Don Mattingly is not Mickey Mantle or Lou Gehrig – but he sure as hell isn’t Harold Baines, a recent electee to the Baseball Hall of Fame – either.
At the moment, Don Mattingly is where he belongs, listed as one of ten players on the Modern Era Committee’s ballot. He’s what’s termed a “borderline candidate” for entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF)
No problem there. As they say, it is what it is.
Mattingly’s numbers are stellar, but they don’t bowl you over. He appears along with Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Marvin Miller, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Lou Whitaker as the candidates the Modern Baseball Era Committee will consider for Hall of Fame election for the Class of 2020.
Each is a player worthy of consideration, but this (at least for the moment) is to single out Don Mattingly to make the point there is an injustice that needs correction.
Don Mattingly: Making the HOF case
Baseball-Reference has a section on every player’s page titled “Hall of Fame Statistics.” What they do is take a player’s career stats comparing those numbers to players already in the HOF.
On the right are the stats for Don Mattingly. The top one labeled “Black Ink” is the most revealing. It shows how many times (23) in bold text Mattingly led the league in various categories.
For any player, your eyes can do all the work. For a comparison, take a glance at all the bold you see on Babe Ruth‘s page.
For the rest of the categories in the table, you can see that Mattingly has a respectable but not necessarily overwhelming showing.
Now, you can see on the right the same numbers for Harold Baines. A case can be made that Mattingly has a better showing than Baines, especially in the Black Ink test.
But that’s not what I’m aiming to drive home. The salient point is if Baines is in the HOF with his stats – then Mattingly – and perhaps some others on the above ballot – deserve the same treatment.
As far as I know, there isn’t an impeachment process for players already in the HOF. But again, that misses the mark, which is to give fair consideration to those who should be in, not to blemish those who are in the HOF.
Fairness is all that’s asked for
Following that thinking, in future years, the Modern Era Committee would do well to look more closely at these players:
Dwight Gooden‘s career .634 winning percentage is higher than Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Greg Maddux, Warren Spahn, and a host of other Hall of Famers. Compare his Hall of Fame Statistics here.
And before we levy the bad character sentence on Gooden, give a read to this article from the New York Times about scoundrels and crooks in the HOF.
Here, for instance, is a colorful excerpt from Casey Stengel about Paul Waner:
Casey Stengel (class of 1966) once called right fielder Paul Waner (class of 1952) a graceful player. Why?
“Because,” Stengel said, “he could slide into second base without breaking the bottle in his hip pocket.”
Then, there’s Orlando Cepeda, who served ten months in prison after being arrested in 1975 for smuggling marijuana in Puerto Rico.
Another category of players in need of more attention is “The Compilers.” These are players who accumulated numbers by sheer virtue of total years played in the majors.
Jim Kaat, for example, played for an astounding 25 seasons while winning 283 games. The only left-hander to exceed that total who is not in the HOF is Tommy John – one of ten on the Modern Era ballot this year.
Another compiler with impressive numbers is John Franco, who holds the record for most game pitched in the National League with 1,119 over his 21-year career. He is second all-time in saves with 424, the most ever by a lefty pitcher. Compare his Hall of Fame Statistics here.
Election to the HOF is not a science – but…
According to Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 19,183 players in MLB history. The Hall of Fame is comprised of 329 elected members, of which only 232 are players.
Translating into something more meaningful, only 1.2% of all the players to ever step on a major league field are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Most of us would agree the sanctity and integrity of the HOF must be protected. To have, for instance that number jump to (say) 5% would not be a good thing for the sport.
At the same time, however, what’s right is right. If, and just to name a few in addition to Harold Baines – Luis Aparicio, Jim Bunning, Phil Rizzuto, Bill Mazeroski, and Pee Wee Reese (look up their numbers) are in the HOF – then Don Mattingly also deserves the nod because he’s earned it as well.
Election to the HOF is not a science. Aside from a few “automatics” like 3,000 hits and 300 wins by a pitcher, the rest of the criteria is subjective and in the eyes of the beholder.
So be it. But at least let’s try to even things out a bit. Start with Don Mattingly, but by no means should justice end there…