It has been reported that the Nationals have asked for permission to speak with Don Mattingly, hitting coach of the Dodgers, former manager-in-waiting of the Yankees, former Yankee’s captain, and former best player in baseball for a few years. And if not for a bad back, he was on his way to being a surefire HOFer. What would he bring to the team?
I was living in New York City during the Torre->Girardi transition, and at the time Mattingly was considered the frontrunner for the job. He is extremely popular among Yankees fans, rivaling Jeter in how much affirmation they pour out for him. Many fans remember what he did from 1984-1989, when he was a dominating hitter. That, coupled with his tutelage under the Joe Torre management regime, made him the perceived #1 candidate to be the next manager of the Yankees to most of the fanbase, especially after Willie Randolph left to manage the Mets. It all changed, however, on that fateful night in Cleveland, when Joba was covered in bugs and blew a 1-0 lead.
Ok, maybe not, the Indians only tied the game in that inning, and with a win, NY would have only tied the LDS 1-1. Saying that changed the course of history is like saying Jeffrey Maier killed the O’s despite the fact that the HR only tied the game, it was only the 8th inning, and it was only GAME 1! Shouldn’t putting Armando Benitez on the field in a high leverage moment be enough to disqualify them? Regardless, many people in New York, who were already clamoring for a new manager after 6 years of playoff ousters, pointed to the moment as a reason to get rid of Torre. Torre himself said not pulling his team off the field during the attack of the killer midges was a big mistake. The result – the Yankees dragged their feet, offered him only a one year deal (still making him the highest paid manager in the majors), and he turned them down
Why is this all important?
It’s very important, because Don Mattingly then came in to the picture as the replacements. But he was subsequently passed up for the job, and left town with Torre.He was passed over not just because he was part of the Torre team, but because he was considered a Joe Torre, Jr. Meanwhile, Joe Girardi had some success with the Marlins (one year) and was seen as very different. While Mattingly hasn’t managed yet, conventional wisdom in New York was that he would manage very similar to Joe Torre.
What Does that Mean?
These are good questions I keep asking myself! Torre has been extremely successful as a manager, and he has a distinctive style. He is very understanding of his players, but he wasn’t necessarily a “player’s coach” in that he didn’t let just anything happen. He is brilliant at managing egos, and is always even-keeled. When you think of Torre, you tend to think of him sitting stoically in the dugout, despite what is going on around him. Often times, I was concerned that he actually fell asleep during games, a no-no for a manager. He never panicked, whether the Yankees were behind in a game, or a dozen games behind Boston in the standings in June. And, for the most part, it worked out well for him.
His biggest flaw is managing bullpens. He trusted Mariano Rivera, Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton during the Yankees World Series run. In the subsequent years, Mo was there, and other guys came in and out, but it was always just one or two guys. He was never able to have a deep bullpen, and it wasn’t really perceived to be from lack of arms. As soon as Girardi came in, he was able to work successful bullpens out of the same players. Rather, it seems that Torre takes a liking to a few guys in the pen, and everyone else can go suck a lemon. Will Mattingly have the same flaw? It is impossible to tell. Or, as Kornheiser would say, it’s 50-50, either he does or he doesn’t!
As for the validity of the hire, well, he is certainly of manager pedigree. I have no idea how successful he’ll be, but he does seem to be the calm, cool and collected type in the Joe Torre mold. And he is as classy a player and a person you will see in sports. Is he a good fit for this team? He’s hasn’t been associated with a stinker of a team since he had a bad back and was surrounded by pitchers like Andy Hawkins. It will certainly be a change from coaching the class of the AL and NL. However, he certainly brings an air of dignity, winning ways and cache to the franchise. As well as almost always some sort of facial hair. One interesting thing is that, in terms of personality, he may remind alot of people of Manny Acta. Depending on your perspective, that may or may not be a bad thing.