|THERE ARE ROOKIE CARDS AND THEN |
THERE'S THIS ROOKIE CARD.
With the Hall of Fame debate percolating at a fevered pitch, it dawned on me how much Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy have in common.
Besides sharing the same initials, both were the face of their franchise in the '80s, had back-to-back remarkable seasons, voted best player of their league, known as much for character as talent, and got only a sniff of the postseason.
They also likely won't make it to the Hall of Fame. Who would've predicted that in the mid-'80s?
While the gates of Cooperstown probably are closed, few played at a higher level while representing the sport with integrity during an era when white powdery lines extended beyond the field. I still get excited seeing their cards from their playing days. Despite not playing on any pennant or World Series championship teams, Murphy & Mattingly were on TV a lot. Along with Ryne Sandberg, they were the early reality stars of cable.
First called to the majors in '76, Murphy won the NL MVP in '82 and '83. Mattingly, initially called up in '82, won an AL batting title in '84 and his MVP in '85. They owned those four years, and during the decade, you eagerly looked forward to seeing them on fresh cardboard each spring. I still remember getting Mattingly's '84 Topps rookie card. I lovingly placed it in a screw-down holder and then stared at it like it was the Hope Diamond.
Murphy, especially, was idolized for his charity work and compassion. He met a little girl before a game against the Giants in '83. She lost her hands and a leg after stepping on a downed power line, and her nurse asked Murph to hit a homer for the girl. Murphy being Murphy, he hit two and drove in all three runs in a 3-2 victory.
Mattingly, more introverted and fiery, had the flair for the dramatic as well, and that was on display in '87 when he homered in eight consecutive games, tying a major-league record. Then there was '85 and the most popular summer re-run ever. The plot: Rickey gets on base and Donnie Baseball drives Rickey home again and again and again.
Don & Dale drove their teams to the postseason only once, the result of poor supporting casts and bad timing. Murphy's Braves made the playoffs as NL West champs in '82 and were swept by the Whitey's Cardinals. Mattingly's Yankees made it as a wildcard in '95 but were eliminated by the Junior's Mariners in five games. Mattingly retired after the season. Of course, the next year, New York won the first of four World Series titles in six years. Some kid named Jeter became the new face of the franchise.
Murphy was traded to the Phillies in '90. Of course, the Braves began their NL dynasty the following year, winning 14 consecutive division titles and their only World Series in '95, when some kid named Chipper became the new face of the franchise.
The Braves and Yankees would meet twice in the World Series in '96 and '99 and between them win five World Series titles and eight pennants from '91-'01. A Braves-Yankees World Series in the mid-'80s would've been more interesting and probably a ratings bonanza. Murph vs. Donnie Baseball. I would've loved to hear Vin call it.
Funny things, fate and destiny. I used to think they were just the names of the preacher's daughters.
How do you measure the value of a player? Championships? Home runs? WAR? OPS+? Mattingly & Murphy were about more than numbers. To me, they were about eye black. A dirty uniform. A single batting glove. Flip-up sunglasses. Stirrups. Hustling.
Playing the game the right way.
The fact they've fallen short of achieving a bronze plaque makes them seem more real, more human. And that's something most of us can relate to.