When I began doing the “classic card” write-ups for my blog many years ago, I, quite obviously, was using “classic” in the sarcastic sense. The point was to highlight the silliness and oftentimes bizarre nature of the cards that occupied shoeboxes as opposed to binders, and featured the more obscure players of the 80s and early 90s. This, for what it's worth, has been revealed as my life’s calling.
The reason I own of all these crappy cards is because once upon a time, like many still valiantly do, I took my baseball card-collecting very, very seriously, and the acquisition of these cards was a mere byproduct of my search for greater ones, of which I valued with my heart and soul. I remember in those dark, mysterious hours when I would imagine worst-case scenarios, the loss of my card-collection was prominently involved. Our house is on fire? Grab my cards! Who cares about my sister?! She has legs!
My quest, however, was not to have the best, most diverse, or even most expensive collection. No. My quest was only: Don Mattingly cards.
I differ from exactly no Yankee fan of my generation in my undying love for Mattingly, which continues unabashedly to this day, although with a sprinkle of realism and perspective that was absent from my youth. My favorite player from my favorite team, who encompassed every quality we value as baseball fans and as young men, I couldn’t have been prouder or more certain that Don Mattingly was the best player in the game.
Thusly, I wanted all of his baseball cards. Mostly I wanted the obscure ones—’88 Topps All-Star? Bit#%, please; I have 39 of those—which I often found at card shows. I remember my dad’s friend warning me in those years not to put all of my eggs in one basket, as if Mattingly wasn’t so obviously on an uninterrupted collision course with G.O.A.T. status. My friends, as friends do, were happy to take advantage of my soft spot for Donnie Baseball during trades. None of this bothered me because, remember—my quest was only Don Mattingly cards. Diversifying my portfolio was of no concern, and cost, relatively speaking for a boy who made $7-10 per lawn, was not an issue, and so what if Mattingly, through some unforeseen accident or ailment that had nothing to do with his work ethic or God-given talent, did not achieve a Ruthian level of greatness. My love was unconditional, and all of this was irrelevant.
With that in mind, may I proudly introduce you to the first installment of “Mattingly Month”—my humble quest to present to you several pieces of my priceless collection. Now, with regards to my penchant for a light-hearted and faux-cynical take on baseball cards and the players featured on them, I must tread carefully here, lest I offend my greatest baseball hero, who totally, I firmly believe, reads this blog.
I start at the most logical place: our nation’s most popular chocolate-production company.
Don Mattingly, 1988 Nestle Foods Corporation
The “we cannot show the actual team logo due to copyright standards” will never, ever, ever fail to amuse the heck out of me. (It’s especially awesome during commercials.) I mean, really? Nestle and Major League Baseball can’t sit down at a table and iron something out that doesn’t witness Don Mattingly playing for “the blue team?” It says right there he plays for the Yankees. Everybody knows he plays for the Yankees. You wouldn’t be printing this card if he didn’t achieve some level of notoriety with some organization—why are you pretending that organization doesn’t exist? THE YANKEES ARE NOT GENERIC AND YOU MADE MATTINGLY LOOK LIKE A FREAKIN’ UMPIRE!!! I am not upset, really. Deep breath … I am fine.
Also, look at how handsome he is! He is so handsome.
Regarded by many as the finest player in the game,
“Many” implies that several people do not acknowledge this indisputable fact. Who are these people? I would like to speak with them. Do they work at Nestle? Figures. Why don’t you stick to knowing about chocolate, you worthless sons of bit—I’m good, I’m cool.
Don continues annually to add to laurels
I remember when I was a kid, and I would watch Mattingly do something great, seemingly daily, and I would think to myself, “There goes Don, adding to his laurels again. How many laurels does he have now? A million?” In actuality, he had infinite laurels. “Infinite Laurels,” by the way, will be the name of my Don Mattingly-themed alternative rock band that I will be starting soon. The drummer from Band of Horses is in, as are like, eight dudes from Arcade Fire. I only need a lead singer who looks exactly like Don Mattingly and who is the greatest singer ever. Know him? Are him? Call me.
that will put him on a Cooperstown pedestal.
As improbable as it seems that the Nestle Chocolate-Production Company was inaccurate in forecasting future greatness for a baseball player, it is unlikely that Mattingly will gain entrance into the Hall of Fame. As much of a Mattingly fan as I am—and I am the greatest one, I humbly submit—I am first and foremost a rational baseball fan, and I don’t believe that Mattingly, unfortunately, achieved the longevity, by the Hall’s subjective and ever-changing standards, needed to get on that pedestal (I thought it was a bust?).
That said, I take great comfort in that Mattingly’s stretch of 1984-through-1987, considering his era and the very poor Yankee teams for which he played and the fact that he remained an excellent defensive first baseman, can, I believe, stand up with the best four-year stretch of any offensive player ever. And, if we judge him by fame—that elusive of criteria for which the hall in question is defined—his status as the hero of virtually every modern-day major leaguer can attest that he had it in laurels.
Don Mattingly transcends the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame should want inclusion into Don Mattingly. Not into his butt—DON’T MAKE A JOKE!—I mean theoretically or something.
Until next week …