Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Face of (Donnie) Baseball: An Mmmmmmmm... Cards Special Report

Was I alone being confused as to what exactly Don Mattingly looked like in the late-1980s?

It seems like an odd question, sure, but let me lay it all out for you. I first dipped my toe into this hobby with a few packs of 1986 Topps, then took the plunge in 1987. Becoming a collector at this time meant missing out on the Don Mattingly hype of 1984. No matter what I read about him, his early cards were unaffordable, practically unattainable. I lacked the cable variety of television, which might have beamed him into my home on a more regular basis. My Brewers were in the Yankees' AL East, but they were not the juggernaut of the present time. All I had to go on, really, were baseball cards and the very remote chance he would show up in the local newspaper. I knew he was supposed to be some sort of baseball deity, but I lacked one true element of recognition: What did he really look like?

Let us consult the primary sources (if you don't mind going all 6th grade research project on this). While I probably didn't own his 1986 Topps card, I do remember his '87 issue. On this card, Don was pictured in long shot, at the plate, back straight and waiting for the pitch. Classic pose, yet dull. His '87 All-Star card, however, made him look like he had just spent a night in jail. His eyes are squinty, his hair is peeking out from under his cap, his moustache is going in all directions, and he's leaning forward ever-so-slightly, as if to communicate that he may vomit on the photographer's shoes at a moment's notice. Was this the hero others were raving about? Not in my book.

Allow me to present exhibit C, Mattingly's 1990 Post #1. On this cereal issue, an un-logoed Don has seemed to have gotten himself straightened out. The 'stache is neatly trimmed, and there's a focus that seemed to be lacking back in '87. Yes, I've skipped over a few years of cards, but they are of little consequence, because I didn't have them as a reference point, or at least I don't remember them. This Post card is the real deal, the very one I pulled out of a box of Alpha-Bits or something. Was this the look of a hero?

Gaaaaah, who in the world is this guy? Where is the facial hair? Is this even the same man? This in Mattingly's 1987 Ralston Purina #5, another card I've held onto for nearly 25 years. What happened to the steely-eyed gaze? Who is this man? He has the look of a divorced mom's boyfriend, the type who will stick around just long enough to gain the trust of a possible future stepson, but who will ultimately bail at the first sign of trouble. Yes, he has a 1984 Pontiac Firebird, but he also sits at the breakfast table in his underwear on Saturday mornings. You're not sure how much to respect him, because your mom gets on his case if she thinks he oversteps his disciplinary bounds. Is this what a hero looks like?

To this day, I'm never surprised when Mattingly's image appears on my television screen. For all I know, he could look like anything, and I'd accept it. Don Mattingly, you truly are the chameleon of the hobby, and we salute you.


Anonymous said...

As a Yankee fan from that era, I can vouch for the fact that Mattingly was indeed a baseball deity for five or six years. But he rarely took a good "mug shot" picture. I guess he just wasn't that handsome of a man, which is probably why he tried his best to cover his face with long hair (when the Boss allowed), a woolly mustache and tons of eye black. But most of his action photos were things of beauty as he was one of the slickest players I ever saw, both at the plate and in the field. I have this ( picture in my hobby room, and I think its a pretty iconic depiction of both Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield. It's not a bad way to remember either of these great Yanks that played during a time when great Yanks were few and far between.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, the link should be:


TJ said...

Then there was the time Mr. Burns made him shave his sideburns. I didn't even recognize him after that.

Oh, and I think $3.00 is totally fair price to pay for a damaged '87 Topps card. I mean, he was an All-Star.