LOS ANGELES – Don Mattingly will win one day. It only seems right. He may never find the place that fits him quite like New York did, or loved him as New York did. He may never have the payroll that Los Angeles did. But he will win, because he cares and he’s smart and one day there will be a roster of men who will view the game the way Mattingly does and honor it as such.
He will win one day because one man’s timing can’t be this bad forever.
The Yankees were baseball’s best franchise over a century, mostly excepting Mattingly’s decade and a half as a player, then even skirting his years on Joe Torre’s coaching staff. The Dodgers are a rising Goliath, and when they win again – assuming they win again – it will be post-Mattingly.
After five years of some good, usually in the regular season, and some bad, often in the postseason, Mattingly and the Dodgers have split up. Mattingly, 54, had a year remaining on his contract. He will be paid through 2016. The separation was termed as mutual, as an opportunity for, as Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, “Both sides to start fresh.” Friedman, it should be noted, only just got there.
So Friedman is off to find his Joe Maddon, not precisely Joe Maddon, of course, but a baseball mind that perhaps more closely syncs with his own. Maybe that is Gabe Kapler, a favorite of Friedman’s who heads the team’s player development department. Maybe that is Dave Martinez, Maddon’s bench coach in Chicago and Tampa and therefore quite familiar to Friedman. Maybe that is Bud Black, pitching savvy and a respected leader. Maybe that is Ron Roenicke, the former Milwaukee Brewers manager turned Dodgers third base coach. Maybe they go rogue with Ozzie Guillen. Maybe not.
Mattingly’s own bench coach, Tim Wallach, interviewed this week with the Washington Nationals, who, like the Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and now the Dodgers, have a managerial vacancy. Presumably Mattingly becomes a candidate for some of those openings, as well, notably in Miami, where he is believed to be intriguing to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. The annual drama that comes with Loria and the Marlins might not appeal to Mattingly, but the roster is undeniably talented and Mattingly would like to continue his career.
“I definitely want to manage, period,” he said.
Asked if he’d already started working toward that – contacting teams, or being contacted by them – he chuckled and said, “We’re 12 hours out [from leaving the Dodgers.] You’re not allowed to talk to anyone …”
He trailed off from there.
Sources said Thursday that Friedman was not necessarily eager to rid himself of Mattingly and neither was Mattingly eager to leave the Dodgers. Still there was not nearly enough common ground to where they could work together even for another year, and by Thursday each seemed quite pleased to be done with the other.
“I’m doing what’s best for myself,” Mattingly said during an afternoon conference call. “I’m doing what’s best for the organization.”
They’d met since the Dodgers were eliminated a week ago by the New York Mets, discussed the direction of the club and the relationship between the front office and manager’s office, and concluded neither would be completely happy. Mattingly also would not be offered a contract extension, a point of contention the last time he’d come up on his final year. This time around, he said, “I wasn’t concerned with that,” a rather abrupt reversal if true.
Nearing what we know today was the end, Mattingly seemed not so much unhappy as he did tired. Maybe it was just that. He’d managed a difficult clubhouse for years. While this year’s version seemed less flammable, he did carry the expectations of a $300 million payroll that came without a particularly reliable bullpen, without starting pitching depth, and without a sustainable offense in the second half. For the many roster maneuverings, the Dodgers were no better in 2015 than they’d been in 2014, a season that got their general manager fired.
The team’s coaches have been told they are free to look elsewhere, though many – if not all – of their contracts expire on Nov. 1 anyway. Had Mattingly stayed he may not have saved all of their jobs, but they certainly would be less vulnerable. Several coaches contacted Thursday afternoon said they’d not yet heard from their now former manager.
“Obviously I do worry about them,” Mattingly said. “But, at the same time, it was a decision I had to make. At times you have to make a decision that’s best for yourself.”
There were rumors the front office forced him to play certain players and bat them in specific places. That’s not so unusual anymore, though it certainly would not work if it meant Mattingly could not tamp some of the extreme personalities in his clubhouse. The only sword a manager wields is playing time, and then only if a player is not a star and not making too much money. Even so, Mattingly on Thursday denied that had been an issue.
“The relationship,” he insisted, “is not strained in any way.”
That was that. He’d leave with a .551 winning percentage. He’d leave having won three NL West titles and but one division series. He’d leave to go win somewhere else, and he will, because there must be a place for him that will honor the notion of showing up, playing hard and being a reasonable teammate.
There must be. It only seems right.
More MLB coverage: