Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mattingly vs. Ethier Round One

With an off day for the Dodger Nation, we all get to reflect on the bizarre whirlwind that the 2013 season has become.  Over the past week the Dodgers and their fans have seen everything from the depths of getting swept (again), to the heights of a Clayton Kershaw masterpiece (again), to rampant media speculation over the exact second Don Mattingly will be fired (mostly proven wrong as of this writing), to Mattingly firing his own shots across the bow toward anyone within earshot (the most interesting development of them all). 

Since the  statements made by Mattingly before yesterday's game have underlined and punctuated almost every word said or written about the Dodgers since, here's my dos centavos:

Most folks have rightfully taken those statements to be shots at popular Dodger Andre Ethier and equally UNpopular Dodger G.M. Ned Colletti.  While I agree with the initial assessments, I think some out there are missing the point behind his calling out (and sitting down) of Ethier.

Some folks are presuming Ethier was benched because he's somehow been "dogging it" and not giving enough effort in the field or not hitting well enough with RISP, and then correctly arguing that we've all seen him play hard on defense, he hasn't been the only stiff in the lineup when it comes to RISP, and he's certainly putting up better power numbers than his underachieving teammate, Matt Kemp.  That said, there are definite issues with Ethier's emotional maturity levels - which definitely affect his ability to play at his best. 

How Andre sees himself.

How too many of us have seen him too often.

When Mattingly sat Ethier because he wanted to field a team of  players willing to "compete", I don't think he was referring to Ethier's work ethic or whether or not he dives often enough in the outfield.  Rather, he was speaking about THIS Andre Ethier (credit o.p. Chad Moriyama):

Far too often Andre has allowed his emotions to control his actions.  He may very well see this as his competitive spirit,  but Mattingly is enough of a manager to know when a guy is seeing red, he's effectively taken himself out of the game.  Even if the ump doesn't eject him, a player in this state of mind will stand in the outfield focused on himself and being angry at the world, potentially missing that crucial first jump that is the difference between stealing a home run at the wall and being one step too late to do anything but watch it sail just beyond his glove. 

Mattingly didn't bench Ethier because he doesn't have any fire, it's because Andre internalizes and misdirects it.  All athletes feel the emotion of the game; it's how they handle it that separates the great ones from the Milton Bradleys.

I think that's what Mattingly was trying to say here: Asked if he didn't think Ethier would fight, Mattingly said, "I don't really want to say that, but we've got to compete."

and here:
 “There’s a touch of a difference between saying you’re giving your best effort and you’re willing to fight for something,” Mattingly said. “Some guys go to another level for that price, will do whatever it takes to win a game … that inside, you’re not beating me today. There’s something there you can’t measure with Sabermetrics. You can’t put a number on it.”

Mattinlgy has challenged Ethier to dig down inside himself and stop reacting like a disappointed adolescent.  He's asked him to sit a bit, reflect on his actions and play the game like a man.

That said, I'm encouraged (and I wager Mattingly is as well) that Ethier took the  high road (mostly) in reacting to his benching.  Ethier says he's disappointed that Mattingly spoke to the press about this before speaking to him privately, and  some are taking him at his word, in turn criticizing Mattingly for this supposed slight as well.

However, Mattingly's stated that he's spoken to Ethier about these issues a few times in the past.  It's entirely possible that Ethier is simply not making the connection between those past conversations and this week's disciplinary action.  Regardless of who's right on that particular angle, it's still incumbent upon Andre to step up and prove himself worthy of remaining in the lineup the next time he gets the chance.

"Put me in, coach."

One last note: Had enough negatives and speculation? Read a great piece here  at True Blue L.A. about "What has gone right for the Dodgers". 


  1. "Mattingly didn't bench Ethier because he doesn't have any fire, it's because Andre internalizes and misdirects it. All athletes feel the emotion of the game; it's how they handle it that separates the great ones from the Milton Bradleys."

    In 2 sentences you absolutely nailed it. I've been wondering how to express my thoughts on Ethier and have not been able to put it in to words. You just did that for me.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Ernest. I just call 'em as I see 'em.