By Vincent Z. Mercogliano
NEW YORK – It’s been a wild season on the West Coast for Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, but the former Yankees legend has remained composed in the face of constant speculation about his job security.
“I had a good training ground, I’ll put it that way,” Mattingly said before Tuesday’s series opener with the Yankees was postponed due to rain. “I think George (Steinbrenner) liked controversy. His thing was, good publicity or bad publicity, its still publicity. I kind of grew up, in a sense, with it. … For me, it prepares you to just weather it and not take it personal.”
Mattingly’s calmness under pressure has helped him navigate his way through a difficult two and a half months with this underachieving Dodgers’ team. Los Angeles sits 10 games under .500 entering Wednesday, but the longtime Yankee first baseman’s manner has not wavered.
Mattingly was known for his business-like approach during his 14 seasons in pinstripes, which convinced the late Steinbrenner to name him as team captain and endeared him to New York fans. Those fans will have to wait one more day to see him manage at Yankee Stadium for the first time, with the Dodgers now set to play a split doubleheader against the Yankees on Wednesday at 1 and 7 p.m.
“Obviously, it’s good to come back,” Mattingly said. “You don’t quite understand the relationship, honestly. I came from a small town, loved playing, came here and just played. I pretty much tried to keep it as simple as that, and they seemed to appreciate that. It was nice for me, because I didn’t have to do anything except play.”
Mattingly is considered to be one of the greatest Yankees of all-time, with a plaque in Monument Park to prove it. He finished his career with a .307 batting average, winning nine Gold Gloves and an American League MVP award in 1985.
Mattingly’s only blemish was never winning a championship. He retired after the 1995 season; just one year before the Yankees began their run of four titles in five years.
“I was a big fan of his,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s been such a big part of Yankee history, and the way he played the game. I’m anxious to hear who gets the louder cheer today – him or (Mariano Rivera), if he comes in the game. I think that’s probably the only one who can measure up to him tonight, and he deserves that.”
Mattingly’s opportunity to continue to chase a championship as a Yankee came prior to the 2008 season after longtime manager Joe Torre was let go. He was one of the three finalists for the opening – along with Girardi and current bench coach Tony Pena – but he was passed over for the job.
“Obviously, you compete and want that job, so there was a little disappointment,” Mattingly said. “I didn’t go through the interview process and all of that not to get it, but I felt like I was treated really well through that process. (General manager Brian Cashman) I thought was great. He was up front and honest with me about everything. To be very honest with you, it was a blessing for me.”
Mattingly followed Torre to Los Angeles to serve as his bench coach, eventually taking over as manager in 2011. And while his star-studded team has been dealing with mounting losses and injuries, he continues to use the lessons learned while playing for Steinbrenner under the bright lights in New York.
“It’s a learning experience,” Mattingly said. “I look at it like a lot of other things. I’m not the first manager that’s had to deal with it, and I’m not going to be the last manager who’s had to deal with it. … It can only stay at that level for so long, and then you either get fired, or you don’t.”
Associated Press photo