Friday, November 03, 2006

The Once and Future King


The Yankees quietly (well as quietly as they can do anything) replaced Lee Mazzili as bench coach with Don Mattingly. This move can be seen as a practical anointing of Mattingly as Joe Torre's successor as manager of the Yankees. Donnie Baseball is now widely perceived as the man who will assume the reigns of the Yankees once Joe calls it quits. Joe is in the last year of his contract, he's pushing 70 and while I'm sure he likes the $8 million a year that he receives from the Yankees, at some point he's going to want to spend some more time at home with his young children. He also may not have a choice. If the Yankees experience another post season flameout next season, George will have the perfect opportunity to bid farewell to Joe. If there is no parade down the canyon of heroes next fall, it's practically guaranteed that George will turn the team over to someone else.

The knock that many have against Mattingly is that he has never managed on any level before. The common perception being that you need experience as a manager in order to have credibility with the players. While that may be true if I were named manager of the Yankees, I don't think that Don Mattingly has a credibility issue with the Yankees. He merely has to point to his plaque in monument park and the retired number on his back if any of his players question his baseball pedigree. Let's not forget that Joe Torre started as the player/manager of the NY Mets. No one questioned his lack of managerial experience then (Of course the Mets were terrible and the pressure on the manager wasn't quite what it will be with the Yankees). The same thing was said about Wille Randolph's lack of experience, but he still managed to lead that Mets to the brink of the World Series this year. Donnie is one of the most beloved and respected former players in baseball. Their are more than a few current major leaguers who grew up idolizing him (Mark Texeria of the Rangers wears #23 as a tribute to him). He definitely would not have a credibility gap with his players.

I don't really subscribe to the theory that a manager can turn a bad team into a good one. Almost anyone who knows baseball would be able to make the decisions that most managers make. When to take out a pitcher, pinch hit, give a player a day off, hit and run, steal a base are all fairly logical decisions. There are more intuitive decisions which can turn a game around, but on the whole I don't think that a manager wins games for his team. The players do that. A manager can certainly lose some, however. Ultimately Donnie will be judged on wins and losses, but I don't think he'll have any problem with baseball strategy.

The keys to being successful in NY are being able to deal with George and being able to handle the crush of media. In NY everything is magnified. Every loss is the end of the world and every problem is the end of the world, every slump is the end of the world and losing to the Red Sox is the end of the universe. The reason that Joe Torre has been so successful (the $200 million in payroll didn't hurt) is that he doesn't seem to pay much attention to the doomsday theories. He just goes about his business in a very professional manner. His approach has served him well during his tenure. I have no idea how Donnie would handle himself as manager, but having a year under Joe will certainly help him understand the approach that Joe employs.

I'm not sure that it's a good thing for Donnie to take the job, but it looks like that is exactly what he's gong to do. Yogi Berra cut his ties with the Yankees for almost 20 years after George fired him as manager. Perhaps it's best for Yankee legends to just stay out of the mangers seat. Actually George has clearly mellowed in his old age because I certainly remember hitting coaches being fired after the team didn't hit in the post season. This was one of the best lineups of all time and they were silenced by the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs. I would dare say that if the hitting coach had been anyone other than Mattingly, they would have been looking for a new job by now.

Don Mattingly is my favorite Yankees player of all time. He always played hard and was one of the lone bright spots on some pretty terrible teams. He is a Yankee legend, in fact he's a baseball legend. In the updated Bill James Historical Abstract he writes this about Don Mattingly "100% ballplayer, 0% bullshit". I don't think that it could have been stated any better. The problem with being manager of the Yankees is that it's about 90% bullshit.

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