"When I retired [after the 1995 season], I was 34," Mattingly told ESPN. "If I had kept playing another five years, I may have ended up with 3,000 hits and reached some other milestones and gotten in. I made the decision for my boys, because I wanted to be around.
"When you do that type of thing, you know what you're doing, you know you're not going to make the Hall of Fame. If I was worried about making the Hall of Fame, I wouldn't have retired."
Let's unpack the first graf, looking at Mattingly's history of injuries, etc.
Let's start on that with the same story:
Many believed that Mattingly was on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, but he was slowed by back injuries over the next six years. Mattingly won the AL MVP Award in 1985, batting .324 with 35 homers and 145 RBIs, and he also finished in the top five in the MVP Award voting in '84 and '86.The piece then asks, rhetorically, what's the diff between him and Kirby Puckett? And, that's actually a good rhetorical because Puckett is at No. 4 in the list of similarity scores on Baseball-Reference, while Mattingly is No. 1 on his list of similarity score players.
Mattingly edged teammate Dave Winfield in a memorable race for the the AL batting title in 1984 by hitting .343. But from 1990-95, Mattingly averaged fewer than 10 home runs and 64 RBIs per season, topping the .300 mark just once, in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
First, though, let's just look at Mattingly alone.
His main claim? No way he reaches 3,000 hits in just five more seasons. If we average his last three, and get roughly 130 hits per season, looking ahead, that's seven years, not five.
Next, take his OPS. Let's say the .754 of his last season is what remains in play, if that, over the course of those seven years. Or just look at the second graf from the pull quote. Nobody's going to give a big contract to a 36-year-old first baseman with 10 HRs, 65 RBIs, and a .750 OPS. What if it declined further?
You get the picture. Mattingly wouldn't have stuck seven years for 3,000 hits. He probably wouldn't have stuck five. Maybe not three, in which case, he doesn't even hit 2,500 hits.
As for his fielding? He was, even in later years, a decent first baseman. But, nothing more. His career total on fielding runs is just a +33.
As for the Puckett issue? Kirby had 8 more career WAA and 12 more career WAR. Black and gray ink over more years. (Mattingly had a short, as well as early, peak, back injuries aside.) And, Puckett had a higher added win value.
Might Mattingly have made it to the Hall, bad back and all, with more playing time? He might, but it's nowhere near guaranteed.