Growing up in South Florida without a local baseball team to worship, I adopted the Chicago Cubs.
As a child of the mid-80s, before the advent of Florida and later Miami Marlins baseball, I could choose from TBS (Atlanta Braves) WOR (New York Mets), or WGN (Cubs). National League teams, all. Nonetheless, I found room in my heart to hate the New York Yankees despite their placement in the American League. Something about their entitled fan-base and the way in which their natural geography allows them to be able to afford top-level talent every year.
Don Mattingly was always an exception to the rule for me. (And maybe a little for Steve Balboni). To 12-year-old me, Mattingly looked like a modern-day Knight of the Round Table. Tall, good looking, completely at ease in the batters box, and good god, that mustache!
Over his 14-season major league career, Mattingly racked up 222 homers and 1,099 RBI, while hitting .307/.358/.471. More impressively, he struck out much less than he ended up taking a free pass. In 1986, he struck out 35 times in an A.L. leading 742 plate appearances. In total, he walked 588 times and whiffed 444 times. From 1984 through 1989, he made the A.L. All Star team six straight times. A nine-time Gold Glover at first base, a three-time Silver Slugger, and the 1985 A.L. MVP, Donnie Baseball looked to be a lock for Cooperstown.
Unfortunately, that never came to pass. Mattingly never got more than 28.2 percent of the vote to get into the Hall of Fame, and fell off the ballot after getting just 9.1 percent in his final season of eligibility in 2015.
Following his playing career, Mattingly joined the Yankees coaching staff, and later went on to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over six seasons there, he racked up a 446-363 record for a .551 winning percentage. Joining the Miami Marlins for the 2016 campaign, he’s turned in descending winning percentages in each season, culminating in his current .346 mark.
But that doesn’t all fall on Donnie Baseball. The death of Jose Fernandez followed by a contentious team sale from under Jeffery Loria and another Miami Marlins fire sale ensured Mattingly’s road wouldn’t be smooth.
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Regardless of that, the Sherman group recently awarded Mattingly with a two-year extension to continue to manage the Miami Marlins. There are those for it, and those who are against it, but it’s indisputable that with a little better talent pool, the winning results should follow. Mattingly’s extension, and to some degree, the Miguel Rojas signing, assures continuity on the club. Building a powerhouse takes time, and the Miami Marlins improved talent pool in their minor league feeder system forecasts better days ahead.
And let’s face it – things like this won’t change overnight, but the influx of young talent should make the 2020 season a little more interesting than this past season. At the very least, a 70-win campaign isn’t out of the question.
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