Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Number of Days Until Spring Training: #23 (Mattingly)

There are 23 days remaining until catchers and pitchers report. The number 23 on the New York Yankees was last shouldered by a man that needs no introduction... Sir Donald Arthur Mattingly, a.k.a. The Hitman a.k.a. Donnie Baseball. From 1984-1987, he had the makings of a surefire Hall of Famer.

In 1984, at age 23, in his first full season in The Bigs, he finished 5th in the MVP voting after batting .343 with a 156 OPS+.

In '85 Donnie batted .324 (3rd in the league) with 35 home runs (4th), 48 doubles (1st), and 145 RBIs (1st), then the most RBIs in a season by a left-handed major leaguer since Ted Williams drove in 159 in 1949. Don's efforts were recognized with his first and only MVP award.

He had another spectacular season in 1986, losing the MVP Award vote to only pre-tractor-teeth-pulling/forehead ear Roger Clemens. In '87 he racked up 30 homers and 115 RBIs and finished 7th in the voting despite only playing 141 games. That year, Mattingly tied a major league record by hitting home runs in eight consecutive games, set a major league record by hitting six grand slams (somehow, the only 6 of his career) and got an extra base hit in 10 consecutive games.

Donnie's career was cut short by a series of ongoing back problems starting in 1987. He retired in 1995, a season before the longest World Series drought in Yankee history ended. Unfortunately for Yankees fans, his bad back is going to keep him out of Cooperstown. However, his outstanding career batting numbers, his amazing 1984-1987, and his 9 Gold Glove awards were recognized by the Yankees when they retired his #23 and placed a plaque in Monument Park to honor him on August 31, 1997. His plaque reads:
"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
On a personal note, I love Don Mattingly. He is my favorite Yankee of all time and the reason I started liking the Yankees in the first place. I saw him at training camp in 1991 and he gave me a baseball which he then signed a few hours later. I was seven years old then, 24 now, and that ball still adorns my dresser.

God Bless the Yankees, God Bless Don Mattingly, and God Bless these United States of America.

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