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.                                                  


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