FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - It doesn't take much imagination to guess how much Don Mattingly would love to play in a World Series. A championship ring would validate his distinguished career. More significantly, it would end those sad September stories that pity him as seemingly destined to become his generation's Ernie Banks. Surprisingly, Mattingly now downplays his World Series dream - at least publicly. "Everybody has that dream of getting that big hit in a World Series," he said after completing a spring-training workout at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. "I may have said things differently in the past. But I don't feel a void in my heart. I feel blessed, really. I look back at all the great things that have happened in my career, and I don't feel a void." "He's guarded at times about people saying he hasn't won the Big One yet or he doesn't have that championship ring," third base coach Willie Randolph said. "He's enough at peace with himself and his career that he's not obsessed with it." It has been seven years since his last great season. It has been nine seasons since he hit .324 with 145 RBI and 35 home runs. But Mattingly, who turns 31 on April 20, produced an echo last season when he hit .291 with 17 home runs and 86 RBI, flirting with .300 until fading. He hit .250 in September when his aching right wrist was an unspoken hindrance. "A lot of people were writing him off," said Randolph, his teammate during five of his six great seasons between 1984 and 1989. "I wasn't worried about him bouncing back. He is a champion. I say that because he's proven himself as a batting champion and just by his every-day attitude. Who knows how hurt he was last September? He didn't complain. He challenged himself. "I've always admired his work ethic and fire. He approaches each at-bat like it's the seventh game of the World Series. That's what has made him the great player he is." Mattingly seemed re-born during the Yankees second-place finish in the American League East last season, their first above fourth place since 1986. "It felt at least like a building block, a foundation for a better year," he said. "I expect a lot out of myself this year and a lot out of the other guys in this room. I feel good about our chances." "Donnie probably felt a little tease to be that close and not to get over the hump," manager Buck Showalter said. "That's probably going to make him hungrier this year." Earlier in his career, when he was surrounded by Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Randolph and Don Baylor, he might have taken a World Series appearance for granted, never dreaming it would prove so elusive. "I always felt that winning was something that was going to happen," he said. "I didn't worry about it." His troublesome back seems sound. He had November surgery to relieve tension on his wrist ligament. He'd like to be remembered for more than those six great seasons. He may not want to admit it now as much as he has in the past. But he'd love to be remembered as a world champion.
CORBETT, JIM, FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - It doesn't take much Imagination., Gannett News Service, 02-23-1994.