Saturday, February 23, 2013

Don Mattingly a.k.a. Donnie Baseball

Don Mattingly (nicknamed “Donnie Baseball” and “The Hit Man”) was a star left-handed first baseman for the New York Yankees from 1982-1995. Don’s Major League Baseball career as a player totaled more than 11 years. After his playing career, Don served as hitting coach for the Yankees from 2004 to 2006 and then as their bench coach in 2007. He then joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 as their hitting coach. In the fall of 2010, Don was promoted to manager of the Dodgers.

Don grew up in Evansville, Indiana, and was one of the nation’s top prospects as a high school player at Reitz Memorial High School in 1979. Major League Baseball teams were sure he was going to college and didn’t draft him. The Yankees took a chance and were able to sign Mattingly after selecting him in the 19th round of the 1979 amateur draft.

The sweet-swinging lefty immediately proved it was a wise decision by terrorizing opposing pitchers. Don batted .349 in 1979, .358 in 1980, .316 in 1981 and made it to the majors late in the 1982 season after batting .315 for Triple-A Columbus.

Mattingly spent his official rookie season of 1983 as a part-time first baseman and outfielder, waiting for a full-time spot to open up in the lineup. That opportunity came in 1984 when he became the Yankees’ full-time first baseman, switched his uniform number to 23 and was an MVP candidate. Don hit .343 and beat out teammate Dave Winfield for the American League batting title by getting 4 hits in 5 at-bats on the last day of the season. Don slugged a league-leading 44 doubles to go with 23 home runs and 110 RBIs.

He followed that up with a spectacular 1985 season, winning the MVP award in the American League. Don batted .324 with 35 home runs, 48 doubles and 145 RBIs—then the most RBIs in a season by a batter since Ted Williams hit 159 in 1949. Don may have been even better in 1986. He led the AL with 238 hits and in doubles (for the third straight year) with 53. He also batted .352, hit 31 home runs and drove in 113 runs. However, he was beat out in the American League MVP voting by pitcher Roger Clemens, who also won the Cy Young Award that year.

In 1987, Mattingly tied a major league record by hitting home runs in 8 consecutive games and set an AL record by getting an extra base hit in 10 consecutive games. Also in 1987, he set a major league record by hitting 6 grand slam home runs in a season. One of the most amazing statistics about Mattingly was how rarely he struck out, with his seasonal strikeouts barely exceeding his homeruns from 1984-1987 (33, 41, 35 and 38).

Mattingly remained among the game’s best first basemen throughout the 1980s, winning the Gold Glove Award for his fielding and a spot on the American League All-Star team each year in the mid- to late-1980s.

The Yankees retired Don’s number 23 and dedicated his plaque at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park on August 31, 1997. The plaque calls him “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 forever.” 

After the 2003 season, Mattingly was hired by the Yankees to be their batting coach, a post he held until being promoted to bench coach in 2007. In 2008, Don left the Yankees and joined Manager Joe Torre on the Los Angeles Dodgers to serve as the team’s hitting coach.

Don remained the Dodger’s hitting coach until the 2010 off-season. It was then announced he would replace the retiring Torre as the next manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Don has led the Dodgers ever since.

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