Tomorrow the pre-season officially begins. Pitchers will begin to work on consistently finding the strike zone. Batters will begin taking their cuts at real pitches. Outfielders will track down pop flies and line drives. Infielders will be attempting to turn ground balls into a double play with a real runner attempting to take them out. I cannot wait!
And neither can Don Mattingly according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com as he will officially manage his first game for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mattingly takes over for his mentor, Joe Torre, who manned the team for the last three years. Three years. Mattingly is the seventh manager the Dodgers have had since Tommy Lasorda decided to hang ‘em up after the 1996 season.
Seven managers in 15 years?!?! This is hardly the stability that had once marked this proud franchise. From 1954 – 1996, the Dodgers had two managers. Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda. Both are in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame. Both men won titles. Both men endured hard times.
Now the team is characterized by instability. Owner Frank McCourt continues to have difficulty finding the money he needs to run the team. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig yesterday denied a proposal that would have allowed Fox to loan McCourt $200 million. This may be the beginning of the end for McCourt as Selig clearly is no longer supportive of his ownership.
Future Hall of Famer Joe Torre was brought in 2008 to bring a stabilizing presence and restore the fortunes of this historic franchise. Torre had the Dodgers knocking on the door of the World Series his first two years, only to be denied by the Phillies both times. Last year things fell apart, as they usually do when everyone knows the manager is stepping down at the end of the season.
Joe Torre decided that he no longer wanted to work under this unstable, unpredictable owner. Perhaps Torre could also see the writing on the wall, knowing that the finances were not going to be there to field a championship contender. Don Mattingly was tabbed as the man in charge of bringing back championship glory to Dodger nation.
Growing up in New York state, my friends and I used to argue who got to be #23 in our backyard ballgames (yes even non-Yankee fans wanted to be Donnie Baseball). I admit that my opinion may be a tad biased in favor of Don Mattingly. I was super-pumped when he was named successor to Joe Torre. And what I have seen this Spring has not done anything to dissuade my enthusiasm.
And thus far, I think the Dodgers have made the right choice. Now I know that it is way too early to start the Manager of the Year campaign for Donnie Baseball. But he has already got the attention and the respect of this team. Many of these players watched Mattingly dominate the American League as the first baseman and captain for the New York Yankees during the ‘80’s and ‘90’s.
Mattingly has taken that same drive, that same work ethic, and the same love of the game that made him a superstar as a player and is using it to prepare his team. He has a plan. He has already named Clayton Kershaw as the Opening Day starter.
Mattingly has announced his plan to have Andre Ethier bat in the three spot and Matt Kemp as his cleanup hitter. He is going to play many players at multiple positions this Spring to increase versatility and his options throughout the year, safeguarding against injuries and while taking care of the need to rest veteran players.
Mattingly has said that he wants this team to be mentally tough and to play the game with an aggressive intensity and grit. Davey Lopes was brought on board to oversee and improve the base running of the team that he won a World Series Title with as a player.
It is clear that Donnie has a certain style of baseball in mind and is going to do what it takes to make sure the players buy in. He is going to be a hands-on manager, as was demonstrated by watching his pitchers throw from inside the batter’s box. Time will tell if his way will bring back the Dodger way, winning baseball.