No matter how this season ends for the Dodgers (75-87 looks about right at this point), manager Don Mattingly should get a pass on his managerial record.
Off-field courtroom distractions stemming from the McCourt divorce and MLB’s attempts to seize the club have compounded the on-field issues that have ruined what looked like a pretty good team before the season began.
Injuries to key players Casey Blake, Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jon Garland and Rafael Furcal left them without important veterans; terrible years from Juan Uribe and Furcal mitigated a fine year from Andre Ethier; an MVP performance from Matt Kemp; and a Cy Young-caliber season from Clayton Kershaw.
None of that is Mattingly’s fault.
Having spent his entire playing career with the George Steinbrenner Yankees from their most dysfunctional seasons of the 1980s through the beginning of the renaissance of the early-1990s, Mattingly always seemed to have just missed. He made the playoffs for the first time in his career in 1995, but retired after that season because of recurring back problems and the Yankees desire to move on with someone who was more of a threat at the plate.
The Yankees first championship of this era came the next season.
Managing the Dodgers, he’s been saddled with an even more embarrassing set of controversies than what he endured in his playing days with the Yankees. But he’s handled them calmly and without offering as an excuse the injuries or ownership questions.
Much like all of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis’s coaches in the past 15 years, anarchy yields a pass for the man in the middle.
Mattingly is the man in the middle for the Dodgers.
He’s made some strategic blunders this year, but the club being under .500 and out of contention can’t be traced to a few gaffes by the manager. One important aspect in judging a manager is the “screw this guy” potential from the players.
The Dodgers players have never indicated the attitude that they’ve looked at Mattingly and said, “screw this guy” as if they’re going through the motions for aesthetics without caring one way or the other what happens. Mattingly’s the type who players don’t want to let down. It just so happens that the Dodgers are hopelessly outmanned this season and the off-field nightmare is contributing to the aura of chaos.
If the Dodgers are under new ownership next season, have a new GM or bring in a new manager, Mattingly should get another chance as a manager somewhere; 2011 isn’t an accurate barometer of what he can be; he’s got the added advantage of being a baseball guy whose in-game accomplishments as a player will automatically breed respect and that’s a big chunk of being a successful manager.