OAKLAND--Don Mattingly, saddled with a bum wrist and low power numbers,
gracefully accepted Manager Buck Showalter's decision to move him from
the coveted No. 3 spot in the batting order to No. 5. In fact, Mattingly
applauded the switch.
No controversy here, no sir. The Yankees' most celebrated player over
the past decade said he knew it was time to be dropped in the order. Paul
O'Neill batted third Wednesday night against the Athletics, with
Mattingly moving to No. 5 for the first time since May 28, 1984. No hard
"If I was managing, I would have done it a long time ago, the way
Paulie's hitting," Mattingly said. "He needs to get into a position where
he gets the most at-bats."
The move apparently was much tougher on Showalter, who admitted he's
been mulling the switch for a month. Mattingly has been glued for years
to the No. 3 hole, generally reserved for a team's best hitter. However,
at times in recent years, his persona has kept him at No. 3 as much as
his pop. Before Wednesday night, the last time Mattingly did not bat
third was Aug. 11, 1992, when he batted fourth. It was such a shock to
see him as low as fifth that the PA announcer mistakenly called
Mattingly's name fourth.
Showalter stopped short of describing the move as permanent, although
he indicated he isn't viewing this as short-term, either. O'Neill, the
league's hitting leader at .383, will bat third against right-handers for
now, with someone else likely to take that spot against left-handers. Jim
Leyritz would seem to be a logical choice.
It has become apparent that Mattingly, who is only 6 for 24 since
returning from the disabled list, has not completely recovered from the
wrist injury that has hampered him all year. Showalter cited Mattingly's
lingering ailment as a main reason for the switch. While Mattingly is
batting .301, his homer total of five is noticeably low in this year of
the home run. And it also is difficult to ignore the stunning and
consistent production of O'Neill. Just when there was a sign he might
slow down, he got hot again; he is on a 20-for-39 tear.
"This will give Paul a couple extra at-bats until Don gets a little
more comfortable," Showalter said. "It's not where he'd like it to be.
Certain swings he takes, it bothers him. It's probably going to be with
him the rest of the season." Mattingly's frustration is clear. At one
point while discussing the troublesome wrist, he joked he might "cut it
O'Neill was as unaffected by the move as Mattingly. Typically, O'Neill
said, "I don't think it's a big deal." In the past, O'Neill was viewed as
someone with a fragile psyche about his batting position. However,
Showalter said, "I think Paul's over that."
Mattingly on rare occasions in the past has expressed a preference for
the third spot. However, he said the only time he thought it was a
mistake not to bat him third was in 1989, when Bucky Dent became manager
and the Yankees had no other run-producer besides Mattingly. That lasted
only one game, as Mattingly made clear his thoughts about batting second
by dragging a bunt in his first at-bat.
Mattingly said his spot in the order "is not something I take
personally. The thing I take personally is that I wish I were swinging
the bat better."
Mattingly conceded he has not batted like a No. 3 hitter this season,
like Rafael Palmeiro or Ken Griffey Jr. Or like O'Neill. "Times change,"
Mattingly said. "I'm not 23 or 24 anymore. The club's not the same. The
situation is different. We've got a guy leading the league in hitting. He
should be getting more at-bats. I believe this is the right thing to do."
Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1994.
HEYMAN, JON, Change Doesn't Bother Mattingly; Bulldog Edition., Los Angeles Times, 07-24-1994, pp C-9.