Friday, June 12, 2015

A Voice For Donnie

Pretty good piece over at the Bill-Simmons-less Grantland about Don Mattingly, and how he has endured through front office chaos and how he has either navigated deftly (or survived barely) through choppy clubhouse waters. Some of the good parts:

Yet nearly five years after that double-mound-visit snafu, Mattingly is still in Dodger blue. He’s survived two playoff misses, two heartbreaking playoff exits, and constant speculation and criticism. He’s made it through one of the most controversial ownership changes in sports history, one of the most tumultuous clubhouses in recent memory, and a front-office shake-up that seemed destined to cost him his job.

Mattingly has gone from being one of the most maligned leaders in sports to the third-longest-tenured manager in the National League. His Dodgers are in first place in the NL West and poised to mount another playoff run. And he has the front office’s support: “Incredibly favorable from my standpoint, what kind of person he is, what kind of communicator,” says Andrew Friedman, who left the Rays in October to become the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations. “We had a really good back-and-forth and working relationship almost immediately.”

Mattingly may not be a gifted tactician, but he also may not need to be. With expectations in L.A. as high as ever, Donnie Baseball has shed light on the evolving role of the modern manager by being able to survive, if not thrive. [...]

[W]hile [GM Andrew] Friedman is known as a numbers guy, he’s also always emphasized clubhouse harmony, something that he, new GM Farhan Zaidi, and other members of the front office would soon realize the 2014 Dodgers completely lacked. With Kemp, Ethier, Puig, and Crawford all on the roster, squabbling broke out over playing time, with Mattingly hinting at players’ selfishness after an early-June loss dropped the team to eight games behind the then-front-running Giants. Mattingly now speaks candidly of that unit’s “lack of professionalism.”

Molly Knight, a writer who spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons embedded with the Dodgers and will soon release a behind-the-scenes book, The Best Team Money Can Buy, put the team’s dysfunction in stronger terms.

“I wasn’t around for those 1970s A’s teams, but I can’t imagine they were much worse than the 2014 Dodgers,” Knight says. “It was a disaster, a shitshow. [Mattingly] had to make sure guys didn’t kill each other and keep all of that out of the media. He had to deal with Yasiel Puig, who’s phenomenally talented, sells tickets … and he’s a basket case. He flouts all the rules, skips BP, shows up late. What do you do? Bench him and watch your team lose? Or not punish him and piss off 24 other guys?”

Puig has caused fewer stirs than usual this season because he’s missed time while nursing a hamstring injury. But he’ll presumably remain a managerial challenge once he returns.

“It’s not easy managing that, figuring it out,” Knight says. “They weren’t going to win the World Series with that bullpen, with no center fielder, and the worst defensive shortstop in the league. It takes a really steady manager’s personality just to get as far as they went last year. He did as well as he could have done.”

I eagerly await Knight's book and some insight as to how bad it was in the clubhouse last year. Donnie remains far from a managerial genius in my mind (enough with the double switches and mercurial lineups!), but I could be convinced that his ability to connect with players has helped him manage during difficult times.

"Calm seas never made a skilled mariner," as the saying goes. With a more stable front office and arguably greater lineup depth, let's see if those experiences pay off for the Dodgers, as well as for Donnie.


Fred's Brim said...

I like Donnie but I don't always like his managing. I assume I would think the same of any manager's managing

BJ Killeen said...

The sign of being a good manager is not only managing the team, but managing people. Just because you played ball doesn't mean you have what it takes to make people WANT to work for you, and work as a team. Some people have it, and some don't. Tommy had it. You can see by the players who still think of him as a father figure who did more for their careers and personal life than their own family. That's how you win, and that's how you teach a team to work together and play with hearts.

It takes more than just keeping the peace between players. It takes getting to know them, getting to know what makes them tick, and steering the energy wasted to something productive. Donnie will never win because his style isn't conducive to it. He doesn't understand the Dodger Way because he didn't learn about it as a player. Read the book My Way, you'll see what I'm talking about.