Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can give franchise an identity through turmoil and ownership turnover
GLENDALE, Ari. – On the exceedingly long list of distinguished folks for whom the past couple years of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball has been beneath, the very first is Don Mattingly.
Others may prefer Joe Torre. Vin Scully is a good one. You could argue Ned Colletti. The fans, they’ve had it rough, too. The men and women who work the ballpark, the ushers and concessionaires. The players. Pick anyone in the public relations office.
But, Mattingly, he’s had to put on the uniform, stand out in front of it, defend it, roll with it, wear it.
Every stinkin’ day.
Fortunately for him, Mattingly has the advantage of having played for eight managers in 14 seasons in New York – some of those managers more than once – during a period of time many Yankees fans would just as soon forget. Except for the Mattingly part.
So, he knows turmoil and turnover.
He knows serenity within it.
Unfortunately for him, Mattingly might have assumed he’d done his time in baseball’s crazy portal and would slip into his 50s and learn his craft amid a culture of dignity and predictability.
Yeah, not so much.
The Dodgers soon will be sold to one of five groups, or one of however many survive an upcoming vote of the other 29 franchise owners. Frank McCourt has until next weekend to choose his successor, Mattingly’s next boss. This time around, Billy Martin will not be a candidate.
He’ll get Steve Cohen, the hedge-fund billionaire, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, the philanthropist. Or Magic Johnson. Or Stan Kroenke, who owns the St. Louis Rams. Or Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and Milwaukee Brewers part-owner Tony Ressler. Or Stanley Gold and the Disney family.
Then, perhaps, the Dodgers will begin the process of being the Dodgers again, though after a decade-and-a-half of Fox and McCourt ownership, there’s no telling what that is anymore.
No matter who walks through the door come next weekend, the organization will need time to compose itself, check the damages, see to it that all the limbs are still attached.
And maybe that’s why the Dodgers will sell for something like $1.5 billion, more than any North American franchise before it. Because aside from the blue script across the uniform’s chest, the still charming ballpark (and apparently in spite of the parking lots) and the television contract that’ll all but guarantee the rich guys won’t have to spend any of their own money, the Dodgers have no identity. They’re waiting to be recreated.
Magic would do, of course, just on rep alone.
If not him, though, whom?
Not because he’ll sell tickets or fill notebooks or hug guys after home runs.
But because he’ll be the same guy tomorrow. Because he believes. Because he’s bright and has seen it all and, in spite of all the opportunities otherwise, has an ego the size of Jamie McCourt’s heart.
You know why everyone drives a big, beautiful SUV in L.A.? Their self-images won’t fit in a sedan. It’s about the headroom, baby.
Mattingly could come to work in a Smart car.
Strategically, the manager wins a handful of games a year. If he’s lucky, he doesn’t lose that many. That’s the beginning and end of the top step. The rest is about getting something out of today’s player that amounts to more than attitude and selfishness. It’s about getting today’s player to show up, day after day, inning after inning, inch after inch.
Mattingly sat recently in a golf cart just outside the Dodgers’ spring training clubhouse. Entering his second year in charge, change is coming. Big talk is coming, most of it presumably from people who wouldn’t know a circle-change from a pine tar rag.
New ideas are coming. After a couple years away, so are expectations.
He has two years remaining on his contract. For, say, a professional philanthropist or some random billionaire, it would be nothing to toss those away for a bigger name, a brighter personality or a more polished or established manager.
Or, you could have this guy …
“There’s no reason in the world this franchise – in L.A., in a big market – shouldn’t be knocking on the door every year,” Mattingly said. “And I’d rather do it with a kid who’s coming across the grass.”
He gestured toward the minor-league side.
“The Los Angeles Dodgers?” he said. “We should be doing everything better than everybody else. … We shouldn’t have to deal with a guy who won’t run and we have to change the system for it. Shame on us if we’re pushing a guy through the system who won’t play the game right.”
All this other stuff? The upheaval? The disfigurement of a franchise?
But, the future?
“If they like me as a manager, then this is what I believe in,” he said. “I want to be here. I’m not afraid to say it. That’s what I want to be a part of.
“I freakin’ love it, I’m telling you.”
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