Maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t quite become America’s Team as they marched to a National League Championship Series berth, but they certainly managed to become a feel-good story about the resurrection of a proud franchise.
That only made Manager Don Mattingly’s season-capping press conference Monday all the more odd. Mattingly, who was on the hot seat until Yasiel Puig was promoted from the minors and helped the team surge to a playoff berth, was expected to say all the things a manager says when the season is over. But Donnie Baseball took it the stock press conference and turned it into a blood-letting.
First, he revealed that the option on his contract automatically activated when the Dodgers won the NL Division Series. “My option vested once we beat Atlanta,” Mattingly said. “That doesn’t mean I’ll be back.”
The Dodgers were last in the NL West on June 21, then won 42 of their next 50 games to win the division by 11 games. Mattingly is frustrated by the lack of a multi-year contract, a Dodger staple, and he peeled back the layers on just how difficult he feels it is to work under that constriction.
“It’s been a frustrating, tough year honestly,” Mattingly said (via the Los Angeles Times). “Because I think when you … come in basically as a lame duck and with the [$230-million] payroll and the guys that you have, it puts you in a tough spot in the clubhouse.
“So we dealt with that all year long, and really what it does, it puts me in a spot where everything I do is questioned. Because I’m basically trying out, auditioning to say, `Can you manage a team or not manage?’ It’s a tough spot. To me, it gets to that point where, three years in you either know or you don’t.”
General Manager Ned Colletti was sitting merely feet away and looked like an increasingly desperate candidate for one of those old “wanna get away?” commercials. He said — what could he say? — that the matter would be “resolved very quickly” and that he has “tremendous confidence and faith in this guy.”
All righty then. Mattingly is under contract for 2014, with several marquee managing jobs open, but he isn’t happy. He has led the team through the tumultuous Frank McCourt bankruptcy years into a new era under a hedge-fund ownership group that includes Magic Johnson and management by Stan Kasten. Payroll has ballooned to the largest in the NL. Dylan Hernandez of the Times puts much of the blame for the bad vibes on Kasten, who did not attend the press conference Monday. From Hernandez’s analysis:
Kasten operated under the mistaken assumption that if he didn’t address it, it wouldn’t be written or talked about. The tactic might have worked in smaller cities in which Kasten previously ran teams but backfired spectacularly in America’s second-largest media market.
Not wanting to cause any distractions for his team, Mattingly played along with Kasten during the season, according to a person familiar with the manager’s thinking. But Mattingly became upset in the days that followed the Dodgers’ elimination, as no one reached out to him to address his or his coaching staff’s future.
The Dodgers now find themselves in a tricky spot with Mattingly, despite his $1.4 million contract. A star with the New York Yankees, Mattingly knows how to manage a locker room filled with outsized egos. It’s an environment in which he has thrived and has invaluable experience. As CBS Sports.com’s Jon Heyman writes, his players love him and “there’s a big value in that. They also played hard, and played hurt, for him.” From Heyman:
Colletti seems to recognize that, advocating sticking with Mattingly when there were rumors a change was being considered. But the Dodgers have a very powerful hierarchy, with several voices above Colletti, and high expectations.
No top Dodgers person, including Kasten, said anything unflattering about Mattingly. But actions speak louder than words, and no one should criticize Mattingly for wondering aloud whether he’s truly wanted.
Heyman isn’t alone in his thinking.
He seems to want to be in L.A. and there the matter of that contract which is in place.
“I love it here,” Mattingly said. “I’ve always said that. I like being here, but I don’t want to be anywhere you’re not wanted.”