New York baseball boasted two perennial Gold Glove-winning first basemen for much of the 1980s. Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez combined to account for 20 of those awards during their careers, including both of them winning in the same year four consecutive times from 1985-88.
Mattingly, the former Yankees All-Star now in his seventh season as manager of the Marlins, said Thursday that he patterned his game defensively after Hernandez, who will get his No. 17 retired by the Mets on Saturday at Citi Field.
“Keith, he played in St. Louis, too, which was close to home [in Indiana], so I knew all about Keith early on,” Mattingly said before Thursday’s game. “Just being here [in New York], I was always trying to catch his first-base play.
“When you get to the big leagues, I wanted to be a good defensive player, and Keith was like the standard of how you play first. Definitely a guy that I paid attention to, and really tried to see how he handled certain situations. … He’s a guy that I respect a lot.”
Mattingly won nine American League Gold Glove awards during his 14 seasons with the Yankees from 1982-95, while Hernandez was named the winner in the National League 11 consecutive times — the most at the position — from 1978-88.
“The bunt play from the other side of the field and getting the guy at third, I don’t know how he did it,” Mattingly said when asked specifically about Hernandez’s defensive prowess. “That’s a tough play. I think the National League helped, he knew who was bunting. But he covered that whole side and came across the mound and got guys at third all the time. It was pretty amazing.”
Mattingly said the two All-Star first basemen have been “connected ever since,” and they built a relationship from hanging out at various offseason functions. Once in the mid-80s, Mattingly recalled, they sat next to Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio at a Baseball Writers Association of America awards dinner.
“That was fun,” Mattingly said. “That night we were talking to Joe, Keith is from San Francisco and Joe is from San Francisco. So Keith is trying to bring up things, and I’m just kind of listening. Keith is trying to get him talking. Keith can talk, right? And Joe is just like [not answering].
“Finally Keith goes, ‘What did you like doing at the plate?’ And Joe just kind of lit up and said he liked to get right on top of the plate and pull everything. That just sparked him to get talking about hitting a little bit. That’s what I remember the most. … Joe didn’t talk a whole lot, was pretty quiet, pretty reserved. But that was pretty interesting. ”