Wednesday, May 22, 2013

As Don Mattingly Twists In The Blue Wind...

To fire or not to fire Damn Mattingly?

These days it seems just about every writer, blogger, sportstalk radio host, and part-time Dodger fan around the water cooler isn't talking about IF Dodger manager Don Mattingly should be fired, but rather WHEN the axe will fall.  The popular theory is it'll take place sometime after the completion of today's game in Milwaukee and before first pitch Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

With Hyun-Jin Ryu leading the Dodgers to a victory today, I'm inclined to think Mattingly's hide will be rescued once again.  How long it stays rescued (if it indeed is) is anybody's guess, but I don't think Dodger's ownership really wants to fire the guy.  Heck, although I've chewed out Mattingly for boneheadedness any number of times here in the past, I've never called for his head.  Firing the guy is not going to suddenly make Matt Kemp the player he once was, or Andre Ethier the player many of us hoped he would become.

There are some out there who consistently declare that a manger doesn't make any difference.  I always wonder how literally they mean this, because OF COURSE MANAGERS MATTER.  It's simplistic to think any bum off the street could take the place of Casey Stengel and the team wouldn't miss a beat.

We've all seen teams that are so full of talent firing on all cylinders that any halfway competent game manager will look like a genius, and teams with so little talent that a gaggle of HOF managers wouldn't be able to save that mess.  In those cases managers might not matter much, but those are the exceptions to the rule.  Note: When two teams are evenly matched (more or less), the better manager can and often does make the difference.

When you have a team of players that are overachieving and leading a division over an extended period of time, that's often due to a manager.  When you have a team that can ignore the hot spotlights of controversial ownership, team bankruptcy and fan boycotts while remaining focused on the field, that's due to a manager.   When you have star players who are slumping, but they're not criticized in interviews, or are given multiple chances until they can work their ways out of it, that's thanks to a manager. 

Apparently the Dodger players love Mattingly.  This is partly due to his intense loyalty to them.  For the first miserable part of this season, Mattingly has refused to publicly knock any of his players, or the team as a whole.  Despite Matt Kemp's inability to rise to the level of just being a shadow of the batter he once was, he remains cemented in the 3 or 4 spot in the batting order.  After the Dodgers were embarrassingly stomped and swept in San Francisco earlier this season, Mattingly said he was "more pleased" with the team after the sweep.  Now THAT'S loyalty - to a fault.

Perhaps sensing - as most of us do - that now every game is a potential make or break for his job, before this morning's game Mattingly gave one of the most honest assessments of the Dodgers that I've heard from him all season.  As reported by Bill Plunkett in the  O.C.Register and picked up by Ernest Reyes over at Dodgers Blue Heaven , Mattingly actually called out his players publicly and said:

"We gotta find a team with talent that will fight and compete like a club that doesn't have that talent."

 "There has to be a mixture of competitiveness. It's not 'Let's put an All-Star team together and the All-Star team wins'."

 "All grit and no talent isn't going to make you successful. But all talent and no grit isn't going to get you there either."

WOW! Coming from a guy like Mattingly, these are bombshells.   Apparently he's decided that HE better show some grit before he's tossed under the bus.  Is it too little, too late?  If this is the first time anyone who matters has heard those words from him, it may well be too late.  However, I think he's said this before, behind closed doors, and perhaps all the way to the top.  Therefore he feels comfortable enough - or stressed enough - to finally air it out for all of us on the outside.  This wasn't criticism filled with frustration or bile.  He's simply calling it like it is.  Every now and then everybody needs a cold dose of reality to stop our world and get us realigned. 

As much as I have faulted Mattingly for his past in-game decision making, I gotta admire the guy's loyalty to his team and his players.  Do you remember the last time the Dodgers had a manager with such devotion?  Yup, Tommy Lasorda.

Sometimes never-die loyalty and trust in a player to rise to the occasion like Tommy had will get you bit in the rear (see Tom Niedenfuer), but quite often it nets awesome results (see Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser and so on).  Sometimes even, entire teams will respond (see 1988 Dodgers).  Managers don't matter, my eye.

Perhaps Dodgers ownership recognizes and actually wants that type of loyalty from a manager.  He's certainly given these Dodgers every possible chance to rise to the occasion and never questioned their ability or "grit" - until now.  I would venture Kasten and Co. are not blind to the fact they built this team, not Mattingly.  Surely they recognize if Kemp and Ethier did the jobs they are being handsomely paid to do, this conversation would not be taking place. 

Which is why Mattingly may be saved.  There's not enough loyalty in the world, much less in sports today.  If he's anything, Mattingly is old school loyalty, which the Dodgers used to embody, and may well wish to embrace once again.

I don't think Magic really wants to be the face of the guys who fired Donnie Baseball, so I see this drama being strung along a bit further.  I think they give Mattingly until the All-Star break to find out just how much grit this team has.  

Then we'll see something. 

1 comment: