Sitting down and talking big picture with Mattingly
LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly has been around Major League baseball long enough as a star player, coach and now manager of the underachieving Dodgers that he knows the score.
Baseball is a results-oriented business, and if the results aren't there, changes are ultimately made. Mattingly, once a career .307-hitting star first baseman for the Yankees, is a manager without a contract for next season.
During a wide-ranging interview this week in his office at Dodger Stadium, Mattingly was asked whether his job hung in the balance if the high-payroll Dodgers don't make the playoffs.
"I think we all feel that way," Mattingly said. "I feel like every manager thinks that if your club doesn't play well, your job is in the balance. All the money spent here, all the pressure, that's all the stuff I've got to cut out. Take care of baseball. Do your job. Do the best you can possibly do with it. You keep working. And then I'm at the mercy. Those [players] are going to take me where we need to go. It's not going to be us taking them."
MLB.com: You're one of 11 managers in Major League baseball right now not under contract for next season.
Mattingly: So I'm not the Lone Ranger when it comes to that. It's one of those things that that's the way it is. It's part of the game. Gee, it's always nice to know where you're going to be next year. It'd be nice to know that. But it's nice to have a job, too. I like what I'm doing. I actually love what I'm doing. I love the challenges of it and the opportunity. I've got a great opportunity. I feel like I have a great club. I feel like it's going to end good. So we'll see.
MLB.com: Do you feel like you have a fight on your hands?
Mattingly: When I look back at it, when I look at having to fight through tough times, that's when you find out what you're really made of. It's always easy when everything is going good. It's when it's bad that we find out who we are. Am I leader or not? Well, it's easy to be a leader when we're 22-3. At 13-20, how do I lead now? That will ultimately define who I am.
MLB.com: How do you deal with all the negativity going on around the team?
Mattingly: That stuff for me? It's just all fluff stuff for me. It's written. If you win, it goes away. If you lose, something else is going on. You know what I mean? It's all bottom line. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose. And at the end of the day, you do your job and you can't worry about that.
MLB.com: Did playing your 14-year career in New York prepare you for that?
Mattingly: Pretty much. You just learn to do your job. You do your job the best you know how. And if it's not going good, you look at it and you evaluate. If you're doing things you believe in and the club's just not going right, you figure things will change. You know you're going to lose some games. There are going to be stretches of time when things just don't go good for you. So you evaluate yourself all the time. I think New York does prepare you for not worrying about all the extra stuff. All I'm worrying about is this club being the best it can possibly be and getting the most out of these guys. And if it's not going good, how do we fix it?
MLB.com: How do you go about doing that?
Mattingly: For me, sometimes it's just smiling and being positive when you don't feel positive. When your club is not going good, I can't walk around here with my head hanging down. I've got to be positive. I've got to be upbeat. I've got to move forward. I ask these guys to move forward every day, to put yesterday behind us. That's over. If it's something we can learn from and get better, I'd love to learn from it. But really our season starts today. We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole. In 10 days from now, if we're 9-1, everyone will be saying, "The Dodgers are looking good. They're starting to get it together." That's what I look forward to.
MLB.com: How much did working for Joe Torre as a coach in New York and Los Angeles reinforce that?
Mattingly: Joe reinforced a lot of that. Working for Joe, he understood the length of the season and he kept cutting the stuff around it out of the way. When you play in the bigger cities like L.A. or New York, there's a lot of stuff -- a lot of talk, a lot of chatter. For a baseball team, that's all a distraction. We've got to find a way to play good baseball. So I have to cut all this extra stuff out all the time and keep it simple and between the lines. And that's what Joe did. He was steady for 162 games. Steady when it goes bad. Calm when it goes good.
MLB.com: It sounds like you used a lot of that in 2011, your first year as manager here, with all the ownership and sale issues.
Mattingly: I was really proud of that club. That club never gave up. We played hard every day. That was kind of an overachieving-type club. You had a bunch of guys who played hard. We were 14 games under .500 at one point and we wound up three games over .500 that year. That told me a lot about those guys. They kept playing, they kept staying with it. You still search for that.
MLB.com: We talked about this last year and now you have a much larger sample size, but it seems like since the Aug. 25 trade with Boston, the team hasn't found its footing. Do you feel that way?
Mattingly: A little bit. You're right. Hanley [Ramirez] and those guys -- Joe Blanton and [Shane] Victorino -- came first. It took us a little while to get moving, and we started to play OK. We were hanging in there. That club was getting comfortable, too. And then all of a sudden, we made the big one -- the big Boston trade -- and it brought in a whole other group of guys. That one just didn't mix. It wasn't that it didn't mix in the clubhouse, it just didn't mix on the field.
MLB.com: But now it's the long-term Dodgers, like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, who have been struggling.
Mattingly: They have been, and I don't know if Matt's problem is from getting banged up last year when he played that last month hurt with the shoulder injury or what. All I know is that Matt's trying really, really hard. He's trying to get back to where he was. It's hard for us all. It's been a struggle and Andre has been a struggle. Those are the two guys in the middle of our lineup who we count on to do things for us. I think they're going to be fine. The game tells me they're going to get back to where they've been as long as they're not hurt and as long as they work.
MLB.com: In this era, doesn't a manager have to support his players publicly, no matter what's going on? Isn't it easy to lose them if you don't?
Mattingly: Well, I think you can lose guys, but for me, I've always felt this way: If there's an issue, we need to talk about it. It's between me and him. You call a guy in, but it's not out in the public. It's not part of the noise. That noise is an added thing for most players that keeps them from having success. It'd be different if I thought that ripping him a new one would lead to success, but that's rare. I always promise guys, I'm going to back them as long as they work. Now if you're not working and you're not giving me an effort, I'm not going to back you. I'm not going to stand behind you if you're not trying.
MLB.com: You're a guy who constantly analyzes himself. How do you evaluate the job you've done this year?
Mattingly: Here's how at look at it: Are we losing because I'm making mistakes? I look at the baseball side of it. Sure, I've made some mistakes, but I'm not sitting here crushing us every day, costing us games. Then I look at it from the standpoint of, am I not getting my message through to the guys? Are we not playing the game the way I want it to be played? Are we not playing with the energy and urgency? I don't go about it asking myself how I'm doing. I know my club is not playing well. But I feel like I'm doing fine the way I'm handling it.
MLB.com: So you take some responsibility for the club's record?
Mattingly: Well, that's what you're supposed to do, right? Take the blame. But I don't try to take credit, either way. I don't want the credit when we're playing good. It's a players' game. They're the ones who are going to make me look like a good manager or a bad one.
MLB.com: I read that during Spring Training you asked management for an extension and they said no, is that accurate?
Mattingly: That's not accurate. That's wrong.
MLB.com: So where did you leave that?
Mattingly: That was last winter. It's a non-issue.
MLB.com: Your predecessor, it took him the fourth time as a manager -- when he joined the Yankees -- before he became the icon we now know as Joe Torre.
Mattingly: Well, let's hope it doesn't take me four jobs to become Don Mattingly. I'm myself already.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.