By In Baseball

The Mattingly Riddle

From NBC SportsWorld:

I had asked Dayton Moore what guided him through the dark years. It’s easy to forget now but Moore was pretty unpopular. He was into his sixth year as the team’s general manager, and the Royals remained in a death spiral of losing. He talked so often about the “process” that the very word became a lightning rod for howls in Kansas City. Royals owner David Glass never even hinted that Moore’s job was on the line, but that didn’t keep many Kansas City fans from hoping for the end of the Moore experience.

And that question: What was the guiding light that led him through?

“The thing I kept thinking all along was, ‘We’re doing this the right way. We’re doing it with good people. At the end of the day we’re going to win,’” he said.

That’s pretty simple sounding, isn’t it? Build your plan around good people who do things the right way and wait for it to pay off. That sounds almost too obvious. It sounds like what everybody around baseball — heck, all around sports — is doing. Why did it work for the Royals?

Well, it might have been the waiting part.

Read More: The Firing Line

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15 Responses to The Mattingly Riddle

  1. rfaronson says:

    I’ve been a Dodger fan for over 50 years. I get that Lasorda was a lousy field manager but a great inspiration to the players, and getting players to play well is a big part of being a manager. So I’ll give Mattingly his motivational due, despite his inability to use his closer against David Wright in a 1-0 game that would soon become 3-0 with no need for a closer, his choice to use both Joc Pederson and Kiki Hernandez for defense in game seven but not Jimmy Rollins, his decision to use Utley as a pinch hitter for Pederson against a flamethrower he can no longer get around on, when Pederson hits the fastball darned well, his blindness to catcher injuries or fatigue late in the season. But when the great motivator was seen on TV yelling at Andre Ethier, presumably for failing to pull a ball to move Turner to third, in a pitch sequence where every pitch was outside or way outside as the television announcers mentioned, that’s when I decided: he wasn’t a good enough motivator to be worth his flaws as a game handler. Greinke was a good teammate in suggesting it wasn’t Seager’s fault, but it was Seager’s job to cover third on that steal; Mattingly forgot that in all those shift defense meetings and practices, Seager was in the minors, not moving to third just in case. And that goes back to Mattingly: you can put in the rookie, but you have to give him extra time and attention because of everything he missed. There might not be better managers available; that’s a reason to keep him. If the players still love him, that’s another. But if I owned or ran the Dodgers, I’d replace him.

    I also think Mattingly was overrated as a ball player who got an MVP that Brett deserved more than he did, and Rickey deserved even more than Brett. Swap leadoff men and Brett has 170 RBI, Mattingly 100.

    • rfaronson says:

      Sorry, game five, not game seven. I grew up when baseball only had seven game playoff series.

    • Michael Green says:

      We do not know that Mattingly was in fact yelling that at Ethier. We know that’s what Darling and Ripken decided he must be yelling, but they are the same geniuses who decided that the umpires were warning the pitchers and managers before the start of the game when they actually were talking about the replay set-up. So if Mattingly says Ethier was blowing off steam and he was trying to calm him down, and Ethier hasn’t contradicted him, I’ll go with that.

      As for Seager, he should have covered third. But Greinke was correct: SOMEBODY should have covered third. My problem with Mattingly is that he didn’t say, “Seager should have covered third, but anybody could have and we all fell asleep,” which is what a supposed players’ manager should have said. And I lost a lot of respect for his so-called clubhouse genius at that moment.

      As for field strategy, few managers do use closers as they should, to close out a tough situation rather than the game, among other faults. But in addition to the other parts of your post, which was great, I do admire your acknowledgment of Lasorda’s total inability to run a game on the field.

  2. shagster says:

    Joe … are you ok? Do you feel well? Need some water? A can of cold Coke? Sit down. Rest. Have a seat.
    At this rate, you’ll soon be writing about other ‘intangibles’. Like how much a mediocre player means to a team.

  3. The Dodgers really were not a great team, accept for having the two best pitchers in the league. But Mattingly didn’t make both Greinke and Kershaw surrender Homeruns to Daniel Murphy.

    The Dodgers did have Adrian Gonzalez who had a really good year as did Justin Turner. Grandal and Peterson hit for low averages, but had power and got on base. Andre Ethier had a surprisingly good season. Kendrick had a good season for Kendrick.

    But, there was Rollins and Carl Crawford. Gakkkk. Expensive & not productive. Puig played only 79 games. After Kershaw & Greinke, the rotation was not very good. Anderson was OK. Alex Wood did not give them what they expected. The fifth starters were about what you’d expect fifth starters to be. Not real good. The bullpen was average.

    When I keep hearing about the Dodgers big salary number, I keep expecting that they have a lineup like Toronto or the Cubs. Or maybe a pitching staff like the Mets. The Dodgers ended up about where their talent said they would end up. That’s team construction, not the Manager.

    Rob Lowe probably throws like a girl. If he says fire Mattingly, I’m thinking maybe that’s a good reason NOT to fire him.

  4. Grey Williams says:

    Not comparing Mattingly to another coach, just comparing one time to another.
    1948-9 college hires coach
    1950 team finishes at #8 in the country
    1951 team finishes unranked
    final rankings for next 12 years: 19, nr, nr, 13, 8, 14, nr, nr, nr, nr, nr, nr
    1964 (16 years following hiring) UCLA wins first of TEN championships under that coach.
    Does anyone in L.A. remember John Wooden?

    • invitro says:

      Impressive, you have proved that if a coach finishes unranked for 9 of his first 14 years, he will almost certainly end up winning 10 championships!

      • Grey Williams says:

        I guess I didn’t make my point. It was more about patience and faith and the fact that not everyone “wins the big one” right away… The guy that everyone remembers as having all the championships would be remembered differently if they had fired him after “only” 10 years or so.

  5. I loved Don Mattingly as a player. He wasn’t considered a big prospect, didn’t really have a position, wasn’t the most athletic guy, but he worked his butt off and kept getting better and better at the plate and in the field until back problems made it impossible for him to turn on the ball and drive it with authority. He was the kind of guy who played just as hard when his team was in last place and down by 10 runs as he did in a tie game in a pennant race. He was the kind of player you just had to root for.

    I dislike Mattingly as a manager. I don’t like his lineups, I don’t like his substitutions, I don’t like the way he mishandles his bullpen, I don’t like the way he bunts at the wrong time. Good managers read the ebb and flow of the game and react accordingly, but Mattingly seems tone deaf to what’s happening in front of him, and consequently makes decisions that always seem to backfire. He supposedly gets high marks for his handling of the clubhouse, but the Dodgers clubhouse in 2014 was portrayed as cancerous collection of cliques by many reporters; after jettisoning a few malcontents, 2015’s clubhouse was calmer but for the divisiveness caused Yasiel Puig and his entourage, and several players have been caught on tape absolutely lighting into their manager in the dugout. And of course the Dodgers keep laying eggs in the post-season. Mattingly still seems like a solid citizen who treats his players with respect, but I for one wouldn’t mind seeing a fresh face at the helm.

  6. Doug Evans says:

    People said the same things about Bobby Cox in Atlanta. Who knows if a different manager would have been able to win a couple of additional WS, but I am not sure anyone else could have won that many division titles in a row.

  7. Matt Willis says:

    Longtime Braves fan here. I remember during Atlanta’s 14 year division wining streak, every year people would grouse about Bobby Cox’s in game management skills. And admittedly, he was not among the games best, though I often thought he was better in that department than popular opinion would suggest. But he was brilliant as a manager of ballplayers and I think Mattingly has this gift as well. If you can’t get to the playoffs consistently then if doesn’t matter how great a strategist your manager is. Getting there is ¾’s of the battle in a 162 game season. You absolutely need a manger who the players respect and will play hard for over an entire season. Mattingly fits that description.

    • I was not a huge Bobby Cox fan. I’m in the camp that felt that he was a great 162 game manager, but didn’t have the sense of urgency needed in the playoffs. On the other hand, Bobby Cox didn’t make his team not score any runs against Jack Morris. He had nothing to do with Charlie Liebrandt grooving one to Kirby Puckett. He didn’t make Mark Wohlers hang a slider to Jim Leyritz. In other games, however, he was slow to go to the bullpen when one of his Big 3 starters was struggling, and he tended to manage playoff games much like he managed regular season games. The Braves were completely out of a few games before Cox took any action. That’s an acceptable tradeoff in the regular season. You don’t want to go to the bullpen too quickly all the time during the season, but letting the starter work through a game where they’ve already been touched up early for 3-5 runs doesn’t work in the playoffs. In Mattingly’s case, maybe he’s not a great manager. But the playoff games were lost because of plays on the field.

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