Talking with Donnie Baseball

And now, as promised, details from my Q & A with Don Mattingly…

I didn’t know how many questions I would have the opportunity to ask, so I came up with a list of ten – none too deep, none too complicated; just things that I, as a fan, wanted to know. Surprisingly, I had enough time to make it through eight of them. 

It’s difficult to narrow down topics to discuss when faced with interviewing a celebrity of that caliber. You naturally want to ask everything that comes to mind, not knowing when you might have such a chance again. Luckily, I think I remained fairly calm and collected, not wanting to come across like an over-eager, star-struck fan (which I was, I absolutely was).

We started by discussing his decision to return to the Yankees as a full-time hitting coach at the start of the 2004 season, after several years spent as a spring training instructor, with Mattingly crediting “good timing” and the support of his wife and children in convincing him to come back after all these years. As far as staying on in this capacity for the foreseeable future, he hedged, “Well, I’m sure you understand it’s not always up to me (read: George Steinbrenner)… there may be opportunities to move up in the future, you know, maybe as a manager somewhere.” This was the first I had heard of Mattingly’s desire to pursue such an avenue, even potentially. Interesting. Very interesting.

I asked whether he found coaching as fulfilling as playing and whether the team winning a World Series would mean as much as if he had won during his playing career. He seemed to think not, replying with an ever-so-slight hint of melancholy, “There’s nothing that compares with playing.” And the ring? “It would be great… but I don’t know if it would be the same.”

I then tentatively asked The Question: What about induction into the Hall of Fame? Is it something he dwells on? Would it make his career complete? He carefully considered his response. “No, I mean, it was never ‘the goal.’ You know, you start as a kid with a dream to make it to the big leagues… you want to improve each year and play good enough, long enough. At this point, that part of my career is over with… I have no control over it now. It would be great, but it wouldn’t change anything for me, about the way I feel about myself or about my career… it’s out of my hands.”  

Greatest moment? “Just walking into Yankee Stadium for the first time,” he mused, seeming to relive the moment as he spoke. “Walking onto the field for the first time, realizing that I reached my dream – it’s an awesome feeling.” What about the absolutely deafening, stadium-shaking ovation that he repeatedly receives every year at the Old-timers’ Game - the loudest, by far, as he stands among some of the greatest living legends to have ever graced the field? “I’m always amazed. I don’t know what I did to deserve that… that kind of recognition.” 

And finally, the classic cliché question: “What would you like your legacy as a player to be?” Even then, I received an answer so refreshingly simple and classy that I was glad I asked it.

“I really don’t think about it. I always wanted to ‘be’ myself. People talk about role models, about being a good role model… I just wanted to be myself, and hopefully people saw me as a good person. I want to be seen as the same person that you’re talking to right now as I was 10 years ago, and the same person 20 years from now… just me – and hopefully, someone people like.

How could they not?


{Published: September 28th, 2005}

Jamie Lynn RyanComment