Mattingly: Brass' support sends message to team
Dodgers manager feels 'lame-duck' moniker can affect players' performance
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Don Mattingly wouldn't say that the three-year contract extension he received in January will make him a better manager, but he believes it will make the Dodgers a better organization.
"When ownership shows trust and confidence in the manager, it sends a message that they believe in you, and it goes all over -- to the players and to the fans and to the media," said Mattingly. "The main thing is not my security. I know who I am and what I can do. I'm confident about that.
"But if people you work for don't believe that, it's not a good thing. During the season, you lose two or three in a row and it's every time, the lame-duck thing. The players hear it and we all have to deal with it. Now that's gone."
Mattingly's extension hasn't removed the high expectations, challenges and uncertainties he still faces. Nothing short of a World Series will suffice. The Australia trip, while good for the game, has disrupted normal preparations. Matt Kemp's health is a huge unknown. And if all four outfielders are ever healthy together, somebody will be unhappy.
But after his club went on a stunning 42-8 run to pull out of last place and ultimately fall two wins shy of the World Series, Mattingly looks and sounds more in charge than he did a year ago.
"I have the trust and confidence, that's the big difference from being a lame duck," he said.
He also has a new bench coach, Tim Wallach, taking over for Trey Hillman, as management wants improved in-game decision making.
In Spring Training, Mattingly can tap into four former big league managers who are in the Dodgers organization -- Hall of Famer Tom Lasorda, a special advisor to the chairman; Pat Corrales, a special assistant to the general manager; Davey Lopes, the first-base coach; and Maury Wills, the bunting instructor.
In a different era, Lasorda followed Walt Alston's 24 years of one-year contracts with a dozen of his own until receiving the first multiyear deal for a Dodgers skipper.
"When I was on a one-year, I wished I had a multiyear," Lasorda said. "But did the players treat me any different? I don't think so. Back then, nobody left the organization anyway, unless they got a better job. The O'Malleys treated you great."
Lopes played for Lasorda, then managed two full seasons in Milwaukee before being dismissed 15 games into his third season.
"What the contract does is provide stability," Lopes said, using a word that symbolized the O'Malley years. "And it's known by the players, the fans, the whole organization. You don't fire a manager during the season. Look what almost happened here last year. It's just not a comfortable place for anyone. The players here know Donnie's here for three years and that's the way it should be. That's the way great organizations are run. When I was in Milwaukee, you were always looking over your shoulder."
Corrales, who spent nine years as a Major League manager and nine years on the Atlanta Braves' coaching staff under Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, believes Mattingly has already benefited by his situation.
"He's going to be more confident," said Corrales. "He's learning as he goes. Take into consideration he was an American League player. This is different, but he's adapted well."
There might be no better analyst of managers in the organization today than one of the current players. Jamey Wright has played for 29 managers in his 21 professional seasons. They range from Hall of Famer Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland to Felipe Alou and Joe Maddon. One of them, Don Baylor, was a former MVP, just like Mattingly was with the New York Yankees, faced with the stereotype that great players can't become great managers.
"Playing for Groove [Baylor] was a lot like playing for Donnie, because those guys commanded respect before they were ever managers," said Wright. "We all knew what they did as players, what kind of competitors they were. You don't reach that level in that city without being a fierce competitor. I see Donnie still working in the weight room. That's leading by example.
"Donnie sat with Joe [Torre] and watched how he went about it, watched his demeanor. Groove didn't have that, but he was prepared. It's about handling egos. I loved playing for Donnie in '12. I was devastated I didn't come back [in 2013]. Donnie reminds me of Joe [Maddon] last year. Super laid back, Donnie is, too. At this level, it's about building guys up, their confidence. What surprised me about Donnie, him being 'The Man' in New York, but he was different than I expected, approachable, a normal guy."
Wright said a manager's lame-duck status does change the clubhouse tone.
"You can definitely tell in the clubhouse when a manager is not looking over his shoulder, wondering what's going to happen," he said. "The best clubhouse I had ever been in was last year in Tampa Bay, and that guy [Maddon] has no worries in the world about losing his job. He's the man and the guys play their butt off for him. It shows from the get-go. The atmosphere is so much fun."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.