David Wright went on the disabled list with an apparent hamstring twinge and last week the Mets announced his baseball future is in jeopardy as he is suffering from spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is the same affliction that cost Lenny Dykstra the end of his career, and the future is not looking bright for Wright. Unfortunately, it looks as if the Mets' Captain America may suffer a similar fate to beloved cross-town star Don Mattingly.
The two infielders, Wright and Mattingly each have excellent legacies with their respective teams, but their careers were more turbulent and trying than other famous New York baseball stars (see Derek Jeter). Both players elicit sounds of wonder and nostalgia for what they were in their prime, but health plagued the end of Mattingly's career to the point he had to retire earlier than anyone would have wished, and Wright is seemingly (though hopefully not) on a similar path.
Both Wright and Mattingly were drafted right out of high school and took only three years in the minors before making their major league debuts. Wright was drafted by the Mets in 2001 and made his debut in 2004. He has never played for another team and regardless of his health, likely never will join another squad (he is signed through 2020). Mattingly was drafted in 1979 and made his debut in September 1982.
Both Mattingly and Wright made immediate impacts on their teams in their first full seasons. For the Yankees, Mattingly hit .343/.381/.537 and belted 23 home runs on his way to an excellent year where he hit 53 percent better than the league average. He made the first of six all star games and was the leading hitter on a team that finished third in the American League East despite winning 87 games. Similarly, in Wright's first full season in he put up a .306/.388/.523 slash line and hit 27 home runs en route to a season at the plate that was 42 percent better than league average. The Mets also finished third in Wright's first full season with an 83-79 record. Mattingly and Wright would suffer through more losing misery which seemed to follow their entire careers.
Mattingly just missed the glory days with the Yankees; between 1976 and 1981, New York won the American League pennant four times and lost in the American League Championship Series once. Those teams won two world series in a row but then in 1982, entered into the dark ages of Yankee history. From Mattingly's call-up season in 1982 until his retirement after the 1995 season, the Yankees only made the playoffs once, at which time the 34 year old Mattingly was already a shell of his former thumping self. He led the league in doubles three years in a row, and finished in the top five of MVP voting three times, winning the award in 1985. He put up an incredibly .352/.394/.573 slash line in 1986, when he led the league in hits, total bases and OPS+ in addition to winning a gold glove but by the time the next Yankee dynasty rolled around, injuries forced Mattingly into retirement at the age of 34. In his last season, he was a league average player at the plate but no longer could field the ball effectively. Though he did have success in the American League Divisional Series against the Seattle Mariners (the first ever wild-card team), the Yankees lost a series deciding Game Five, and ‘Donnie Baseball' retired before the Yankees went on to win the World Series the following year.
Wright joined the Mets at a similarly ill-timed moment in their history, though he joined a team that had finished last the two seasons prior to his debut. In 1999 and 2000, the Mets went to the National League Championship series twice, ultimately losing in the 2000 Subway Series to the Yankees in ‘00.
By the time Wright joined the Mets in 2004, they were wallowing in last place. In his twelve years manning third base for New York, the Mets have only made the playoffs once (2006), losing a heart-breaking decisive game seven at home to the Cardinals (and costing Endy Chavez a chance at immortality for a game saving catch that eventually went for nought). Wright was the team's best player when during their two epic collapses in the National League East in 2007 and 2008 and consequently, Wright has yet to suit up for another playoff game.
When Mattingly was on his game and healthy, he was one of the best first basemen in the game however, acute back injuries hampered the time he spent on the field which in turn hurt his production, particularly in the twilight years of his career. He played 140 or more games only eight times in his fourteen year career. Wright also has battled the injury bug, be it leg injuries or back problems and has only suited up for more than 140 games seven times in his twelve career.
The injuries of course derailed the offensive statistics for both Mattingly and Wright, but both of these players were solid defenders as well, though Wright has a definite advantage. Mattingly's advanced metrics are not as kind as those who saw him, but he was awarded nine gold gloves in his 14 year career. Wright has been viewed as an excellent defensive third baseman and has two gold glove awards.
Each of these players left their fanbase wanting more, and both certainly had the talent to become immortalized in Cooperstown, though it is highly unlikely either of them make it. Mattingly is at the mercy of the Veterans' Committee and the jury will be very much out on Wright regardless of whether his career is finished or he simply slows down as one would expect. Bryan Grosnick wrote a piece celebrating the career of David Wright so I won't go into his Hall of Fame candidacy in great detail, but ultimately, Wright will likely be one of those players that brings back great memories for a generation of New Yorkers though he is not likely viewed as an MLB all-time great. Don Mattingly suffered a similar fate, in that he has always been appreciated and celebrated by the Yankee faithful (my father insists Mattingly is the only Yankee the fans never really booed) though it is highly unlikely he will be immortalized in Cooperstown.
Don Mattingly and David Wright are far more similar than they are different, each player left us wondering ‘what could have been' though both have provided their respective fan bases with great memories despite their teams being lousy. Had their timelines been a little different, or had their health been a little more stable, perhaps we would be discussing Wright's Hall of Fame story in comparison to Mattingly's but some things are just not meant to be.