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THE HIT MAN HITS BACK

Feb. 06, 1989
Feb. 06, 1989

Table of Contents
Feb. 6, 1989

Pebble Beach
NBA Rookies
Mario Lemieux
Shug McGaughey
The Hit Man
Point After

THE HIT MAN HITS BACK

After his most trying year as a Yankee, Don Mattingly is now back home in Indiana, preparing to attack the upcoming season

It was 1:30 on a Sunday morning in Mattinglys' 23 restaurant, and some guy they say came from across the river, from Owensboro, Ky., had just hit 17 of 20 in the free throw court next to the bar. Now it was the restaurateur's turn, and Don Mattingly, wearing blue Levi's cords, a polo shirt and Converse basketball shoes, stepped past a locker containing a Larry Bird Celtics uniform and took his place at the foul line.

This is an article from the Feb. 6, 1989 issue Original Layout

"This is the way an Indiana boy shoots free throws," Mattingly said, bouncing the ball four times as he squared his shoulders to the basket. Few of the people in the bar stopped to watch the most famous person in Evansville, Ind., an Ohio River city of 130,000, shoot hoops. Most everyone has known Artie—Donald Arthur Mattingly is Artie to some of the boys back home—since high school. Chip Wire was the baseball team's student manager when Artie was a three-sport hero at Evansville's Reitz Memorial High, and he was in the bar. So was Larry Bitter, Memorial's second baseman. And Karl Ralph, whom Mattingly calls Fast Eddie and whom he credits with teaching him the low-rider style of wearing baseball pants that Mattingly brought with him to the big leagues; Ralph was the centerfielder on the American Legion team—Funkhouser Post #8—for which Mattingly played outfield and first base. Bob Durchholz, a high school friend, was sitting at the bar next to Michael Mattingly, the third of the four Mattingly brothers. "Watch," said Michael, nudging Durchholz. "Donnie'll refuse to lose."

After missing his first shot, Mattingly made the next six and then missed again. When he reached 10 shots, he had made eight.

Bartender Doug Mattingly—who's no relation to Don but will become Bird's brother-in-law when his sister Dinah marries Larry Legend in July—was watching when someone flipped off the lights in the basketball court. Unruffled, Don unerringly hit one shot, then another, then another, until he had finished his 20. Twelve in a row, 18 of 20. "Indiana boy," he said, and walked away.

Mattinglys' 23 (named for his uniform number) stands at the crossroads of the public and private lives of its proprietor, who—and this is hard to believe—is just 27 years old. When Mike Pagliarulo, the New York Yankee third baseman and Mattingly's closest friend on the team, came into the restaurant last winter, one of the first things he said was, "Donnie, your prices are too low."

"This isn't New York," Pagliarulo was told by Mattingly's father-in-law, Dennis Sexton, who is co-owner and manager of the place. "This is Evansville—German and conservative—where the portions had better be large and the prices small."

This is also where Mattingly wanted his restaurant, not New York, where "it would be mine in name only," he says. "This is me." And it is, right down to the eye black he's wearing in the picture on the sign outside the restaurant.

Mattingly stops by three or four nights a week during the off-season to chat with customers, sign autographs and generally help out. There are sweatshirts and posters for sale at the souvenir stand—a portion of the profits go to charity—and kids can have their picture taken with Mattingly. One guy who lives in Staten Island, N.Y., has flown in two years in a row to celebrate New Year's Eve at Mattinglys' 23, and parents have come all the way from Chicago to make a child's birthday something special. But the patrons are mainly just the good people of Evansville. The menu ranges from $15 filet mignon to hamburgers or fried chicken for about $5, and the character of the place bears Mattingly's unmistakable stamp: unpretentiousness. He and his wife, Kim, sometimes peel potatoes, bus tables or tend bar.

"What I always wanted was a small neighborhood honky-tonk, with down-home cooking and Hank Williams Jr. on the jukebox," says Mattingly. "But even though we went to something larger, I wanted to run it like it was a honky-tonk."

Late one midweek afternoon in January, a young boy sidled up to Mattingly, who was standing outside the kitchen. The kid stared up shyly, saying nothing. "Would you like me to sign something?" asked Mattingly. The boy nodded, and Mattingly grabbed a menu and asked his name. "Kyle Murphy," he answered, still bashful. "It's my ninth birthday." Mattingly signed the menu and told Kyle how to get his picture taken wearing a Yankee cap, then noted that the boy's sneaker was untied. Nervously, Kyle bent down, but when he stood up, the laces were still untied. Mattingly dropped down on one knee, tied the sneaker and, when he stood up, said, "Hey, thanks for coming."

Mattinglys' 23 has sports memorabilia throughout its hallways, three dining areas and bar. Walk in the door to the first dining room and you see DiMaggio and Ruth. There's a legends area—with tributes to Ruth, Gehrig, Rose, DiMaggio, Thurman Munson and others. There's a boxing ring with tables inside the ropes (Pags's favorite dining spot). There's a Hoosier Room, with tributes to local sports figures, such as Don's late brother, Jerry, the oldest of the Mattingly boys, who was a basketball guard at Evansville College (now the University of Evansville); Andy Benes, a former U of Evansville pitcher, an Olympic star and the first player taken in the 1988 baseball draft; and Bobby Knight. Over the bar are portraits, four feet high, of the two hitters Mattingly most reveres, Rod Carew and Ted Williams, and in a glass case is a pair of the hightop shoes Bill Buckner wore in the 1986 World Series. There's a Louisville Slugger display about the making of a Don Mattingly model bat, a scoreboard with up-to-date standings—this winter it gives those of four major college basketball conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, SEC)—and an array of menus and pictures signed by noted guests, including George Steinbrenner. Only one small wall, just inside the entrance, is devoted solely to Mattingly pictures—photos that take him from his signing with the Yankees in June 1979 to his Class A days in Oneonta, N.Y., to '85 American League MVP. "Don wanted this to be a restaurant, not a monument to himself," says Sexton.

Before Don and Kim headed home the night he buried those 10 free throws in the dark, he went into the kitchen and made two pizzas—from scratch—for some friends who were still in the bar. Then he went back to the free throw court.

"This is really my game," he said. After four running strides he took off and tried to dunk. He stands a shade under six feet, and his flight was easily a foot short. The ball banged off the wall, as did Mattingly. "Problem was, the other kids got bigger and quicker—and I stayed short and slow," he said. Then he put on his lined denim jacket, the one that has a signature in ink above the left breast pocket: MELLENCAMP. "Another Indiana boy," Mattingly said.

It's about a 15-minute ride from the restaurant to the Mattinglys' house, north of Evansville in Darmstadt, a farming community of 1,200. Don and Kim bought the house in 1984 after he signed a one-year contract with the Yankees for $130,000. It's a six-room redbrick, with three bedrooms and a play loft for their two boys, three-year-old Taylor and 18-month-old Preston. The house sits on top of a hill on four acres, which are also home to deer and to a huge pileated woodpecker that fascinates Don. In the driveway a small tractor is parked beside a backboard with a rim that's only about 9½ feet high. "Guys like me got to have a chance," he says.

Mattingly may well be the best player in baseball, but he is coming off his worst big league season—a year marked by subpar numbers, a public spat with George Steinbrenner and the inevitable trade rumors that followed—which is why he's sticking close to his home and family this winter while he works hard to prepare for the season ahead. Except for one quick visit to New York (and their in-season house in Tenafly, N.J.), a couple of days in Vegas for the Ray Leonard-Donny Lalonde fight and a few more in Hawaii for the player reps' meetings, this is where the Mattinglys are spending their time until spring training. "That's the only change in Don since he married my daughter in '79—he's more protective of his time with his family," says Sexton.

Ray Schulte, Mattingly's business manager, says, "Even during the season, when [his agent] Jim Krivacs or I want to do business, we have to go on the road with the Yankees so we don't infringe on Don's time with Kim and the kids." Mattingly is equally jealous of his time in the off-season. He no longer hunts or plays golf, and he caught his first fish at the union meetings in Hawaii (a 210-pound marlin). "He hasn't done a card show since 1984. and I was offered a minimum of $100,000 to do a special one." Schulte says. "I could get him a speaking engagement every night of the winter for $10,000 to $20,000 a pop, but he doesn't do them. He only goes to one or two dinners a winter, and they're either for charity or as favors."

Mattingly's winter days begin at 6:30, when the boys wake up, and tend to end early, around 10:30. He usually fixes the kids' breakfast. "I'm an early-morning person," he says. "Anyway, Kim has to be both mother and father for much of the season."

Don and Kim met in 1976 when he r father coached his American Legion team. He went to the Yankee farm at Oneonta right out of Memorial High in '79 and, a month later, called and asked her to join him. They were married on Sept. 8 of that year and spent their five-day honeymoon at the Regal 8 Inn on Highway 41, a few hundred yards from the Evansville airport. Then they immediately headed for Florida and the start of Instructional League play. "Unlike a lot of baseball couples who met when the player was already famous, Kim has been beside me all the way," says Don. "She's slept on floors, she's slept in rooms that didn't have doors, from Oneonta to Greensboro to Puerto Rico."

"Who loves you, babe?" she asks him a couple of times a day. "Who really loves you?" It's a standing line in the Mattingly household. "He dogs me and I dog him," Kim says. "In this business, you need all the dogging someone can give you." When her husband is showered with praise or adulation at the restaurant, for instance, she'll sidle up to him and whisper, "Oh, Don, you're the greatest—but who really loves you?" During the season she'll tell him, "Don't come home unless you get two hits."

And home, after all, is what Mattingly is all about. "I don't find that I've changed the way I live in Evansville," he says. Apart from Mattinglys' 23, Don and Kim's favorite restaurants are the Log Inn and the Darmstadt Inn (where, legend has it, Abe Lincoln once ate), both hearty family establishments. Don enjoys going to University of Evansville basketball games, especially now that the Aces are coached by Jim Crews, a former assistant under Knight, whom Mattingly calls "the one person I'd really like to meet."

So what's a big-time night out in Evansville? This winter Mattingly sat ringside for Hulk Hogan and the World Wrestling Federation show at Roberts Memorial Stadium, and when he went backstage last month before a Joan Jett and the Black-hearts concert at the same arena and mentioned to someone in the band that he played the harmonica, he was handed a blues harp that once belonged to rock 'n' roller Robert Plant and asked to show his chops. Mattingly blew a few notes and the band was soon jamming behind him. Could Artie Mattingly be the next Paul Butterfield? "Less likely than my being the next Gehrig," he says, "and there's no chance of that."

Although he may live much the same way he always has, Mattingly finds that people back home assume he has been changed by all the money he's making, which is now close to $3 million a year in salary, investments and endorsements. "In 1985, when I won the MVP, I started hearing how I didn't sign an autograph, or I didn't care as much, and it gets worse every year," he says. "Supposedly, the better a player I become, the worse a person I become. I know people don't really mean it. I know I have to get used to it. But I don't think I've changed. Evansville hasn't changed, and Evansville is me."

Evansville is also his parents and his brothers, and they "get a lot of enjoyment out of what I do, but they don't treat me any differently than they did when I was at Memorial." Don says. But then, these are the people who know that Mattingly is now, as he always was and ever shall be, a ketchup man. He loads ketchup on eggs, potatoes and steak. In Mattinglys' 23, the waitresses bring him a bottle without asking. Not so on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "Sometimes the waiters look away as they hand me the bottle," Mattingly says, "or, more often, they put it in a small dish so no one in the restaurant will think that anyone who'd use ketchup would eat in the place. But if I'm paying $30 for a steak, I'll put whatever I want on it. In my house, we didn't have steak, we had hamburger steaks."

That house is a white cracker box on a quarter-acre lot in a working-class neighborhood two miles across town from the restaurant. Bill and Mary Mattingly have lived in that house for 48 years. "It's hard to believe that we could have raised four athletic sons and a daughter in a house this small," says Mary. Bill, now retired, rode the mail trains between Nashville and Chicago, and Don says his father's passion for trains is still burning, which explains why, when Bill goes to see Don play, he likes to ride the rails to Yankee Stadium, Comiskey Park and Fenway Park.

The Mattinglys' English ancestors settled in Virginia in the 17th century, but Bill isn't sure when they reached Evansville. What's certain is that they did—there are 88 Mattinglys in the local phone book, not including Don, who is unlisted. All of Bill and Mary's children, as well as Bill's sister and two brothers, live within five miles of the little house on Van Dusen Avenue.

"It seems as if all the kids did in our neighborhood was play sports from sunup to sundown," says Randy, the second of the Mattingly boys, who's now 37. "My dad coached Jerry and me in Little League, but even when he stopped, he always took time off from work to see our games. He never said much, but he and Mom went to all our games, and since there were four brothers all spaced five years apart, that was some task. He also made it easy for us. When each one got to high school age. he'd tell us not to bother getting a job, but to play sports, and he'd find a way to keep us in a little pocket change. Donnie was the youngest boy, and he didn't have any choice. He had to play with us."

"There's no substitute for learning to play from older brothers," Don says. "Anyway, the whole neighborhood was lined with jocks."

Before Don was three, he was the mascot for Jerry's basketball team at Rex Mundi High. (Jerry was also a wide receiver on the football team—where his quarterback was a fellow named Bob Griese.) Jerry grew into a 6'2" star guard for Evansville College, and he played baseball well enough to receive three pro contract offers. While working on a highway construction crew in 1969, at the age of 23, he was killed in an accident.

Randy, 6'4", a starting quarterback for the Aces, was a passer who was the Division II leader in total offense in 1971 and was selected by Cleveland in the fourth round of the '73 NFL draft. After spending one season bouncing from the Browns to the Chicago Bears to the Buffalo Bills to the Cincinnati Bengals, Randy returned a $1,500 check the Dallas Cowboys had sent without stipulation when they asked him to come for a tryout. Instead, he opted for Canada, where he thought he would play more and where he lasted four seasons as a backup for Saskatchewan, Hamilton and British Columbia of the CFL.

Next in line was Michael, a good enough athlete to earn a scholarship to Indiana State University-Evansville, where he played a year of basketball and three years of baseball. "All the rest of us grew to six-two or six-four," Michael says, "and if Donnie had gotten to our height, he'd probably have stuck with basketball. But he was the one kid in the family who had our father's special quality—perseverance. Anything either one of them set their minds to, they do."

Don always played with the older boys, especially in basketball, because his brothers could hoist him through a window at Rex Mundi High so that he could open the doors after the building was locked. But, of course, the Mattinglys didn't play only basketball. In the backyard of their house was the Wiffle Ball field. "Just look at the yard, and you'll see how I developed my hitting style," says Don. If he pulled, he would hit a big tree. If he went to left center, he could clear two garages and put it into an alley for a home run.

One of Mattingly's considerable natural athletic talents was his ambidexterity. Back in Little League, he switch-pitched on occasion, going three innings righthanded and three innings lefthanded. And in Legion ball, Sexton had Mattingly—who then as now threw and hit lefthanded—play second base in the conventional righthanded manner. (As late as 1980, Mattingly's first full year in the Yankee farm system, "The organization was worried about his lack of speed and power," according to Bob Schaefer, who managed him that year in Greensboro, N.C. "And because he could throw righthanded, serious consideration was given to moving him to second base.") Mattingly still takes ground balls at shortstop righthanded, but when he played three games at third in '86, he did so lefty.

By his junior year at Memorial, Mattingly knew "my running and jumping ability and size dictated that baseball was going to be my sport." Long before that—by the age of 10, in fact—he had figured out how to make baseball pay off. He would go to Garvin Park (where there's now a sign that reads EVANSVILLE YOUTH BASEBALL: NORTHSIDE HOME OF DON MATTINGLY), take a position in the parking lot outside Bosse Field—home of the minor league Evansville Triplets—and retrieve foul balls, which he would sell back to the club for 50 cents apiece.

Later, after he became a local hero, "Don refused to ever wear his letter sweater or jacket because he didn't like to draw attention to himself," his mother recalls.

"I preferred to play ball, not talk about it," he says. Being an Indiana boy, he knew a lot about Bird, and some of his reticence may have followed Bird's example. Unquestionably he copied Carew's every mannerism at the plate. But one thing was plainly his own: his tenacity. "I was lucky because I had a high school coach [Quentin Merkel] who is just like Bobby Knight," he says. "He'd stay out until dark, working with us, pushing us."

In Mattingly's senior year, Merkel draped netting in the gym as a makeshift batting cage. "I couldn't believe it—I could hit all day, all winter, and never have to chase the balls," says Mattingly. "I was up there in lunch hours, recess, free periods, after school...."

"He was a ballaholic," says Kim, whom he had begun dating by then. "Actually, he was a nerd."

The nerd hit .500 as a junior and .552 as a senior, and Memorial won 59 in a row those two seasons before losing the state finals in his last high school game. Those seasons landed him in SI's FACES IN THE CROWD, and Steinbrenner likes to say he saw the item and told his scouts to draft Mattingly. "That sounds good, but there were two Yankee scouts who'd been on me all year," says Mattingly.

Because Bill Mattingly had told every scout that his son would honor his commitment to attend Indiana State on a baseball scholarship, the Yankees waited until the 19th round of the June '79 draft to select Don. A week later, Yankee scout Jax Robertson visited the little white house on Van Dusen Avenue, and Don, who wasn't as sold on college as his father had hoped, blurted out, "I want to play ball." Robertson offered him $23,000, a high figure for a low-round selection, and Don was on his way to Oneonta—and his first "slump." Says Mattingly, "I thought I was going to hit .500 in Oneonta like I did at Memorial, so I was down because I thought I was really struggling." At his low point, he was hitting .340. He finished his first minor league season at .349.

After the Instructional League that winter, 18-year-old Don and 17-year-old Kim moved in with her parents. "He wore the same woolen shirt every day and hardly ever showered or shaved," says Kim. "He just hit and worked out, hit and worked out. He was a maniac." She pauses. "No. Not was—is."

Mattingly's garage is his baseball laboratory, and he reserves his mad-scientist hours for the time he spends there. There are cardboard cartons and a few odd trophies, but there's barely room for one compact in the three-car garage because of the batting cage and the pitching machine. Besides these tools of the hitter's art, there's also a boxer's speed bag. "I watched Sugar Ray Leonard work on this thing and figured it had to help me," says Mattingly. "It's great for my hands, my hand-eye coordination." He puts on a pair of light gloves, takes a stance in front of the bag and bears down on it as if he were facing Frank Viola.

Then he hits. Some days he's in the garage before sunrise. Sometimes he waits until Taylor and Preston have gone to sleep at night. But every day since New Year's, Mattingly has been in the cage, hitting off the pitching machine. "He gets locked in there the way he gets locked in during the season," says Pagliarulo. "I've never seen any other baseball player like him."

Almost every day during the off-season, Mattingly runs, racing against a clock, competing with himself. And on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he also does heavy-duty lifting at The Pit, an Evansville gym where the motto is NO CARPET, NO SAUNA, JUST IRON. He works on his legs, back and upper body. He's aiming to go into this season at 185 pounds, five less than his playing weight of the past three years.

Mattingly's contract stipulates that he can't play basketball or racquetball, his two favorite off-season sports. "I understand why they forbid them," he says, "but I'm not sure it's right. I can do other activities for the physical conditioning I need, but I think it's good mentally to compete year-round. I try to do that with my running. I try to compete in my lifting by pushing myself to the point of failure. But there's nothing like competition. That's what baseball—all sports—is all about: willpower, beating someone, winning."

"Check Donnie's eyes during a game," says former Yankee pitcher Bob Tewksbury. "They're right out of a horror movie. He yells at opposing players. He paces in the dugout. I've never seen anyone compete with that kind of passion."

"Don and I believe that playing every game at breakneck speed is fun," says Pagliarulo. "He'll holler, "Nothing gets through this infield...everyone's uniform had better be dirty.' If Don were miked at the plate, you'd hear him let out a kind of ninja scream every time he swings. That's the way he is."

Says Mattingly: "I don't actually dislike any opposing players, but I hate them when I play against them. Especially pitchers. I'm competing with them, every at bat, 162 games a season. You have to hate the guy. You have to get your mind into a sort of rage. I try to think of all the things the guy has done to irk me over the years; fortunately, I seldom forget things. Take [Orioles pitcher] Mike Flanagan, for instance. He may be one of the nicest people in the game, but when I go up against him, I remember that he drilled me in the side after I hit a grand slam off him in spring training in 1986. Then I think, Yeah, drop down and throw that weak sidearm junk...don't challenge me, you son of a bitch. You have to push yourself like that every at bat, constantly striving for another level."

"In high school they used to kid him about all the grunting noises he made on the basketball court," says Wire. "It doesn't matter if it's Wiffle Ball or chess, Don hates losing," says his brother Michael. "I taught him to play chess when he was five. I wasn't bad for a 10-year-old, but he kept playing and playing and playing until he could beat me. He simply refuses to lose."

He certainly wouldn't on the final day of the 1984 season, when he was battling teammate Dave Winfield for the American League batting title. Mattingly, who went into the game trailing by two points, went 4 for 5 to finish at .343, three points ahead of Winfield, who went 1 for 4. "Anyone who knows Donnie knows that the fact that the Yankees haven't won eats at him," says Pagliarulo. "He doesn't want to say it publicly because he feels he had a bad year last year, but not winning got to him. One night he told me, 'Michael, I haven't won since A ball. It's killing me.' And I'll tell you something: Until you see Don Mattingly in a pennant race, you won't have seen the real Don Mattingly. He doesn't care about stats. He wants to win."

Back in Greensboro, in Class A ball, Mattingly was involved in a pennant race. "He was like Carl Yastrzemski in 1967," says Schaefer. "If we needed a single, he singled. A double, he doubled. Two runs, he knocked them in. He locked himself in for a two-week period that was almost scary."

Last winter, Mattingly guaranteed that the Yankees would win a pennant in '88. But the season turned out to be the worst of his career—even if he did hit .311 with 18 homers, 37 doubles and 88 RBIs. He had a pulled muscle in his rib cage. He had a war of words with the Boss. "One of the reasons I decided to spend the whole winter here is that no matter where I went in New York—a Knicks game, out to dinner—I'd be asked the same questions about George," says Mattingly. "I just want to let it cool down and remain a Yankee."

There were also questions about a back injury that was diagnosed in June 1987 as a protruding disk. "When I was on the disabled list with the disk, the doctors thought it was serious," Mattingly says. "But later they told me that there's an abnormal space in my spine, so the protruding disk doesn't affect the nerve. And while it looks bad on X-rays, it's not that serious. It's something I have to live with."

A pain in the back is one thing. Steinbrenner is another. "When all those rumors surfaced late last season that George was going to get rid of me, people back home asked me about being traded to St. Louis or Cincinnati. That might be easier, less pressure. I like Toronto a lot. But I don't want to leave New York. Yeah, I'm a small-town Indiana person, but I love the excitement and pressure of playing in New York. When I was growing up, I was a Reds fan. I didn't know much about the Yankee uniform and what Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio and Mantle had done. Now I do, and I'd like to play my whole career there.

"When I realize what Gehrig did and think that no matter what I do the rest of my career, that I'll never approach him, I find that neat. When I signed my [three-year, $6.7 million] contract before last season, I didn't ask for a no-trade clause because I'd always figured that if they didn't want me, I didn't want to be there. I didn't think I'd be traded so soon, but I guess—for a while there, at least—I was gone."

The Steinbrenner Wars began on Aug. 21, after a loss to Seattle. All the anger and frustration came pouring out of Mattingly. "I never wanted to let it get to me, but it had been building up for three years," he says. "It wasn't just 1988, far from it. For years, I'd let George take his little shots." In '85, for instance, the Boss refused to let Mattingly's arrest in Kansas City for urinating outside a restaurant be forgotten (although the charges were dropped). That same year Mattingly said the Yankees could use the mental rest of an off day, and Steinbrenner responded by saying Mattingly should get a "real job" as a taxi driver or steelworker and find out what life and hard work are all about. In 1987, when Mattingly won a record $1,975 million arbitration award, Steinbrenner said, "The monkey is clearly on his back. He has to deliver a championship like Reggie Jackson did. [Mattingly's] like all the rest of 'em now. He can't play little Jack Armstrong of Evansville, Indiana, anymore." Finally, last year, Steinbrenner called Mattingly "the most unproductive .300 hitter in baseball."

After that defeat by the Mariners, Mattingly said, "They think money is respect.... They don't want us to win games.... We have a lot of unhappy players.... It's hard to come to the ballpark. It's not fun to play here. The game should be fun."

A week later, Blue Jay general manager Pat Gillick told Toronto reporters that Mattingly was on the trading block. At the time, Steinbrenner denied it, but at the same time he was pressing Krivacs, Mattingly's agent, for an apology. Mattingly couldn't apologize. Among other things, Kim had told him not to come home if he did.

"After I let out things that had built up inside me, I felt great the rest of the season," Mattingly says. "I was like a new kid. I didn't want trouble with Mr. Steinbrenner. You know, I really do like him and respect him, and I know that he's helped my career by challenging and motivating me. Despite what he says sometimes, I believe he likes and respects me. But that whole thing wasn't about money. I know I had a bad year. I got into a rut early. I swung at too many bad pitches. It was the most inconsistent performance of my life. He can criticize my ability or my production or my numbers. But don't question my intensity, my effort, my integrity. Two million dollars is a lot of money, but two million dollars isn't respect or integrity."

On the final day of the season, in Detroit, several players came up and wished Mattingly well. "I felt like I'd died, or I was retiring," he says. Then, when he went back to close his New Jersey house, clubhouse man Nick Priore hugged him and gave him a kiss. "I'm told that's the Italian kiss of death," says Mattingly. "So I cleared out my locker."

Mattingly was told during the World Series by sources outside the Yankees that Steinbrenner had made a deal with the Giants that would have sent Mattingly and pitcher Rick Rhoden to San Francisco for first baseman Will Clark and pitchers Atlee Hammaker and Craig Lefferts. But the Giants had backed off trading the two lefthanded pitchers when they learned that another San Francisco southpaw, Dave Dravecky, had a tumor on his pitching arm.

Later in October, Mattingly got calls from a couple of members of the Yankee organization—including new manager Dallas Green—urging him to try to settle his differences with Steinbrenner. Otherwise, he would be traded—and never mind that Mattingly's statistics over the past four years, including his relatively modest ones for 1988, put him in a class far above any other player in the game, as Murray Chass noted in The New York Times.

Mattingly made the call to the Boss. Kim could hear Steinbrenner's voice a room away from where her husband was holding the receiver. The conversation, often animated on Don's end as well, lasted close to an hour. "If I wasn't gone before, I'm gone now," Don told Kim. The next day, he got a call from a well-placed Yankee source. "Whatever you did, George has changed his mind," he was told. "You won't be traded."

"If they still trade me," he told his brother Michael a few days later, "they'll find out it was the biggest mistake they ever made. If they keep me, I'll make it the smartest move they ever made."

"Don started getting that look in his eye," Michael remembers. "All of a sudden, he was locked in, obsessed with 1989."

On another winter night at the restaurant, Mattingly was asked about the approaching season. "I don't set numerical goals," he said. "But why can't a player hit the ball hard four times a game—sometimes five times—162 games a year? Why not? Can you imagine what that season would be like? Every morning I'm out there running, every day that I pump iron, every day I hit the speed bag, every day I hit—that's what I get locked in on. No, not 162 games. More than that. The playoffs, the Series...."

"Can I interrupt for a second for an autograph?" asked a young woman. "You probably don't remember me, but I was a grade ahead of you and used to ride the bus to parochial school with you every day. I was real fat then."

"Did he pick on you?" the girl was asked.

"Not little Donnie," she said. "He wasn't like other kids. He was always polite and nice. A real Indiana boy."

SIX ILLUSTRATIONSPHOTOHARRY BENSONThis winter, daily workouts on a speed bag in his garage are helping Mattingly sharpen his hand-eye coordination.THREE PHOTOSCOURTESY OF NEW YORK DAILY NEWSPHOTOFOCUS ON SPORTSEven in the season of his discord, Mattingly batted .311 with 18 home runs and 88 RBIs. a career year for most players.PHOTOHARRY BENSONAlthough Don now earns approximately $3 million a year, he and Kim still live in the modest house they bought back in '84.PHOTOSONNY BROWN/EVANSVILLE COURIERAs the two-year-old mascot of his late brother's basketball team, Don set his jaw with an intensity familiar to Yankee fans.PHOTOHARRY BENSONDon and his sons visit the little house on Van Dusen where Bill and Mary's five kids, including Judie and Randy (top step), grew up.PHOTOBUCK MILLERMattingly hasn't had a candy bar named after him (yet), but the restaurant bearing his name is an Evansville hot spot.PHOTOBUCK MILLERAt Mattinglys' 23, you can do better than a ringside seat, and, if you're lucky, the restaurateur will whip you up a pizza.PHOTOHARRY BENSON[See caption above.]PHOTOHARRY BENSONEvery day Mattingly is getting his cuts in against a pitching machine in the batting cage that takes up most of his garage.