Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is Mattingly Done? The Clock is Ticking--Unfortunately

      By Ross Newhan

      The late Al Campanis, during his tenure as general manager of the Dodgers, liked to say that you can't really gain a true measure of a team until it has played every other team in the league.

      Campanis was schooled by Branch Rickey, the Mahatma, who worked at a time when there were only 16 teams, eight in each league, and the American didn't play the National until the World Series.

      Now there are 30 teams, 15 in each league, meaning that two are engaged in an interleague series almost every night, no team is going to play all of the other 29, and Rickey--who also worked in a vastly different payroll era--would have to preach a different theory in relation to gaining a first true measure of your own team.

     What we know for sure in 2013 is that a quarter of the season has passed, and the Dodgers, with their $230 million payroll, are 18-25 amid increasing speculation that Don Mattingly could be fired as early as Thursday, when the team returns from Milwaukee for an off day.

    (While a Dodger executive said by email there are no plans for a Thursday firing he left it at that, failing to include any other day of the week.)

     Can Mattingly survive? Should he?

    Can the Dodgers survive a stumbling start to win what now appears to be a wide open divison?

    My answer to all of that is an intertwined yes:

    Mattingly can survive, should survive, and the Dodgers can rebound in the NL West, but sound reasoning in relation to the manager could yield to the impatience of an ownership that generated a record payroll after spending a record $2.1 billion to buy the team and another $100 million--to this point--on stadium renovations.

    The Guggenheim partners have no track record as a gauge to their thinking, but an ownership/management that refused to pick up Mattingly's 2014 option in the off season could simply decide that firing him now to eliminate all the distracting speculation is justification enough.

    Forget a bat rack full of facts that would generally suggest the manager deserves more time.

    For example: injuries have prevented Mattingly from starting his projected lineup even once; six starting pitchers have gone on the disabled list; the bullpen, anchored by a closer (Brandon League) to whom the Dodgers gave a three year contract based on the final month of 2012, has lost a league leading 13 games; the left side of the infield has been largely a revolving door, and with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier failing to produce anticipated power (which may be changing), the Dodgers have been among the NL's worst at hitting with runners in scoring position.

   How many times in how many other places have similar facts not mattered, and maybe my long fondness for Mattingly colors my thinking, my belief that he deserves an extended period with a full lineup, healthy rotation and a bullpen that needs to be sorted out.

   I recognize, beyond the facts, there is a perception held by many that Mattlingly is too much the nice guy, too much of a soft voice.

   I recognize as well that current third base coach Tim Wallach was deservedly in line when Joe Torre stepped down as manager and lobbied on behalf of Mattingly and their pin-striped relationship, lobbied to an owner who was beginning to spend more time in court than at the stadium.

  Yet, how many times in how many other places has change for the sake of change produced an initial impact only to fizzle out?

 Has the Guggenheim team made it's decision?

 Is it too late for Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to change it by doing to the Brewers what Clayton Kershaw did so masterfully in the Monday night opener.

 Too late for Kemp and Ethier to prove their home runs behind Kershaw were, at last, an awakening?

 The answer isn't clear, but the liklihood, unfortunately, is that the clock on Mattingly is definitely ticking.


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