When Mattingly made his Major League debut in 1982 I was still new to the game and didn't know much about it. However, even with my limited knowledge, I could tell that this was a special player. It wasn't long before I declared him to be my favorite player, and he truly was. Before that, I chose my favorite player on the basis of whether or not he was cute (I was under 21 so, cut me some slack, okay?). Mattingly made me see things differently. He was that good.
It wasn't long before I started using him as a standard. I would say that athletes of other sports were the Don Mattingly of those sports. I recall saying it about Michael Jordan while watching basketball highlights one day. My cousin, who was watching with me, gave me an odd look before turning back to the television. I felt silly but now, years later, I smile when I think about it.
I also smile when I think about a trip I took to Boston in 1985 to see the Yankees play the Red Sox at Fenway. I was staying in the same hotel as the Yankees and, when my friend and I were seated less than five feet away from Mattingly in one of the hotel's restaurants, we nearly fainted on the spot. He was having dinner with his then-wife Kim and they had their baby son (probably their first-born) with them. We tried to compose ourselves while sneaking glances at Mattingly and his young family. At one point, a man from another table walked over to them and began speaking to them, apparently offering to buy them drinks or something. Mattingly shook his head no. My friend, suddenly finding some courage, yelled over to the guy: "Leave him alone!" The words startled the guy and he hurried away.
Mattingly hit .324 that year, with 35 home runs and a league-leading 145 RBIs, good enough for the AL MVP award. I don't remember his production that year as much as I remember the time in that hotel restaurant in Boston. In any case, it was a great year and a great career, one of the best in the history of the New York Yankees.
Thanks for the memories, Donnie Baseball.