Judging by the fact he's been on the ballot since 2000 and recently has struggled to get one-third of the votes necessary for enshrinement, Don Mattingly probably isn't going to be entering the Hall of Fame -- at least not for his playing exploits.
But the Dodgers manager has a unique perspective on the Hall in this contentious time. His playing days spanned the earliest days of the steroid era. He saw how dramatically performance enhancers had changed the game when he got back into baseball, as a coach, eight years ago.
With Hall of Fame announcements coming Wednesday, we thought this would be a good time to catch up with Mattingly.
Q. This is your 13th year on the ballot, and last year you got just 17.8 percent of the vote. Is the announcement something you follow with interest still or have you moved on at this point?
A. My first year of eligibility, I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to make it or anything. I don’t pay that much attention to it, to be honest with you. It’s to the point now where it comes up and you’re like, 'Oh, it’s over,' and you go on.
Q. Was there ever a time when you felt like you would be a Hall of Famer?
A. When I retired, I was 34. If I had kept playing another five years, I may have ended up with 3,000 hits and reached some other milestones and gotten in. I made the decision for my boys because I wanted to be around. When you do that type of thing, you know what you’re doing, you know you’re not going to make the Hall of Fame. If I was worried about making the Hall of Fame, I wouldn’t have retired.
Q. So, it was your family rather than a bad back that caused you to hang up your cleats?
A. A lot of people say it was my back, but they just don’t know. It was a decision for my boys. They were starting high school and I wanted to be around to be part of their life. If I had signed another contract, my older two wouldn’t hardly know me. It was a family decision. That part was easy. I don’t have any regrets about that.
Q. What impact do you think the back injury had on your chances of being a Hall of Famer?
A. I was pretty good for a short period and, when I got banged up and hurt my back, it kind of robbed me of some things, things I wasn’t able to do after that. That’s just the way it is. There are a lot of guys who are probably in my boat, good players who got banged up and found it hard to be productive after that. For me, it was hard just to stay on the field. I was on the DL once a year, maybe twice, for the last five years. When you do that, it’s really frustrating because you start rolling a little bit and the next thing you know, you’re on the shelf. Couple that with my kids and everything and it’s enough.
Q. Many people are interested in whether Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds will make it this year. What is your attitude about whether those guys are worthy in their first year on the ballot?
A. I know Barry a little bit. He’s just a really talented guy, watching him and seeing some of the things he was able to do. It’s just kind of amazing to me you could walk 200 times and every time you get a pitch to hit, you don’t miss it. He was an amazing player.
The Rocket’s accomplishments are pretty amazing also. It’s just, how do you measure it? There’s been a lot of speculation about both of those guys, but I don’t think either one was proven to have taken performance enhancers. I don’t know if, when there’s that much smoke, there’s fire, or what. It’s not really my place to judge.
If guys did use enhancers, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not. If they put up those numbers and they were all theirs, with no enhancers, you say, ‘Man, this should be a first-ballot guy.’ If enhancers were involved, then you look at, ‘OK, how long? Was it 10 years? How much does it take away from you?’ They’re all tough calls. I’d hate to see a guy linked to that and it turns out he’s not that guy.
Q. What was it like facing a young Clemens?
A. The guy would just dominate the game with his fastball alone when he was young. He could use both sides of the plate, all four quadrants, and just locate so well. He had a good breaking ball, but when he hurt his elbow, he kind of quit throwing it and he wasn’t the same after that. That’s when Boston kind of gave up on him a little bit. Then, he came up with that split and it brought his fastball back. He was a fun at-bat for guys. He came after you.
Q. As steroids and other PEDs became more prevalent in the game at the end of your career, could you notice changes?
A. I feel really lucky.  was my last year. It probably started before that, but I didn’t really notice it. Honestly, I must be really naïve. For four or five years after I got out, I didn’t really pay much attention to baseball and guys’ numbers. You started seeing them go up, but you’re like, ‘Man, guys are bigger and stronger, they’re really working out or maybe parks are smaller,’ all types of things you said.
Then, all of a sudden, when I got into coaching (in 2004) and then they started testing, you’d see huge drops on a big percentage of guys. I’d be looking at scouting reports going, 'There’s another one, there’s another one.' It felt like it was rampant because I saw those drops with my eyes. It seemed like each bullpen had a guy throwing 98 to 100 mph. Then all of a sudden, guys throwing 95 or 96 were throwing 89. That’s a big difference. Then, I could really tell. I think I was really naïve before.