Don Mattingly Manages Like His Mentors

The one thing that happens with managers and coaches is that they tend to follow the lead of people they’ve worked for in the past. It’s learned behavior and it applies to everyone no matter how big a personality they have. Whether the manager is loved or loathed by the public, rest assured that they’ve picked up their strategic maneuvers, how to handle players, placating the front office and dealing with the media from somewhere.

After their 1-0 loss yesterday, the Dodgers have fallen behind the Cardinals two games to none in the NLCS. Amid the two losses has been relentless criticism of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and the inevitable egotism that surrounds that criticism.

In game one, did Mattingly make a mistake with his decision to pinch-run for Adrian Gonzalez with Dee Gordon? Did he err for not using closer Kenley Jansen until the 13th inning?

The decision to pinch-run for Gonzalez with Dee Gordon was based on trying to get a far faster runner on the bases in a tie game to try and win it. Was it debatable to remove his best hitter? Yes. Was it a gaffe? No. It’s only attacked because it didn’t work.

The other decision – not using Jansen – was combined with the lusty idolatry for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny for using his closer for two innings. That occurred on Twitter complete with the figurative withering glares at Mattingly for what he wasn’t doing in comparison to Matheny.

In truth, Mattingly did use his closer in a circumstance when he needed his best reliever to get the job done and Jansen gave up a game-winning hit to Carlos Beltran. Although Matheny is using Trevor Rosenthal as his post-season closer, but he doesn’t have an entrenched closer who would be used regardless of the hitter and situation. Edward Mujica was the Cardinals closer for much of the season, but he struggled late in the season and has been demoted from the role. A closer will get the ball in the ninth inning no matter who’s at the plate. With the Cardinals, is that going to be Rosenthal? Or will they mix and match? Matheny’s no baseball genius either, but he’s looking good because his moves worked and the critics and would-be analysts agree with what he does. That, more than anything else, is the foundation for saying he’s doing the “right” thing – the person doing the analysis agrees with it. It’s pure arrogance to think that because the “I” would do something a certain way, it makes it right.

Mattingly manages very similarly to the way Joe Torre did. It only makes sense. He spent years with him as a coach for both the Yankees and Dodgers. Torre’s strategies were never on the high end in which he’d be considered a strategic wizard along the lines of Tony LaRussa. (LaRussa used to get criticized by the armchair experts like Keith Law as well.) Torre’s success and future Hall of Fame status is based on him having won. Four World Series wins will cover up a lot of sins.

It’s easy to forget, thought, that Torre was considered a veteran retread who couldn’t win the “big one,” whatever that means. He walked into a ready-made situation with the Yankees in 1996 taking over a team that had grown weary from being under the anal retentive and dictatorial thumb of Buck Showalter and was ready for a gentler – but necessarily firm – touch. It helped that Torre had the young Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte along with the Steinbrenner willingness to spend to give him players he’d never had in any of his prior managerial stops. He deserves credit for winning, but had he lost there would be numerous instances of strategic oddities to latch onto as means to say he doesn’t know what he’s doing or was unwilling to alter his tactics for “today’s” game.

The question could legitimately be asked if the Dodgers would even be here if they didn’t have the calm demeanor of Mattingly saying everything was going to be okay in June when they were a burgeoning disaster that was only a notch below a California earthquake and the manager was a day away from being fired.

The reason his decisions look bad is because they didn’t work. If they had worked, there would either be silence or allegations that he got lucky. But there’s nothing wrong with being lucky. One man’s luck is another’s design. There’s no quantifying it. The end result is what counts and, as of right now, Mattingly’s end results are that his team is down two games and, fairly or not, he’s being blamed.

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One Response to Don Mattingly Manages Like His Mentors

  1. Good stuff.

    I’m a die hard Cardinals fan, and feel both of these guys are perfect for the game of baseball at present (matheny/mattingly) … These guys let their players play, which is so old school it’s awesome. I was one of the few who couldn’t wait for the in LaRussa era to end in STL. I’ve often claimed that the only reason the Birds won the Series in ’06 was because LaRussa’s hand was forced to rely on Adam Wainwright in the closer’s role. Had Jason Isringhausen been healthy, the Cards season ends in the NLCS at NYM.

    People who have a problem with Mattingly should look elsewhere. He’s made a few faux pas in his short tenure, but he’s also feeling his way into his role. I love that he and Matheny echo a similar sentiment. “We’re gonna let our players play, and we’re going to compete to win games. That’s our job.” Can’t argue with the results…