Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mattingly and Dodgers at a Crossroads Needing to Be Resolved

            By ROSS NEWHAN

            Historically, and for many decades, the Dodgers never deviated from a policy of one year contracts for their managers.

            In another time and place, for instance, then owner Walter O'Malley reacted to Chuck Dressen's demands for a three year contract--Dressen had just led the Brooklyn Dodgers to 1952 and '53 National League pennants--by firing him and elevating his relatively unknown triple A manager, Walter Alston, to the major league post.

            For a period of 30 years, Alston and successor Tom Lasorda, their success measured by plaques in Cooperstown, received only one year contracts from the senior O'Malley and his son, a policy that ended when Peter O'Malley gave Lasorda a three year contract after the 1983 season.

            Several factors played into that change in policy, including Lasorda's success, the romance he was receiving from George Steinbrenner and other owners, and changes in the industry's economic structure with the introduction of free agency. Players were suddenly receiving more lucrative and multi-year contracts, making for a potentially difficult environment if the employees were guaranteed more security than the man at their helm.

             Now we find the club's current manager, Don Mattingly, with a contract for 2014 (his option  vested after the division series victory over Atlanta) and having made it blisteringly clear that he does not want to go through another season like this last one, when he was seemingly on trial, a one year audition for the new management.

            And now, too, we find the Dodgers having just fired Mattingly's friend and hand picked bench coach, Trey Hillman, in what could be construed as a direct response to Mattingly's remarks during a very awkward media conference on Monday.

              It's a crossroads that Mattingly and the Dodgers need to resolve amicably for the good of a fragile and, in certain places, aging roster that Mattingly--lest we forget--led to within two victories of a National League title amid injuries and the recurring distraction of his own job situation.

              The new management could have--and should have--recognized the potential for that distraction by picking up Mattingly's option before the season or, at least, during that 42-8 rampage of mid-season.

              It is what it is, however, and now:

             The Dodgers need to reward Mattingly with an extension through 2015 or '16, and Mattingly needs to step back, not overreact to the Hillman firing and recognize he could benefit by the hiring of a veteran bench coach who would challenge Mattingly in certain strategical situations, cases in which every manager needs more than a yes man at his side.

             It would also be wise for Mattingly to recognize that he has said enough.

           The festering broadsides he directed at management over his contract situation on Monday were so far out of character, his message delivered so clearly and sharply, any continuation would only damage the relationship beyond repair.

             Whether the timing of Hillman's firing (although rumored at different points during the season) was indeed a direct response to those remarks, a way for management to say it has heard enough or, perhaps, even an attempt to force the manager to resign without having to drop what could be an unpopular ax, isn't clear.

              This much is:

              At least for now, the Dodgers and Donnie Baseball need each other. The 2013 season was too much of a good thing for this to end in divorce.                                                  


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blue Now, but Dodger Season Will Be Remembered as Rewarding

                    By ROSS NEWHAN

                    Yes, yes, yes!

                    The virtual loss of Hanley Ramirez in the first inning of the first game of the National League's Championship Series was a significant blow to the Dodgers.

                    I get it.

                    Perhaps--and perhaps not--it was comparable to the Cardinals' literal loss of Allen Craig and his 97 RBI for the entire series.

                   Just saying...

                   Also saying that when the hurt of the Game 6 embarrassment eases for the Dodgers they can look back on a  rewarding season.

                  --They recaptured a city--and its celebrities.

                  --They introduced a player in Yasiel Puig who, for all his much needed refinements, brought a passion and talent that helped ignite a historic, 42-8 rampage through the middle of the season, justified Logan White's $42 million investment and who now looms as a cornerstone.

                   --They ultimately ran away with a division title at the expense of the dreaded Giants and newly dreaded D-Backs.

                  --They beat the 96 win Atlanta Braves in the division series and came within two wins of their first World Series in 25 years.

                 Maybe anything short of a World Series, especially for a team with a record payroll of $216 million, shouldn't be remembered as a rewarding season, but there were also considerations that shouldn't be dismissed.

                 The status of Manager Don Mattingly was an ongoing distraction that the Dodgers should have dealt with before the season started instead of turning it into a six month trial.

                 There was the now-you-see them, not-you-don't status of Ramirez and Matt Kemp, turning Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker into regular players for long stretches.

                 There was a prolonged sorting out of the bullpen as Brandon League, with his freshly signed three year contract, failed in the closer role, the complete sorting out not finalized until Brian Wilson arrived without a razor in late summer.

              There was also the series of injury related trials at the back end of the bullpen. testing a farm system that was not, is not, ready for prime time.

             The point being that this was no payroll juiced glide into the post-season.

            It may take time, for players and fans alike, but the final hurt will heal and the realization that 2013 can be remembered in a rewarding context will emerge.

            Under the new, financially stable ownership, the Dodgers have taken a first step toward a rebuilt foundation that will not be totally in place until the farm system is rebuilt as well.

           Certainly, no one has to convince Stan Kasten.

          The Dodger president carries the blueprint he helped produce during his tenure as president of the division dominant Braves, a dominance built on scouting and development.