If general manager Dal Maxvill had been willing to part with pitcher Joe Magrane, Don Mattingly might have been a first baseman for the Cardinals instead of spending his entire playing career with the Yankees.
Twenty-five years ago, Mattingly, at the peak of his all-star playing career, was feuding publicly with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. That fueled media speculation that the Yankees were willing to trade Mattingly, who expressed interest in the Cardinals because of the proximity of St. Louis to his hometown of Evansville, Ind.
The Cardinals admitted interest in pursuing a deal. Media reports suggested the Yankees would want shortstop Ozzie Smith or center fielder Willie McGee in return. But the player New York apparently wanted most was Magrane, who at the time was St. Louis’ prized pitching phenom.
In August 1988, Mattingly, 27, already was a five-time all-star who had earned an American League Most Valuable Player Award, one batting title and three Gold Glove awards. But he became disgruntled with the way he believed Steinbrenner was treating Yankees players.
“The players get no respect around here,” Mattingly said to the Associated Press. “They (management) give you money, that’s it. Not respect. Money is not respect.”
Reports spread quickly that an angry Steinbrenner intended to trade Mattingly. The Cardinals, who had just acquired first baseman Pedro Guerrero from the Dodgers, were willing to move Guerrero to left field and open the job at first base for Mattingly.
“I see where Mattingly wants to go to St. Louis,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “That takes care of us. Steinbrenner sure wouldn’t trade him where he wants to go. You know what I mean? He’d say, ‘I’ll show him. I’ll trade him to Seattle.’ “
Still, baseball writers produced a stream of reports that speculated on a deal between the Yankees and Cardinals.
On Sept. 4, 1988, Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch wrote, “The Cardinals have some players in which the Yankees would seem interested. Certainly the Yankees would want a starting pitcher. Joe Magrane probably is unavailable. But Greg Mathews, if he shows he has recovered from elbow surgery, might be.”
Hummel suggested several possible packages to land Mattingly, including Mathews, McGee and catcher Tony Pena, or Mathews and Ozzie Smith.
About a month later, under the Post-Dispatch headline, “Maxvill Says He’ll Pursue Mattingly,” the general manager told Hummel, “I definitely want to talk to them.”
Wizard a Yankee?
Two days later, in a column that rocked Cardinals Nation, Tom Wheatley of the Post-Dispatch opined, “Ozzie Smith must go. And if the Wizard of Oz can be used as bait to land a whopper such as Don Mattingly, all the better.”
Maxvill said he made more inquiries about acquiring Mattingly, but he told Hummel, ‘I don’t think they’re interested in moving him as much as everybody thinks. That’s what I thought before and it’s been reinforced to me.”
Just when it appeared the possibility of a trade had waned, Murray Chass of the New York Times, citing an anonymous American League club executive, reported that the Cardinals, Cubs, Padres or Giants was close to making a deal for Mattingly.
Wrote Chass: “If the Cardinals, for example, were really serious about the pursuit of Mattingly, they would have to offer the Yankees Joe Magrane … The Cardinals, however, will not offer Magrane; therefore, no deal.”
Magrane, 24, was the National League earned-run average leader (2.18) in 1988, his second season with St. Louis.
In December 1988, the Post-Dispatch reported why a deal for Mattingly appeared dead: “Maxvill said the New York Yankees never had asked seriously about acquiring (Ozzie) Smith in a Don Mattingly deal. Pitcher Joe Magrane’s name, on the other hand, did come up in discussions with the Yankees. But Maxvill said the Cardinals would be highly reluctant to part with him.”
Magrane achieved a career-high 18 wins for the 1989 Cardinals. Mattingly stayed with the Yankees and completed his 14-season big-league career with them in 1995. He finished with a .307 career batting mark and 2,153 hits.