The prevailing storyline of the early portion of the 2013 season was whether or not the Los Angeles Dodgers would fire Don Mattingly due to their initial struggles. Apparently, the Dodgers came very close to cutting ties with the manager, as Mattingly revealed last August in comments to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, saying:
"Stan was really honest. He said, 'Donnie, I don't want to do anything, but at some point I would have to.' "
Of course, the Dodgers and Mattingly turned it around, ultimately reaching the NLCS. Had Joe Kelly not drilled Hanley Ramirez in the ribs during the first game of that series, Mattingly could have been getting fitted for his first World Series Championship ring.
Mattingly now enters the 2014 season with a new long-term deal. He believes that the deal represents the faith of the front office in his abilities, saying to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“When ownership shows trust and confidence in the manager, it sends a message that they believe in you, and it goes all over — to the players and to the fans and to the media," said Mattingly. "The main thing is not my security. I know who I am and what I can do. I'm confident about that.”
The Dodgers, however, are not entirely confident in Mattingly’s abilities, as many casual observers are aware of Mattingly’s weakness with regard to in-game strategy. The club moved Tim Wallach from third base coach to bench coach to help improve that area of managing.
Mattingly’s main strength is as a communicator capable of managing the many oversized contracts and egos that reside in the Dodgers’ clubhouse. Most players regard Mattingly as a manager who is laid-back and honest; necessary qualities for the manager of a team that has an overcrowded outfield and an overcrowded rotation.
Mattingly will eventually have to deal with telling a former All-Star that he is being relegated to the role of fourth outfielder (Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier). He may also have to tell a pitcher making in excess of $12 million (Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley) that he may not have a spot in the rotation. Even the most skilled of in-game managers does not necessarily possess the ability to manage that type of situation, yet Mattingly has seemed to fare well in that role.
One thing Mattingly will not have to deal with is the constant speculation with regard to his job security, as he noted while speaking about last season’s regular round of questions to Gurnick, saying:
“During the season, you lose two or three in a row and it's every time, the lame-duck thing. The players hear it and we all have to deal with it. Now that's gone."
If Mattingly is indeed able to improve upon his in-game strategy while continuing to be a player’s manager, he could quickly ascend among the ranks of the top managers in baseball. Perhaps he will listen to A.J. Ellis this year when it comes to bunting, as he said to MLB Network back in October:
- Los Angeles Dodgers Extend the Contract of Manager Don Mattingly
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- How Will Don Mattingly Manage the Outfield Situation?
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- Examining Yasiel Puig as a Leadoff Option for the Los Angeles Dodgers
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