You don't need me hurling the “nice guys finish last” cliché anywhere near this post, but it's utterly unavoidable after the latest series of Dodger disappointments and I just can't help it. So apologies all around.
Yes, Don Mattingly is a good guy, ostensibly supported “to a man” in the clubhouse and universally loved in at least one major American city. He was a fine ballplayer. A great player, in fact.
The Dodger leader is also an unremarkable man, of above average intelligence and little imagination, who got his job primarily because of the insistence of his predecessor and the disinterest of the man writing the checks. Joe Torre had trained Mattingly in his image and wanted his promotion to skipper assured, while Frank McCourt was too busy with other problems to make a fuss. The outgoing “steward” didn't care a lick, actually, and the new thoroughly-more-together owners weren't going to charge in with a prominent firing right out of the gate.
Thirteen months later they just might, and if Guggenheim and company want to make anything of this season, they can do so now. It's time to wish Mattingly the best, thank him for his service with the appropriate dose of Dodger class, and hand the reins on an interim basis to Tim Wallach, who was the more qualified candidate to begin with.
Wallach had managed the team's Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes for two seasons (2009-2010) and earned a Manager of the Year award in one of them, before becoming the third base coach for a man whose experience at the helm included a last-minute crash course in the Arizona Fall League and a game substituting for Torre in which he botched a trip to the mound in embarrassing fashion.
Will “Eli” turn around the Dodgers fortunes, and quickly enough to make a difference this season? Maybe; maybe not, but Mattingly's club does so many things badly under his direction, doesn't respond to whatever it is he preaches, and you can't lay everything at the feet of the players. Well, you can (and some do) but a skipper simply has to find a way to make the ship run straight. He's got to find answers to the problems in front of him; he has to offer solutions somehow some way. And this particular manager doesn't. It's unfortunate, but he just doesn't.
You know the maritime axiom about the ship running aground, right? If there's a captain on the ship and the ship runs aground, the captain is responsible and is relieved of his duties. Of course, there is blame to go around — of course it's not all Mattingly; of course, of course, of course — but Donnie Baseball hasn't succeeded in the role he's been given.
Of course, there have been injuries; of course, the bullpen has done its thing — it's really bad thing — of course the rotation has in part struggled. Yes, yes, yes; of course, but the manager hasn't gotten the required results. And the manager has to get the required results.
A couple of series wins after an eight-game losing streak means nothing, especially after this weekend's depressing sweep in Atlanta. Improved second-half play to make something of the 2012 record means more than nothing, but it's not enough to foretell success in the long-term. The Dodgers' ship has run aground. Dispense with the court martial, certainly, but get the skipper off the bridge.
Mattingly neither pushes the right buttons strategically on a regular basis nor gets the best out of his players the way other managers do. He doesn't teach well and it's difficult to find significant examples of a player improving under his leadership. Fine, Clayton Kershaw is a better player today than he was when Don debuted in 2011. You want to give the man credit for that one, knock yourself out.
I've railed on Mattingly for the way he deals with health issues since he started and I'm not going to detail them again here. Let's just say that I don't think he takes enough responsibility in that area (sense a theme here?), treats Matt Kemp like a Superman when in reality he's a mere mortal, and subjects his franchise player to a ridiculous schedule, medical history and slumps be damned. Losing by a dozen, leave him in there, and while you're at it, leave Carl Crawford out there too, and watch as he tweaks a hammy diving for a ball in a 12-2 ninth inning.
The team looks defeated; as defeated as can be, and when that happens — again, sorry for the cliché' — you don't replace 25 guys, or even Luis Cruz apparently. You fire the manager. Call it a firing for firing's sake; call it shakeup just to shake things up. Call the manager a sacrificial lamb — emphasis on the “sacrifice” part — call me simple-minded, if that's what gets you through the night. So help me, I do not care. Just make the move already. It's time.
Mattingly has a way about him that people like, which makes it harder for them to say what they otherwise might, were a manager of another stripe in the dugout. He's remembered for his playing-days accomplishments fondly, he comes across well in most interview settings, and he's just plain likable. Blindingly so.
And I'm reminded of a series of 30 Rock episodes, one in particular, with guest starring appearances from Jon Hamm. “The Bubble” aired March 19, 2009 on NBC. Hamm is Dr. Drew, love interest to Tina Fey's Liz Lemon. He's charming and handsome and as likeable as Don Mattingly.
He's so charming and handsome and likeable that people he deals with fall all over him, blind to his faults. A cop rips up a parking ticket when he sees Hamm coming. Calvin Klein approaches him on the street to offer him modeling work. He can't play tennis to save his life, but a smitten woman asks him for lessons just the same. He can't cook, he's a caricaturist with no ability to draw and he's bad at sex. He's a doctor who doesn't know the Heimlich Maneuver. And yet there he is; a pathway to opportunities as his feet.
No one wants to pin the disaster that is the 2013 Dodger season on Don Mattingly. No one wants to fire him. It's something that Stan Kasten or Mark Walter or Magic Johnson can be looking forward to for about as long as it takes Brandon League to ruin a ballgame. But it simply has to be done, charming and handsome and likable though Mattingly may be.
The end is near; it has to be. Why not get it over with it now? Liz Lemon broke up with the good doctor. The Dodgers can do the same up with the good skipper.