Don Mattingly is on a plane home from Wisconsin as we speak, and may be handed a pink slip with his luggage upon disembarking.
Perhaps his firing comes during the team's day off tomorrow — as has been predicted — maybe Mattingly gets until Friday or through the weekend, and it's a physical possibility that he receives club support while actually keeping his job. But the prevailing wisdom — summed up by Bill Shaikin, Chris Calcaterra and others — is that the man best associated with the New York Yankees will be out of a job in Los Angeles soon. Very soon. And it's the right call.
I made my argument for his dismissal last Sunday, and I genuinely do not wish to pile on here, but with Mattingly handling himself the way he has in recent days, and today in particular, additional commentary is required. In what has become a trend for the manager, Mattingly went public in complaining about someone within the organization, this time calling out Andre Ethier for blame, proceeding to bench the right-fielder for this morning's game against the Brewers (oh, by the way; Los Angeles over Milwaukee, 9-2, but it's the smallest part of the story).
Rather than letting the benching speak for itself or even making a half-hearted attempt at the high road, Mattingly let loose. Read the whole piece from Dylan Hernandez for context, but here's the passage worth highlighting, from today's LA Times:
“This will be the third time Ethier is out of the lineup on this six-game trip. The Dodgers are off on Thursday.
“Asked if he was trying to send a message to Ethier, Mattingly replied, 'We're last place in the National League West. Last year, at this point, we're playing a lineup that basically has nobody in it, that fights and competes and battles you every day for every inch of the field. We talk about it as an organization. We've got to find the club with talent that will fight and compete like the club that doesn't have that talent. If there's going to be a message sent, it's going to be over a period of time.'”
Ethier is in his eighth year as a Los Angeles Dodger, ensconced in the community and a fan favorite if ever there was one; popular for good reason with the men, and perhaps for multiple reasons with the women. He's hit .289 lifetime in Blue, with a .362 on base percentage, 238 doubles, 133 home runs and 550 RBIs. He has three postseason homers to his credit, he's been named to two National League All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove, and has dedicated his entire professional life to the club and to this city.
Don Mattingly was handed his job on a silver (or you might say pin-striped) platter, has a record of 186-182 as a major league manager (0-0 as a minor league one), and good luck finding a reference to the organization who employs him currently on his personal website.
While he's criticized at times by the media either for his play, or in earlier seasons for his sometimes childish behavior — and I've ragged on him myself about that on more than one occasion — Ethier has put that behind him, and has done nothing to deserve the public shaming by his manager. “Zero, zilch, nada,” as Vin Scully might say.
He hasn't hit well with runners in scoring position, obviously. Like, duh, as if that's something you can't say about the team as a whole. But if Ethier hasn't been running out grounders or diving for balls in the outfield or showing a competitive spirit every time he puts on the Dodger uniform, it's news to me. And I watch every game.
Maybe there's something going on behind the scenes, something about Ethier that irks Mattingly no end, something he'd like addressed and put to bed forever. I have no idea. None of us does. But this business of a manager deflecting blame onto his general manager, toward his ownership group and players, and his singling out of one player, all quite publicly, while taking zero responsibility himself? I'm sorry, but that's just crap. Total crap. Vin would say “fertilizer,” wouldn't he?
For contrast, look at what Ethier had to say about his benching, and about Mattingly's comments, from Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.
“Yeah, I take offense to that. … Every day I show up trying to figure out ways to compete and play hard. Whether I'm going good or bad, I work hard. When things aren't going good, that's when I try to work harder to turn things around…All of us in here are trying to get a grip on this and get a handle on what's going on here and how we can turn it around…It's frustrating to hear that (from Mattingly) but if it's something where he thinks I can make an adjustment I'll definitely listen to it.”
Translation? Ethier's the adult in the room, and Mattingly needs to go. He needed to go three days ago, but he needs to go more now. And I'm dispensing with the thank-you-for-your-service-here's-your-gold-watch-we-wish-you-the-best goodbye I suggested earlier. What do you say we shorten it to “thank you for your service” and follow with a rousing rendition of “the last impression is the lasting impression,” because it's as apt a workplace expression as I can think of at the moment.
Look for the actual leader of the Dodgers, the individual who stands up like a man and handles such things — Stan Kasten — to do just that Thursday or Friday, and put this almost-Frank McCourt-like Dodger controversy behind us. Mattingly will be fired, Ethier will be defended and a new man will be sworn in, slapped on the back, with an enthusiastic “go get em” from the big boss. And we'll all live happier ever after. Eventually.
The headline above is the cleaner version of what first came to me upon reading Mattingly's final attempt to impart his teachings to the Dodgers. Then I thought of Darryl Sutter, the leader-of-men coach of the Los Angeles Kings, and decided to give a nod to what is currently the best major sports team in L.A., college or pro, and by a wide margin.
Sutter and his club have a world championship under their belts; a little thing called the Stanley Cup Trophy, which the Kings brought home to our fair city last year. Along with the Cup comes a ring, a championship ring. Darryl Sutter has one of those too. Don Mattingly does not.
Don Mattingly chooses to call out one man for criticism instead of turning his head toward the mirror. While Darryl Sutter will critique his players in the media, he has not limited his comments to one player. Sutter has earned the respect of his players over a 14 year coaching career, won a conference championship and the big prize, after playing in 51 NHL playoff games himself. Mattingly has done nothing of the sort. And perhaps most importantly, Darryl Sutter is engaged in a battle to repeat as his league's last team standing. He has a job. Don Mattingly, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, will not.