Saturday, May 5, 2012

'The Banner' and our 'Chosen' nickname for Don Mattingly


If you were a fan of the New York Yankees in the 1980s, your favorite player was probably Don Mattingly. He won an American League batting title, an American League MVP award, he played first base better than few ever had, and even though he was surrounded by All-Stars such as Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson, he was the heart and soul of the Yankees.

He was The Captain.

At the time, Mattingly hadn't yet received the nickname for which he is best known, " Donnie Baseball." That title, given to him by the great Kirby Puckett, really didn't come until a few years later. My friends and I, however, already had our own nickname for Don Mattingly.

We called him "The Chosen One."

In 1986, a movie starring Eddie Murphy was released called "The Golden Child." And the slogan for the film - seen on all of its promotional materials - was "Eddie Murphy is The Chosen One." I thought it was pretty cool, as did my friends, most of whom were also huge Yankees fans. One friend started referring to Mattingly as "The Chosen One," and it immediately stuck. We all started calling him that. We even had a Mattingly poster hanging up in my parents' basement, where we always hung out, and I decided to cut "The Chosen One" words off of a movie poster for "The Golden Child" and put them right on the Mattingly poster.

We loved it.

The original "modified" Don Mattingly poster which hung in my parents' basement.  

Sometimes, we simply referred to Mattingly as "Chosen." If we were watching a game, and Mattingly got a big hit, one of us would yell "Chosen!" And towards the end of the '80s, when the quality of the Yankee team declined and players like Winfield and Henderson were traded away, the nickname seemed even more fitting. Donnie was our guy. For about five years, from 1989-1992, he was the only great Yankee left. And though a bad back had depleted some of his skills, he was still, to us, "The Chosen One."

We used to go to Yankee games all the time during those years. We loved the Yanks, we loved being at Yankee Stadium, and even though the team was lousy, there was always Donnie. At one point, I recall thinking how it might be pretty cool if Mattingly could somehow know about our nickname for him. I thought, if nothing else, he'd get a kick out of it, and Lord knows he probably could have used a little bit of levity with a Yankee team that was certainly not going to the playoffs. And so, I had an idea: "Let's make a huge 'Don Mattingly Is The Chosen One' banner and take it to a game."

One of our friends who was a talented artist agreed make the banner, and he did a great job. It looked good, and as planned, we started taking it to Yankee games. And that's when this story gets amusing. The very first time we took it, we hung it from one of the high upper decks at the Stadium, and I'll never forget seeing a couple of guys on the Yankees pointing up to it during batting practice and chuckling. They made sure Donnie saw it, too, and that alone was worth the effort. At that moment, we knew that Don Mattingly was aware that there were at least a couple of fans out there who had their own nickname for him, and it appeared he'd gotten a kick out of it.

My friends and I hang "The Chosen One" banner at Yankee Stadium

But the saga of what we now call "The Banner" was just beginning.

At one game to which we took the banner, Mattingly homered, and as he was rounding the bases, they put the banner up on the huge video screen in centerfield. Everybody in the stadium saw it, and we later heard that it was also on TV.

'The Banner' appears on the centerfield scoreboard as Don Mattingly rounds the bases

In 1997, the year Mattingly officially announced his retirement, my friend called and, in and excited tone, said he needed to see me right away. When I later caught up with him, he smiled and handed me a copy of the 1997 New York Yankees Official Yearbook. Inside, there was a special tribute section to Mattingly. And ... a picture of the banner.

We couldn't believe it.

'The Banner' as it appears in the 1997 New York Yankees Yearbook

Years later, the YES Network, which is owned and operated by the Yankees, began producing hour-long documentaries on great Yankees players. Each is called a "Yankeeography," and of course, they did one on Mattingly. And in his "Yankeeography," there was a segment on how beloved he was by the fans. And there it was ... a shot of the banner.

'The Banner' also appeared in Don Mattingly's "Yankeeography"

As you'd imagine, my friends and I always got a kick out of these things. I still have the banner, and after seeing it on the huge video screen at Yankee Stadium, seeing it in the Yankees Yearbook and on a "Yankeeography," we thought we'd seen it all. Until this week, when I was reading a new book  titled "Donnie Baseball: The Definitive Biography of Don Mattingly."  And on page 125, Mattingly himself actually talks about the banner, and how he did indeed find it very amusing.

Don Mattingly talks about 'The Banner' is a new biography about his life in baseball. (Click to enlarge)

I don't know if you could imagine what it felt like to be reading a book about your favorite baseball player of all-time and to come across such a passage. It was unreal. More than 23 years after we first took it to Yankee Stadium, Don Mattingly still remembers our banner, and is obviously aware that in addition to "Donnie Baseball" he still has another nickname, at least among a small group of fans.

To us, Don Mattingly was, is, and will always be "The Chosen One."

'The Banner' gets signed by ‘The Chosen One’ Nearly 30 years ago, my friends and I gave Don Mattingly our own special nic...