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Change Doesn't Bother Mattingly

July 24, 1994|JON HEYMAN | NEWSDAY

OAKLAND — Don Mattingly, saddled with a bum wrist and low power numbers, gracefully accepted Manager Buck Showalter's decision to move him from the coveted No. 3 spot in the batting order to No. 5. In fact, Mattingly applauded the switch.

No controversy here, no sir. The Yankees' most celebrated player over the past decade said he knew it was time to be dropped in the order. Paul O'Neill batted third Wednesday night against the Athletics, with Mattingly moving to No. 5 for the first time since May 28, 1984. No hard feelings.

"If I was managing, I would have done it a long time ago, the way Paulie's hitting," Mattingly said. "He needs to get into a position where he gets the most at-bats."

The move apparently was much tougher on Showalter, who admitted he's been mulling the switch for a month. Mattingly has been glued for years to the No. 3 hole, generally reserved for a team's best hitter. However, at times in recent years, his persona has kept him at No. 3 as much as his pop. Before Wednesday night, the last time Mattingly did not bat third was Aug. 11, 1992, when he batted fourth. It was such a shock to see him as low as fifth that the PA announcer mistakenly called Mattingly's name fourth.

Showalter stopped short of describing the move as permanent, although he indicated he isn't viewing this as short-term, either. O'Neill, the league's hitting leader at .383, will bat third against right-handers for now, with someone else likely to take that spot against left-handers. Jim Leyritz would seem to be a logical choice.

It has become apparent that Mattingly, who is only 6 for 24 since returning from the disabled list, has not completely recovered from the wrist injury that has hampered him all year. Showalter cited Mattingly's lingering ailment as a main reason for the switch. While Mattingly is batting .301, his homer total of five is noticeably low in this year of the home run. And it also is difficult to ignore the stunning and consistent production of O'Neill. Just when there was a sign he might slow down, he got hot again; he is on a 20-for-39 tear.

"This will give Paul a couple extra at-bats until Don gets a little more comfortable," Showalter said. "It's not where he'd like it to be. Certain swings he takes, it bothers him. It's probably going to be with him the rest of the season." Mattingly's frustration is clear. At one point while discussing the troublesome wrist, he joked he might "cut it off."

O'Neill was as unaffected by the move as Mattingly. Typically, O'Neill said, "I don't think it's a big deal." In the past, O'Neill was viewed as someone with a fragile psyche about his batting position. However, Showalter said, "I think Paul's over that."

Mattingly on rare occasions in the past has expressed a preference for the third spot. However, he said the only time he thought it was a mistake not to bat him third was in 1989, when Bucky Dent became manager and the Yankees had no other run-producer besides Mattingly. That lasted only one game, as Mattingly made clear his thoughts about batting second by dragging a bunt in his first at-bat.

Mattingly said his spot in the order "is not something I take personally. The thing I take personally is that I wish I were swinging the bat better."

Mattingly conceded he has not batted like a No. 3 hitter this season, like Rafael Palmeiro or Ken Griffey Jr. Or like O'Neill. "Times change," Mattingly said. "I'm not 23 or 24 anymore. The club's not the same. The situation is different. We've got a guy leading the league in hitting. He should be getting more at-bats. I believe this is the right thing to do."

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