Don Mattingly taking over in Los Angeles isn’t going to change anything in Chavez Ravine. After serving as Joe Torre’s bench coach and hitting coach in both LA and New York, Donnie Baseball had it written into his contract that he would succeed Torre as manager of the Dodgers when Torre left after this season.
The problem with that is, it’s just a facelift for the Dodgers, not a makeover. Mattingly has been under Torre’s tutelage for so long, he’s become Willie Randolph: a highly-regarded coach with no managerial experience and strong ties to Yankee Tradition.
That’s not to say Mattingly, or Randolph for that matter, can’t be a good major-league manager. But the “Yankee Way” (and by that I mean the Torre Way) is so ingrained in their psyches that they don’t know how to manage any other way. Torre’s forte is with a team of underachieving veterans with sprinkled-in young-uns to learn the Way for themselves. Just ask Vincente Padilla. Or Brad Ausmus. Or Ronnie Belliard, who all found their careers revived under Torre’s guiding hand.
But there’s a downside to that. Torre doesn’t handle young players as well as the Dodgers needed him to. Developing guys like Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Andre Ethier requires a firm and motivating hand that Torre’s hands-off approach lacks. Why Ned Colletti thinks replacing Joe Torre with a younger Joe Torre will provide the spark the underachieving Dodgers need to become the World Series contenders their talent says they should be I can’t quite figure out.
Randolph faced the same problem with the Mets, failing to nurse David Wright and Jose Reyes to maturity, continuing a proud Mets tradition of spectacular underachievement that thrives to this day. The Mets didn’t respond well to Randolph’s methods because of their free-wheeling youth, and there’s no reason to believe that the Dodgers will either.
However, even not taking into account Mattingly’s Torre roots, he’s still a risk. He’s not a fiery guy (as a manager anyway), another hallmark of Torre’s style, and can be questionable (whether the call was fair or not) as a manager.
Let’s not forget that the Yankees were in an extremely similar situation in 2007 when Torre’s term ended, and decided that the best way to revive their stagnant team was to hire the more militaristic Joe Girardi, another Torre disciple. Girardi, though, had moved on to the Marlins where he won a Manager of the Year Award and was fired for being too fiery with the owner. Girardi had earned a reputation for working well with his young players and getting the best out of them.
The Yankees interviewed three in-house candidates: then-commentator Joe Girardi, hitting coach Don Mattingly, and bench coach Tony Peña. Although they faced the same situation as the Dodgers, and even though Mattingly had been all but anointed as Torre’s successor, they chose Girardi instead.
Clearly the Yankees saw something they didn’t like, at least not as much as they liked Girardi, which shouldn’t be discarded lightly. The tantalizing prospect of Don Mattingly returning to Yankee Stadium as a manager was probably very difficult to pass up, especially for the Steinbrenner family, so it must’ve taken some pretty good reasons to pass on that image.
The Dodgers have handed the keys to Don Mattingly, but don’t expect him to change directions too much. Unless he can separate himself from the shadow of Torre, he will suffer the same fate as Willie Randolph, and the Dodgers will suffer the same fate as the Mets.
Odds and Ends
- I love old guys playing baseball. Jason Giambi and Omar Vizquel both want to keep playing.
- The Washington Nationals still don’t seem to want Adam Dunn, preferring someone like Carlos Pena instead. I already outlined why they should think twice.
- The Texas Rangers have signed a new 20-year, $3 billion broadcasting deal. Yankees fans now have reason to worry the Cliff Lee pricetag just went up.
- Kevin Towers and Arizona is a perfect fit for both the Diamondbacks and Towers. Maybe he’ll get to stick around long enough to see the team he builds succeed instead of being forced out right before they become competitive.