Dodgers get it right, twice, by keeping Mattingly
Move offers stability for players and, in addition, manager simply deserves to keep job
The Dodgers took care of two important pieces of business by signing manager Don Mattingly to a shiny new contract through the 2016 season.
First, there's the practical nature of a baseball clubhouse and the sometimes fragile balance of things. To extend the manager's contract removes Mattingly's job security as an issue. And it was going to be an issue.
It was an issue last year in Spring Training and would have been so again. Mattingly couldn't have handled it better last season. Even when he was asked about it for the third, fourth and fifth time, he said that he was happy to be the manager of the Dodgers and that winning in 2013 was all that mattered.
He probably knew it was fair to speculate on his job status because after spending so much money on players, the Dodgers were in a win-now mode.
Also, he had new bosses. They weren't the people who hired him. And Dodgers president Stan Kasten has been around the block a time or two with the Braves and Nationals.
He knew Mattingly's contract would become an issue, and because he declined to end the discussion by signing Mattingly, speculation was rampant that he wanted someone else in charge.
We know now that Mattingly wasn't as content with things as he let on. In fact, he appears to have been seething as he was left hanging while the Dodgers stumbled through the first half of the season.
Whether he actually was about to be dismissed or not, Mattingly thought he was. And that uncertainty had to drift through the clubhouse. Players know what's going on. Whether or not they're news junkies, they get a feel for what's being said and written.
That the Dodgers survived an early boatload of injuries and uncertainty about their manager to right themselves and sprint to a division championship speaks volumes about both the players and Mattingly.
In the large scheme of things, extending the manager's contract involves a relatively small amount of money to buy a tad more tranquility.
Players love stability. They love consistency, too. Mattingly's new contract gives them some peace of mind that he's the guy they'll be answering to for the foreseeable future.
And now to the other part of this story. Mattingly deserved this pat on the back. He has done a very good job. In fact, the people who knew Donnie Baseball before he became manager will tell you this is pretty much the same guy they knew all along.
Managing a big league club, especially a big league club in a big media market, can change a guy. Actually, it can drive a guy bonkers. But Mattingly has remained steady and consistent, honest with his players and in his public statements.
Players want a manager who is competent and honest, a manager who doesn't panic in tough times and a manager who has their back in the media. Mattingly has passed all those checkpoints.
Is he the greatest strategic manager in history? Perhaps not. All successful managers, even the great ones, need to be surrounded by a first-rate staff and to get assistance in everything from running a game to managing a bullpen.
In the end, the tough calls are theirs and theirs alone. But it's a learning process. When does a manager take the advice he's being given? When does he overrule his staff? When does he go with the numbers, and when does he go with his gut?
All that said, if there's no cohesion and sense of purpose in the clubhouse, if there's no confidence that the manager knows what he's going, none of that other stuff is going to matter.
Mattingly has his players on their side, not because he's great at running a game, but because he's decent and honest, because his players believe he does everything in terms of what's best for the team.
This isn't how a lot of people thought it would work out when Mattingly got the job after the 2010 season. Because he hadn't managed at any level, there was widespread skepticism about his ability to do the job.
While he has left himself open to second guessers with some of his decisions, there has never been a day when he seemed overwhelmed by the job. His ease at settling into it may have influenced the Cardinals (Mike Matheny), White Sox (Robin Ventura) and Tigers (Brad Ausmus) to hire managers with zero experience.
To know Donnie Baseball is to like him and to root for him. After getting within two victories of the World Series in 2013, the Dodgers probably will be a solid favorite to win the National League West again.
But it's a tough division. The Padres have a chance to be solid if they can stay healthy, and the Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies have all gotten better. So nothing is guaranteed, but thanks to an infusion of talent, the Dodgers are positioned to do great things in 2014. And they'll have the right guy running them. And this time, he has a right to believe the Dodgers have as much confidence in him as he has in himself.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.