We’ll never know what would’ve happened had Don Mattingly gotten the job to manage the Yankees after the 2007 season. Undoubtedly, things would’ve been different—perhaps for the better; perhaps for the worse. He most certainly wouldn’t be on the Yankees firing line as Joe Girardi is for anything he does that is deemed wrong. Whether it’s the handling of the Jorge Posada situation; massaging the massive egos of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter; or negligible strategic maneuvers, Girardi has run the Yankees about as well as anyone could’ve.
The vitriol that surrounds Girardi is similar to that which accompanied him when he was a light-hitting catcher acquired to replace the power hitting and popular Mike Stanley. Fans expected the worst and were spitting fire before he’d even had a chance to put the uniform on. It turned out that Girardi was exactly what the pitching staff and manager Joe Torre needed—skillful at calling a game and a defensive standout who was a better hitter than he was ever given credit for.
Mattingly was beloved for whatever he did and that would’ve extended to a honeymoon period if he was managing the Yankees. There would’ve been criticisms of his strategy, but not to the extent of Girardi criticism.
Because he had never managed before and was essentially unfireable, Mattingly didn’t get the job.
Girardi has followed organizational edicts and been a cog in the machine rather than the focal point.
These aspects—more than anything—were what drew GM Brian Cashman to Girardi.
Mattingly was more of a gamble.
Beneath that charming, aw shucks persona is an intense competitor who could easily have used his cozy relationship with the media and idol status with the fans to try and marginalize the GM. Who could ever think that Mattingly would be underhanded and sneaky even if he was being underhanded and sneaky?
Cashman made his choice based on maintaining control. You can’t say he was wrong.
Mattingly took over as the Dodgers manager this season and amid all the distractions of the Frank McCourt circus; injuries to key players Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and Jon Garland; and glaring holes in the roster, he somehow has the team over the .500 mark.
What prepared him for this and allowed him to overcome the clear obstacles?
Was his apprenticeship under Torre part of the reason he was able to stay calm while the Dodgers universe was crumbling around him? Could it have been all those years spent in the Bronx Zoo as the team star and frequent target of owner George Steinbrenner’s capricious lunacy? Has he used his status as a player who was better than anyone currently on the Dodgers roster to subtly let them know that they’re not going to push him around despite his gentle demeanor?
Is it all of the above?
For all the viable reasons Cashman had for selecting Girardi over Mattingly, the way the Dodgers have played and shunned the temptation to go through the motions and get the season over with makes me wonder what would’ve happened had Mattingly gotten the job to manage the Yankees. They could’ve been worse that they’ve been under Girardi. But they also could’ve been better.