NEW YORK - Don Mattingly said the five-year contract with the New York Yankees that takes him through next season will be his last multi-year deal as he begins to wind down his career. While he emphasized his desire to play beyond 1995 and remain with the Yankees, he told the Gannett Suburban Newspapers, "I'll never do another long deal. I'll never do anything more than a one-year deal." He said that approach will allow him to regularly assess his desire to continue playing, to explore options other than the Yankees, and to walk away whenever he pleases. "I want to be on edge and I want freedom," said Mattingly, who turns 33 on Wednesday. "I'd love to stay here. I don't really want to play anywhere else. I can say that." He is in the fourth year of a five-year, $19.3-million contract that made him the game's best-paid player when he signed it in April 1990. He does not have a timetable for retirement, except to stress that he will not leave any time soon. "I'm not looking to retire," he said. "The game keeps me going. Competition is what I like. "I probably need the game more than it needs me. Until that feeling goes away and as long as I'm doing well, I'll keep playing." Mattingly, regarded by some as the game's best player in the mid-1980s before chronic back problems hit, batted .291 last season with 17 home runs and 86 RBI. It represented the fourth consecutive year below .300 for the lifetime .309 hitter after he opened his career with six straight seasons above the .300 mark. He has not produced at least 20 home runs or driven in at least 100 runs in any single season since 1989. A slow starter even in his glory days, Mattingly is batting just .209 through the Yankees' first 11 games. "I'm not willing to say I'm back," he said, measuring his words. "I'm saying I feel good. I feel this is going to be a good year for our club and a good year for me." Defensively, Mattingly continues to be the pre-eminent first baseman and is aiming for a record-setting season. With a ninth Gold Glove, he would move ahead of George Scott for the AL lead at his position. He can establish another record if he paces the AL in fielding at his position for an unprecedented seventh time. Mattingly's .996 career fielding percentage ties him with Steve Garvey and Wes Parker for the all-time mark among major league first basemen and is the highest in AL history. Mattingly acknowledged, though, that his back problems have become a daily struggle. "All of the preparation and stuff, all of the work I have to do, is a bit of a load," he said. "I feel I've got to get a workout in before I even go to the park." He is thankful for an elaborate exercise regimen given to him by Dr. Robert Watkins in 1990. "I'm really thankful for that program," he said. "It's given me a lot of different weapons to combat my back problem with. It allows me to still feel pretty good on the field."
PEDULLA, TOM, NEW YORK - Don Mattingly said the five-year c., Gannett News Service, 04-18-1994.