Don Mattingly was so lightly regarded in baseball coming out of Reitz Memorial High School in his hometown of Evansville, Indiana, that he wasn’t drafted until the 19th round — 15 rounds after future Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.
“I thought I was going to go really high,” Mattingly said of the 1979 amateur draft. “But, looking back, I couldn’t throw, didn’t have any power and I couldn’t run. Out of the five things [scouts look at], all I could do was put the ball in play. I was a one-tool player. I could hit, just not for power.”
As a result, Mattingly wasn’t taken until the 493rd pick, long after a couple of future football greats — Marino and John Elway — were selected.
Marino, a right-handed pitcher, was taken in the fourth round out of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh with the 99th overall pick by the Kansas City Royals. Elway went in the 18th round.
Baseball’s loss was football’s gain. Marino and Elway spurned baseball and went on to have Hall of Fame careers in the NFL.
Mattingly, of course, turned into one of the greatest hitters of his era with the New York Yankees.
Mattingly said he didn’t even know who Marino was when Marino was drafted ahead of him that year.
“In those days, they didn’t have Baseball America,” Mattingly said. “You didn’t get all this information. It was probably a year or two years later that I found out Marino was the guy in front of me.”
By then, Marino was making his mark on the gridiron at the University of Pittsburgh while Mattingly was working his way up through the minors in the Yankees’ farm system.
Mattingly recalled a story involving a Phillies scout who came to watch him play in high school and walked away unimpressed. The scout reported back to the Phillies that Mattingly wasn’t much of a player despite the fact he hit .552 over his final two seasons.
A couple of years later, while Mattingly was taking batting practice with the Nashville Sounds, the scout noticed him hitting baseballs off a building beyond the outfield wall.
As Mattingly tells it, the scout turned to his son and said, “Who is this kid?”
“The kid says, ‘Dad, this kid is Don Mattingly. He can really hit,’ ” Mattingly recalled. “And the scout goes ‘Ohhhhh.’”
Mattingly decided against playing in college in order to turn pro.
“I wasn’t very smart,” Mattingly said. “I was getting recruited by Miami and Florida State. And I was, ‘Why do I want to go down to those schools? I can go to Indiana State (which was also recruiting him). It’s either Miami or Terre Haute.’ ”
Ultimately, Mattingly said no thanks to college and went directly to the minors, a decision that turned out just fine.
And, in the end, Marino made the decision to play football. And that worked out pretty well, too.