankee uniform took place in 1982, the season after the Yankees lost a World Series to the LA Dodgers. His career in pinstripes lasted until 1995. One year later the Yankees would finally make it back to the Fall Classic, with their victory over Atlanta. “Donnie Baseball” was the first person I thought about when New York third baseman Charlie Hayes squeezed the foul-popped final out of the 1996 World Series in his glove.
During his first six full seasons with New York, Mattingly averaged 203 hits per year, 27 home runs, 114 RBIs and hit .327. He also made the All Star team each of those seasons, won five Gold Gloves for his outstanding play at first base and was voted AL MVP in 1985. During that period, he was the best and most popular player in baseball and he along with Dave Winfield made the Yankees perennial contenders in the very tough AL East.
Even though they missed the playoffs every year, those Mattingly-Winfield-led Yankee teams played every inning of every game with a hustle and determination that made you proud to be a Yankee fan. In 1990, Mattingly injured his back and it never fully healed. The impact of the injury on his swing and his power was immediate, significant and permanent. Still he persevered, playing six more seasons. I remember feeling so bad for him when a strike ended the 1994 regular season and prevented the Yankees, who were in first place at the time, from playing in Mattingly’s first-ever postseason. Fortunately, New York did get there in ’95. Those of us who followed him closely throughout his career will never forget his outstanding performance during those five October games against the Mariners. He had ten hits in that series with a homer and six RBIs and he averaged .417. Even though New York lost, Mattingly’s farewell effort to Yankee fans was one of the most poignant moments in franchise history. Donnie Baseball turns fifty-two-years-old today. I still miss watching him play the game.
Mattingly shares his birthday with this long-ago New York outfielder.