I know I’ve been really hard on Don Mattingly. I’ve often crucified him after games. I’ve picked apart his strategies and in-game moves. I’ve said before that the Dodgers may never win under his tenure, and I was dead wrong. I’m sorry. I am so sorry. Before you start throwing mud at me, let me say that yes Don Mattingly knows more about Baseball than I do. There, I said it. Happy now? Here is the moment you have all been waiting for. My serving of humble pie.
I will gladly eat all the crow in the world in exchange for the Dodgers winning. That’s all I care about. The Dodgers winning. If someone said all I had to do was to be tar and feathered and to have people throw eggs at me while standing in public, and the Dodgers would win a world series. I would do it in a heartbeat.
Manager Don Mattingly deserves to win the NL Manager of the year for this incredible run. The Dodgers began the season with a 30-42 record, and were in last place in the NL West on June 22. Since then the Dodgers have gone 39-8 one of the best runs in MLB history, propelling the club into first place, armed now with a 7.5 game lead. Things weren’t working at the time though. Everyone was hurt, nobody could get a hit with RISP, and the bullpen was a disaster. But throughout all of the calls for Mattingly’s head, he remained calm as ever. A consummate professional while the world crumbled around him, before he built it back up and than conquered it.
My argument has always been that Mattingly isn’t very good with the X and O’s, but he has been tremendously better in the second half. Maybe the Dodger’s amazing energy has rubbed off on the manager as well? Or maybe Mattingly’s steady hand prevented the Dodger Clubhouse from exploding when things were going badly. He’s also been able to motivate his club, and the winning ways have rubbed off on every player on the roster.
Mattingly is in his third year as manager of the Dodgers, and is in the final year of his contract. He was not given a contract extension at the beginning of the season. We all felt that was a bit strange, but given the fact that the Dodgers missed the playoffs last season by two games, the new ownership was waiting to wait and see how Donnie would do in his third year before making a long term choice about his future. It was understandable, and Mattingly being the savvy veteran of the game that he is, took it all in stride with understanding. (Look at me calling Mattingly savvy! My things have changed) He knew what was up.
Thank goodness things didn’t go that way, as Mattingly has led the Dodgers to one of the most prolific runs in Baseball history. A 39-8 run that has vaulted the Dodgers into first place in the NL West. No other Dodger team has ever had this kind of run before. It is historic, and Mattingly has lead with a calm and steady hand.
We thought very little in our first impressions of Donnie Baseball as a manager. The man was one of the all-time great first baseman. A lifelong Yankee star played for 15 seasons, and won seven all-star selections, nine gold gloves, and an American League MVP award. Mattingly was a great player, but could he become a great coach or manager was the question. He was called the “Hit Man” and was an institution at first base for the Yankees. He collected over 2,000 hits, but never played in a World Series. As a matter of fact he played in the postseason just once in his entire career. The Yankee teams of the 1980’s weren’t very good. Unfortunately chronic back problems derailed his career at an early age.
One of the hardest parts for a manager I believe is to transfer their Baseball knowledge into the minds of young players. It can be hard for them to relate to this younger generation, but Mattingly does that with ease The players love and respect him, and having that in the clubhouse is pretty important.
When Mattingly was the Dodger hitting coach under former manager Joe Torre, we saw him make his two mound trip blunder during a game against the Giants after Torre had been tossed from the game. It made us worry that maybe he wasn’t qualified to be manager. And if the only qualifying attribute on his resume was “studied under Joe Torre” we felt that other guys in the organization like Tim Wallach might b e more deserving or more competent as manager. We were wrong.
During this historic run, Mattingly has been mixing and matching very well. He’s almost had to constantly shuffle because of all the injuries, but his lineup choices have been a lot better during the run.
Not only that, but my main complain about his managing was his inconsistent and reckless use of the bullpen. Even that’s smoothed out as well. Of course the Dodger bullpen being awesome for the last six plus weeks has helped, but Mattingly is no longer waiting until the bases are loaded to make a pitching change, and more and more often he has been stretching out his middle reliever’s outings. He only plays a short game with the bullpen when he has to, which allows the relievers more rest during the season. He still may not be the best in-game manager in the world, but he is getting better and learning every day.
Howard Cole wrote a very eloquent piece on this explaining that Mattingly has grown into his job. He was just inexperienced, but now with a third year under his belt, which is turning out to be his masterpiece, Mattingly is finally getting the hang of this manager thing.
I still feel the injuries are another story, but the training staff should be held just as responsible as Mattingly for the litany of injuries the Dodgers have had to deal with this season.
The Dodgers released a PR statement explaining that they almost fired him when things were at their worst. Back in May when the team was utterly awful, Ken Rosenthal wrote an article saying that he thought Mattingly was going to get canned as soon as the team returned home from their road trip. It caused quite a stir. Fortunately it didn’t happen. Were the Dodgers really going to fire Mattingly? Probably not. The Dodgers know what they’re doing and that Mattingly almost got fired story was a calculated PR move. The Dodgers are good at that. Although I’m sure if things didn’t turn around, maybe things go a bit differently.
Howard explains that the turning point may have come after Mattingly made the comments that the Dodgers weren’t tough enough, and didn’t have grit. When asked why Andre Ethier wasn’t in the lineup, Mattingly responded that he was putting out the lineup that he felt had the best chance of winning. The media took this way out of context and thought Mattingly was singling out Ethier specifically. He wasn’t but that could have been the turning point. Not long after that, the Dodgers made a complete about face. They not only saved their season, but are now having one of their greatest seasons ever.
Mattingly has done a great job in cultivating this fantastic team chemistry the Dodgers have. I’m not a hypocrite, and I do believe that managers matter. The Dodgers are not just a first place team but they are one of the best teams in Baseball now, and a championship contender. I think I just have a different philosophy on Baseball than mattingly does. I don’t like mixing and matching, (I prefer to use a set lineup each day), I don’t like playing the percentages, or left/righty, and I hate bunting. But Mattingly has used all of those tools effectively in the second half to guide the Dodgers to the promised land. I still hate bunting of course.
I’m not stupid, I know everything wasn’t Mattingly’s fault. I know that healthy players, Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, excellent pitching, an improved bullpen, and a solid offense have been the primary reasons for the team’s recent success. But Mattingly’s leadership has been another big reason the team has gone on this fantastic run. It shouldn’t be overlooked.
For these reasons and more, Don Mattingly deserves to win the NL Manager of the year award. there shouldn’t even be a discussion. He also deserves his contract extension, which I assume he will get after the Dodgers win the World Series. (I hope).
So there it is. I still hate bunting though, and always will. But Mattingly’s cool, and he has everything under control.