By Editorial Staff
No one questions his accomplishments as a player. He was one of the most dominant players in the 80s, winning the MVP in 1985. If not for a back injury, Mattingly would have completed his career by being enshrined in Cooperstown. Even with a bawky back, Donnie Baseball managed to finished his career with better than respectable numbers. He slugged 222 HR, 1099 RBI, while collectiing 2153 hits. When he hung up his cleats, his career batting average was a gawdy .307. Mattingly was a complete player, excelling in the field as an elite first basemen winning nine Gold Gloves as proof of his fielding prowess.
The man who wore number 23 for 14 seasons played hard, was smart, and was so well-respected byhis teammates and Yankee organization that Mattingly was given the rare honor of being named Captain of the Yankees. No one in the Pinstripes will ever wear 23 again as his number was retired, capping a brilliant career.
For all the outstanding accomplishments Mattingly had as a player, no one is sure if he will be able to make the difficult transition from star player to successful manager. Very few players of his caliber are able to make the jump. Perhaps having spent so much time with one man, Joe Torre, who was able to successfully take that step will help Mattingly take that next step in his own career.
Yes it is true that, although Donnie has spent the better part of the last decade as either the hitting instructor or bench coach for the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, he has never manageed at any level prior to a brief stint this past off-season in the Arizona Fall League. His lack of experience should not be held against him.
It is certain that Mattingly will hit a few bumps in the road in his first year at the helm of the Dodgers, but the new manager has a lot of things going for him that should help him be a successful manager. For one thing, Mattingly was a smart, heady player who always knew the situation and knew what to do. Why should he be any different now?
Plus, during his playing days, Donnie watched and learned how successful managers worked with players and handled daily responsibilities as he played for managers such as Billy Martin, Lou Pinella, and Buck Showalter. Surely he learned a thing or two that should help him as he makes roster moves during the game.
Clearly spending time watching Joe Torre navigate the trials of managing in New York, for a demanding boss with unrealistic expectations, had to provide some guidance and lessons that can be used this season and beyond. Torre was a master at keeping the outside distractions out of the clubhouse. Mattingly will need that skill as the circus of the McCourt divorce case continues to swirl around the club.
Another reason for having confidence in Mattingly’s leadership abilities is the make-up of his coaching staff. Many of the coaches were solid, if not great, players in their own right. They understand the pressures of performing at the highest level and this helps them to relate to the players under their charge. Many are now very experienced and successful coaches.
Bringing in Dodger great Davey Lopes to coach first base was a brilliant move. Lopes is proven coach that has helped his teams win wherever he has been. Hopefully he will help improve the Dodgers production on the base paths as Lopes was one of the best at swiping a bag or two in his day. Keeping Rick Honeycutt on as pitching coach was also a solid move. His familiarity with the players as well as the production he has gotten make him an excellent choice. Jeff Pentland was retained and will serve as the hitting coach.
Tim Wallach, whom many thought should have gotten the job, was an excellent hire for third base coach. Having worked with several of the players in the minors, Wallach brings experience to the staff that will serve the team well. Trey Hillman comes on board as the team’s bench coach. Hillman has experience as a manager, serving in that capacity for the Royals for several seasons. While his tenure did not produce any winning seasons, it was Kansas City, so it should not be held against him.
How will the team perform under Mattingly? Time will tell. Mattingly has spoken of emphasizing defense, preparation, and instilling a mentally tough attitude with the team. If he is successful, this team could go far. If the players do not buy in, it could be a long season. I, for one, believe that Mattingly has what it takes to be a successful manager.
Whether he has enough talent available to him to bring another title to Tinseltown remains to be seen. We will be taking a close look at the men who will wear the Dodger blue this season in the next several posts. Will they have enough talent to overtake the Giants and compete with the Padres and Rockies? We shall see…