Your Sunday morning dose of the (Bob) Klap(isch) in the Bergen Record concerns MLB & Rawlings’ latest online poll to select the finest defensive players of all time. Klapisch regurgitates a debate that raged through many a NYC tavern a generation ago, “Just who was the area’s best first baseman of the 1980s, Keith Hernandez or Don Mattingly?”
Yankee fans defend Mattingly to the (virtual) death, insisting he was the superior athlete, not to mention the more productive hitter. Met fans say no one could match Hernandez (above, left) for quick hands, his ability to field bunts and the gift for anticipating where the ball would be hit.
“Come on, you know I’m not going to touch that one,” Joe Torre said with a laugh. “I’ve always hated Keith because he took my job [with the Cardinals in 1975]. But there’s no way to choose between them.”
Jason Giambi picked Mattingly for sentimental reasons “ “Donnie was my favorite player” “ while Alex Rodriguez was on the verge of choosing Hernandez because, as a die-hard Met fan growing up, “I watched every single Met on WOR for four straight years. I saw so much more of Mex than I did Donnie.”
A-Rod didn’t officially choose Mattingly, however, because as he said with a rueful smile, “Yankee fans already hate me.”
Mattingly wasn’t surprised to hear the vote was split even in his own clubhouse. This is, after all, a debate for the ages “ one that Mattingly helped fuel in 1986 when he said he’d move to left field if Hernandez were ever traded to the Yankees.
But that’s not to say Mattingly was conceding to his Mets counterpart. Quite the contrary. Donnie Baseball said, “I could pick it with anyone.”
Yet, Mattingly had nothing but praise for Hernandez, standing by his assertion that if it would’ve meant becoming teammates with the Met first baseman, he would’ve vacated the position.
“I meant what I said, I would’ve moved to left for Keith,” Mattingly said Saturday. “I would’ve done it because we would’ve been a better team with the two of us on the same field. I wouldn’t have minded if he played first instead of me.
“Funny thing is, I didn’t get to see him play that much, maybe once in a while on TV. But whenever I saw Keith field bunts up the first base line and make that throw to third, I’d say, ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’ I remember thinking how great he was on plays like that.”