Mattingly, Dodgers made for each other
If you're running the Dodgers and if you take everything into consideration, why would you bring Don Mattingly back to manage your team next season? Hold your answer. I also want you to consider this: If you're Mattingly and if you take everything into consideration, why would you agree to return to manage the Dodgers next season?
Both things happened, and neither makes sense.
Or do they? Actually, they do, but you have to search deep inside your baseball soul to find the answers.
In the meantime, confusion reigns at Chavez Ravine, and it goes beyond how the most expensive team in National League history is watching the World Series these days instead of playing in it after dropping the NL Championship Series to the Cardinals.
There was that scene earlier this week in Los Angeles featuring Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and Mattingly sitting a couple of time zones apart at a table. They were part of one of the most awkward news conferences in history. With his arms folded during much of the affair, Mattingly mostly looked away from Colletti as he suggested to those gathered that 2013 -- the last year of his three-year contract with the Dodgers -- was equivalent to eating rosin bags for breakfast.
"It's been a frustrating, tough year honestly, 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," Mattingly said, referring to the early rumors of his pending dismissal.
Not only that, Dodgers management did little back then to clarify the situation.
Added Mattingly: "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."
Later, when Mattingly was asked if he wished to remain with the Dodgers, he sort of said yes. Sort of.
"Yeah, 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."
It sounded like Mattlingly wasn't wanted by the Dodgers. I haven't even mentioned the grumbling around the clubhouse over more than a few of his late-game decisions. The grumbling increased during the postseason, when Mattingly was criticized for everything from throwing Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest in the NL Division Series against the Braves to pinch-running Dee Gordon for cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez in Game 1 of the NLCS. As for the latter, Gonzalez's spot came up a couple of more times with runners on base.
Not good. And Dodgers officials also decided to dismiss Mattingly's bench coach, Trey Hillman, who was around throughout Mattingly's managerial tenure. That's a punch to the gut. Still, when the option on Mattingly's contract with the Dodgers automatically kicked in after they beat the Braves during the NLDS, Mattingly decided to honor his contract.
OK, first of all, if you're Mattingly and if you decide to bolt the Dodgers, where do you go? The Tigers? Nope. The same goes for the Nationals, Cubs and Mariners. None of those teams with managerial openings is an obvious fit for this former Yankees legend who got on-the-job training after he was tabbed by Colletti to replace Joe Torre.
If you're Mattingly, you stay and you hold your nose over how you were disrespected, because the Dodgers are loaded. There isn't a better one-two combination at the top of a pitching rotation in baseball than Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The everyday lineup is packed with proven sluggers, Matt Kemp, and rising ones, Yasiel Puig. The ownership also is willing to spend money -- lots of it -- so you know you have as good of a chance to win with the Dodgers as with anybody in the game.
This coming season will be a Dodger Blue circus, though. And the pressure will be immense, with Magic Johnson speaking for the rest of his fellow Dodgers owners by saying its basically World Series or bust every year for the franchise. But Mattingly is an expert on circuses and pressure, because he spent his 14 Major League seasons becoming Donnie Baseball for the Yankees through 1995.
The owner was George Steinbrenner, known as The Boss, and one of Mattingly's early managers was Billy Martin, the king of drama. So Mattingly shrugged when his option year with the Dodgers went into effect, clenched his teeth and said he'd come back for the tight-rope act he'll begin on from the start of Spring Training.
Mattingly's return makes sense, and so does this: If you're the Dodgers, you keep Mattingly around until you find exactly the manager you want. Who is that definitive guy for the Dodgers? Well, you have to consider their willingness to spend like crazy, combined with their proximity to Hollywood and the presence of Magic among those signing the checks. You have to believe the Dodgers want somebody with an extensive resume and a recognizable name.
There is that trio of retired managers just waiting for Cooperstown (Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Torre). Even so, they haven't indicated they wish to return to take over anybody's team in the near future. Former Dodgers star Dusty Baker is available, but despite all of his success at getting multiple teams into the playoffs, he hasn't won a World Series title (see Magic above). Davey Johnson grabbed a World Series ring with the 1986 Mets, but he just retired after spending another year failing to push a talented group of Nationals players over the hump.
So Dodgers officials decided to stay with Mattingly, but they always have this option: They can dismiss the guy at any time.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.