Within the wide world of sports card collecting, there are niches and circles that take collectors a step or two further than the average hobbyist.
Take, for example, the niche of collecting Don Mattingly cards. While there is certainly nothing odd about that, dig deeper in this niche and you will find a circle of collectors not only after Mattingly’s “regular” cards but also many other varieties, including: printing errors; test-proof variants; Score Magic Motion Trivia Cards that provide information about Mattingly Trivial Pursuit game cards with Mattingly’s name printed as an answer to a trivia question; and cards where Donnie Baseball makes a cameo appearance in the background (including his face on a fan’s shirt on Joe Carter’s 1994 Pinnacle card).
All of these and more are on what is called the Mattingly List, an online checklist that serious Donnie Baseball collectors go to. Found at mattinglylist.com, the checklist contains more than 10,000 different Mattingly cards, and counting. It is not for dabblers.
The design of the Mattingly List website reflects Donnie Baseball himself. Mattingly, currently the manager of the Miami Marlins, was all business as a player. There was nothing showy or flashy about his game.
Likewise, there is nothing unnecessarily fancy about this straightforward online checklist that organizes thousands of Mattingly cards year by year. The most ornate thing about the website is a cool header that reads “Collecting Donnie Baseball — Since 1987,” made by graphic designer Vince Ewert.
Ewert, who lives in West Linn, Ore., makes the Mattingly List and checks off his Mattingly cards in a “have” column on the website. But people like Ewert are not merely “collectors.”
“The supercollector,” Ewert said, “I hate to say that out loud, but people who do what I do are called ‘supercollectors.’ They’re focused on one niche. Sometimes it’s a person, and that’s what I’m collecting.
“I do collect — don’t tell anybody — I have a small Lawrence Taylor collection,” Ewert added, but those football cards are the extent of his collection besides Mattingly cards.
Supercollectors are loyal, and Ewert, 44, was drawn to Donnie Baseball 35 years ago. His first card of Mattingly was a 1987 Topps All-Star. A friend, who was into the Yankees, gave him some inside information.
“I don’t remember what he told me,” Ewert said of his friend. “But he must have said Don Mattingly is it. He’s the best. And it stuck with me.”
Years later, Ewert would discover that there are variations of that 1987 Topps All-Star card to pursue, such as one with a missing trademark symbol and a couple of back errors that escaped the factory where Mattingly’s All-Star card has pitcher Joaquin Andujar’s information on the back, and Andujar’s card ended up with Mattingly’s back.
But before he was concerned with variations, Ewert had to get that iconic card that many a young hobbyist longed for: the 1984 Donruss rookie.
“I wanted that card so bad,” Ewert said of the Donruss rookie. “When I was 12, my mom bought it for me as a birthday gift. It was a big deal to us because it was $80 back then, and $80 dollars was a lot of money for my family.
“I still have it, and it’s not worth $80,” Ewert added with a laugh.
By the way, Ron Guidry’s 1984 Donruss card also has a spot on the Mattingly List, as Donnie makes a cameo appearance on that one.
Guidry and others, including George Brett, Wade Boggs and Bernie Williams, spoke highly of Mattingly in a recent MLB Network documentary called ”Donnie Baseball.” Although Mattingly’s offensive production slowed in the second half of his career due to back pain, the “Hit Man” averaged 203 hits, 43 doubles, 27 home runs and 114 RBI a year his first six full seasons. Not to be overlooked are the first baseman’s nine gold gloves.
Although the Yankee captain stopped playing at the age of 34 and never got to the World Series with the only big league team he played for, fans and players alike wonder why this one-time face of baseball does not have a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“If I’m going to be in a foxhole, who do I want with me?” Brett said in the MLB documentary. “Playing against Don Mattingly, he was the guy. In my mind, he’s a Hall of Famer.”
But would a Hall of Fame plaque give the 1985 MVP higher compliments than the one at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium? There, Mattingly is described as “a humble man of grace and dignity” and “a captain who led by example.”
CHASING MATTINGLY CARDS
Most of Mattingly’s cards come after his playing days ended in 1995, particularly the explosion of numbered insert cards, especially the 1/1 and 1/5 cards that make getting them all an impossibility.
Ewert’s collection now consists of more than 2,600 unique Mattingly cards, many coming from his playing years, that he keeps in binders. He made the decision long ago to focus on the Yankee first baseman while trying to keep up with his friends snatching up all the hot rookie cards.
“I’d go to card shows, I’d go to our local card shops, trying to collect all these cards,” Ewert said. “At some point I just decided it was too difficult. I really liked Don Mattingly, but it was too difficult to collect all these different cards, Will Clark and Bo Jackson, and all these guys my friends were all collecting almost for like investment purposes. Which is hilarious now. So, I abandoned all those and just stuck with Donnie.
“And it goes from 100 cards to 200 to 500, and then you’re like, you don’t know which cards you have,” said Ewert, who in his college years loved dropping by local card shops to sift through the Mattingly box.
Ewert first kept track of his collection with Mattingly checklists published in Baseball Cards magazine. Later a list was sold online by a Mattingly fan through a now-defunct website dedicated to Donnie Baseball. Eventually Ewert was inspired to make his own list using Excel. Finally, 15 years ago, a coworker helped Ewert make the list conveniently available online.
As Donnie collectors found the Mattingly List website, emails started coming in regularly with new cards to add. Many additions have come from members of a Facebook group Ewert is a part of called “Don Mattingly Baseball Cards,” where card discussions run deep. There is a link to the group at the bottom of Ewert’s website.
“It’s by far the greatest amount of knowledge you could ever want as far as Don Mattingly,” Ewert said of the online group, which has more than a thousand members. “It’s pretty unreal.”
In the group are supercollectors who not only have 3,000 unique Mattingly’s, but reportedly even twice that many. Shortly after joining Ewert said he realized he “was the small fish in the big pond,” yet his Mattingly List is what everyone in this circle refers to.
“I’ve met dozens of guys that are as crazy as I am, if not crazier, and it’s created a community,” said Ewert, who now helps moderate the group. “Not an in-person community, but I think, still, it’s something.”
But talk with Ewert, who these days collects in moderation, and you will find that he is not crazy. You might even be inspired to bring more focus to your own collecting. Anyone got a complete list of (baseball and football) Bo Jackson cards?
— Matt Bosch went to his first professional baseball game in Japan 20 years ago and has been a fan ever since. He teaches at a university in Japan and enjoys researching and writing about Japanese baseball.