Many Yankee fans in their 30s probably had the famous Don Mattingly “Hit Man” posters on their walls in tribute to the former Yankee first baseman’s dominant seasons in the mid-1980s.
Wednesday's doubleheader will be their chance to express appreciation for Mattingly in a setting other than Old-Timer’s Day as he returns to the Bronx for the second time since leaving with Joe Torre following the 2007 season.
Appropriately enough, Mattingly’s pregame press conference on Tuesday lasted 23 minutes and while heavy rains fell, a montage of his highlights played on the scoreboard.
“Obviously, it’s good to come back,” he said. “I always really enjoy coming back into the city. ... It’s always been, for me, great. You don’t quite understand the relationship, honestly. I came from a small town, loved playing, came here and just played. I pretty much tried to keep it as simple as that, and they seemed to appreciate that. It was nice for me, because I didn’t have to do anything except play.”
This time it was as manager of the Dodgers, who became the last NL team to visit any version of Yankee Stadium since interleague play started in 1997. The last time Mattingly visited was in 2010 with Joe Torre at a ceremony unveiling a monument for George Steinbrenner.
“I’m excited to see him,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I had a chance to work alongside him; obviously I’m a big fan of his. He’s been such a great part of Yankee history, the way he played the game. I’m anxious to hear who gets the loudest cheer today, him or Mo [Rivera] if he comes in the game. So I think that’s probably the only one who can measure up and he deserves that.”
Despite his team being well under .500 and facing speculation about his job security, Mattingly is a beloved figure in the Bronx. Along with Bobby Murcer, he might be the most popular Yankee to never win a World Series.
Mattingly pointed out that despite the different stadium and facility upgrades, he still saw most of the same people from across the street.
“It’s not the building,” he said. “It’s the people. What makes it is the people; it feels like the same.”
Mattingly’s debut came in 1982 after the Yankees lost the World Series in six games to the Dodgers. Steinbrenner took out an ad in newspapers apologizing for the loss and claimed to have punched fans in a Los Angeles elevator.
Before reaching the playoffs during his final season in 1995 under Buck Showalter, Mattingly played for eight managers. His debut came under Gene Michael and Mattingly performed well in three of the five managerial stints of Billy Martin.
After coaching with the Yankees during the latter years of the Torre regime, Mattingly was considered a sentimental favorite to be the successor. Instead, it went to Girardi, who had managerial experience from one year with the Marlins in 2006.
Mattingly often has said that not getting that position was a blessing as it gave him time to attend to a personal matter. It also gave him a chance to experience the National League in an organization with similar history to the Yankees.
Interleague play began in 1997 and the current version where teams rotate opponents started in 2002. In the first year, the Yankees had home games with San Francisco and Arizona, which were appealing matchups based on World Series history.
Perhaps the most appealing one against an NL West opponent is the Dodgers, who lost to the Yankees five times in the World Series before finally winning it all in 1955 with Jonny Podres pitching a shutout in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium.
The Dodgers have had better championship success since moving the Los Angeles with titles in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988 to go along with World Series appearances in 1966, 1977 and 1978.
The Yankees visited the Dodgers in 2004 and 2010 and nearly played them in the 2009 World Series.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.