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Book Review – Donnie Baseball

The New York Yankees finished the 2010s with more regular-season wins than any other team in Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, all of those victories failed to translate into a World Series title. The Yankees of the 2010s were very good and undeniably consistent. They simply failed to take that final step and earn a parade through Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes.

Interestingly, this same scenario has played itself out before. In the 1980s, the Bronx Bombers won 854 regular-season games, the most by any team during the decade. The Yanks would post a winning record eight times during the ’80s, but they never won a championship. In fact, after losing the Fall Classic to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, they would go the rest of the decade without a playoff appearance.

While the failures of the 1980s were undoubtedly disappointing, there was a clear, bright light amidst the darkness. His name was Don Mattingly. After breaking into the big leagues during the ’82 season, Mattingly would go on to cement himself as a Yankee legend. Mattingly turned heads at the plate and in the field, winning the AL batting crown in 1984 and the AL MVP award in 1985. The quiet kid from Evansville, Indiana would amass quite the rĂ©sumĂ© during his magical fourteen years in New York. In Donnie Baseball, Mike Shalin provides us with a closer look at the life and career of a genuine Yankee hero.

Giving Don His Due

Donnie Baseball is a celebration of Mattingly’s accomplishments. In his introduction, Shalin discloses that his purpose is not to stir up controversy but to promote the admiration of Mattingly as both a player and person. The book contains praise from a whole host of former coaches and teammates who know and love Don. Glowing quotes from Joe Torre, Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs, Derek Jeter, and many others litter the pages of Donnie Baseball. Their love for the former Yankee captain is clearly evident.

Mattingly is described throughout the book as hardworking and humble. His former teammates make frequent reference to Donnie’s dedication and the amount of time that he committed to perfecting his craft. Never the biggest or strongest man on the Yankees, Mattingly made up for his physical shortcomings through endless practice. Shalin suggests that Donnie’s gritty mentality kept him grounded. He was a superstar, but he had the attitude of a player fighting for his place in the major leagues.

Mattingly’s unrivaled commitment and unmatched drive help explain his status as a fan favorite in New York. A passionate player and determined competitor, Donnie was made for the bright lights of the Bronx. His approach to the game helped him become one of the most beloved Yankees of all time. Shalin notes that Mattingly may be the only player in Yankee history who the fans never booed. In fact, his introduction prior to the 1995 ALDS is often cited as the loudest moment in Yankee Stadium history.

The Case for Cooperstown

Throughout Donnie Baseball, Shalin presents the case for Mattingly’s inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He frequently discusses the impressive success that Donnie had against Hall of Fame pitchers during the course of his career. Shalin also compares Mattingly to players such as Kirby Puckett, who reached the Hall of Fame with numbers that were similar to Donnie’s.

Mattingly’s final year on the conventional Hall of Fame ballot was 2015. However, he has appeared as a finalist on the Modern Baseball Era ballot since 2017. It seems unlikely though that Mattingly will ever gain the votes necessary for induction into the Hall. Nevertheless, Shalin’s arguments are rather interesting, and I enjoyed thinking about Mattingly’s Cooperstown case. These portions of the book should be particularly fun reading for anybody who feels Mattingly has been slighted by the Hall of Fame voters.

A Minor Error

A small issue I have with Donnie Baseball is that Shalin didn’t include more baseball action in his book. One of the things that I really appreciated about books like 56, Gator, and Last Ride of the Iron Horse was that they all included interesting recaps of important Yankee games. I would have enjoyed Donnie Baseball more if Shalin had done something similar.

That being said, Donnie Baseball does provide an excellent recap of the 1995 ALDS. Shalin gives special attention to each of the five games at various points in his narrative. These were some of my favorite parts of the book, and Shalin shines when he’s explaining the games’ biggest moments.

The Verdict

All things considered, I would gladly recommend that you read Donnie Baseball. Shalin’s book is certainly the most comprehensive Mattingly biography on the market today. For anybody interested in learning more about Donnie’s approach to baseball and life, this book cannot be beat. This will be a particularly nostalgic read for Yankee fans that watched Mattingly play in the ’80s and early ’90s. For those who didn’t watch Donnie play, Shalin’s book will help describe an important era in Yankees’ history. Donnie Baseball isn’t entirely flawless. It is, however, a very enjoyable read.

Up Next

On Feb. 21 I’ll be posting a review of Bill Pennington’s book, From Chumps to Champs: How the Worst Teams in Yankees History Led to the ’90s Dynasty.