Yankees: Just How Good Was Don Mattingly?

Over the course of the Yankees history, they have had a countless number of great players, but none are as underrated as Don Mattingly.

It is a shame that Don Mattingly is not in the Hall of Fame right now. In his prime, he was one of the best players in MLB history. During a four year stretch, Mattingly was the best player in baseball and he backed it up year after year. Just like a lot of great players, an injury handicapped him for the rest of his career. This brings up the question, what if he didn’t have that back injury?

The Yankees drafted Donnie in the 19th round of the 1979 MLB draft. He made his MLB debut in 1982 and would see consistent playing time in 1983. He was a good player in 1983, but I don’t think anyone expected the run he was about to go on. In 1984, Donnie exploded onto the scene. In his first true full season, Donnie won the AL batting title beating out his teammate, future Hall of Famer, Dave Winfield. In that season, he slashed .343/.381/.537 and hit 23 home runs and drove in 110 runs.

He also led the league in hits (207) and doubles (44) that year. Mattingly followed that season up with an even better one. In 1985, he slashed .324/.371/.567 and hit 35 home runs and drove in, a league-leading, 145 runs. It was clear that he found his power stroke that year. He also, for the second year in a row, led baseball in doubles with 48. That season was enough to win Donnie his first and only MVP award. Mattingly was far from done as he would go on to statically have the best season of his career in 1986. In that year he played all 162 games and slashed .352/.394/.573 and hit 31 home runs and drove in 113 runs. He led all of baseball that year in hits with 238 and for the third year in a row, he led all of baseball in doubles with 53. Donnie repeated his greatness with a very similar season in 1987. In that year he slashed .327/.378/.559 and hit 30 home runs and drove in 115 runs. But during that year, he injured two disks in his back and that injury would stay with him for the rest of his career.

The injury wiped away much of Mattingly’s power as he would fail to ever hit more than 25 homers again. His slugging would never reach above .477 and the average dropped from mid 300’s to low 300’s upper 200’s. Don Mattingly was one of the best players in MLB history during that four-year stretch and it makes you question. How good would he have been if he never got hurt?

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