Mattingly focused on wins, not credit
Skipper's steady approach was key to Dodgers' turnaround
LOS ANGELES -- Praise has been faint this year for Don Mattingly, who has managed the Dodgers to the greatest comeback in franchise history.
The Dodgers are in the playoffs and he's still a lame duck.
"I told him, they blame you when you're losing. Now you're winning and the players get the credit," said Hall of Fame former manager Tom Lasorda. "It's not right, but that's the way the game is."
"This is what you, as a manager, want -- for your players to get the credit," he said. "It should all be about the players and the coaching staff. If, at the end of the day, we don't play well, you get the blame. I accept that. I'm not looking for credit. I look for the team to win, and that's all I should care about."
So, if the team's turnaround didn't earn Mattingly support for Manager of the Year honors, is there a better candidate for comeback manager of the year?
"He didn't panic," said Joe Torre, who handed off the reins of the Dodgers to Mattingly after the 2010 season.
"Even though you know somebody can do the job, there is so much more involved than baseball knowledge and ability. Donnie was always a superstar player, but didn't act like it. He worked hard, studied the game. He relates to players and communicates with them. He's in these guys' heads, knowing what makes them tick. He should get some credit for the turnaround, because when you lose, who usually gets the blame?"
Mattingly said he's learned from all of the managers he's been around, including Torre, but credits his father for passing along the steady hand.
"He was real quiet, didn't say a whole lot," Mattingly said. "He didn't criticize after a bad game or give a lot of praise after a good one. He didn't kiss your butt or cut you up. He made it easy to grow up and play the game. I think I learned to take criticism in the right way."
The new ownership that inherited Mattingly as manager declined to guarantee his 2014 option last winter. After spending wildly at midseason to upgrade a thin roster, the front office desperately wanted a postseason appearance to show for it. The team's first-half fade left some doubting whether Mattingly was the man for the job.
There's still no word on who will manage the team in 2014, but at least there is recognition for the unprecedented reversal in 2013 as the playoffs are about to start.
"You learn every year. I learn, everybody does, and the first couple of months this year were an education for Donnie," said general manager Ned Colletti, who hired Mattingly to succeed Torre. "He had to be patient through high expectations and struggles and injuries. He stayed steady through it all. Just like Joe, not much variation, not a lot of highs and lows, just steady."
No manager is perfect. Mattingly critics say he double-switches too much, overuses the sacrifice bunt and then there was the "Freudian slip," as Mattingly called it, of bringing in the wrong reliever earlier this month.
But if winning is the ultimate litmus test, Mattingly at least has a division title on his three-year managerial resume, accomplished by a team that played .800 ball for two months. No team managed by Hall of Famers Walt Alston or Lasorda ever did that.
"He should be back. Absolutely," veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said of Mattingly. "He's done a really good job. I think for the most part you expect a manager to be the same guy, win or lose. And there's been no panic from what I've seen.
"A guy who's scared to lose his job is a guy you don't want to play for. Donnie's the complete opposite. From a player's perspective, he's the same when we're winning and when we're losing. I think especially for an experienced club, that's what you want."
No current Dodger has played for more Major League managers than Jerry Hairston, nine in total, including Managers of the Year Buck Showalter, Dusty Baker and Bud Black.
"One thing I'll say, when things were rough he kept saying, 'Wait till we're healthy,'" Hairston said. "It didn't sound like an excuse; it was fact. We lost so many guys and so many were playing hurt. He knew that. He just wanted us to focus on playing our game until we got our guys healthy, just weather the storm. And we lost impact players, not just guys from the lineup.
"He played in the big leagues a long time, played in the Bronx Zoo for years in that type of atmosphere, so it's tough to rattle him. Outside forces don't bother him. He wants the focus on the team, to control what we can control and what he can control."
Mattingly has never been embraced by Dodgers fans the way he was in New York, where his playing career merely earned a statue alongside those of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, et al, in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park. Only a World Series ring can change that.
Chances of that have been dealt a blow by injuries to Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, but Mattingly still isn't panicking.
"If you don't have Andre and you don't have Matt, you're not as good as you could be," he said. "But we're still good enough to win."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.