In that particular instance, they meant Don Kelly, a Pittsburgh kid and perpetual favorite of Leyland’s during his tenure in Detroit. The Donnie Baseball they should have been wondering about, however, was Don Mattingly, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though he’s not yet officially available, a bizarre contractual power struggle could push him out of Los Angeles soon. If that ends up happening as many assume, the Tigers should quickly be on the line trying to secure his services as their 46th manager.
When Dave Dombrowski outlined the criteria for his next leader on Monday, he mentioned that managerial experience would likely play a major role. Leyland himself hinted at someone a bit younger taking over the post. Mattingly, 52, actually fits both of those categories. Considering his work with Dodgers included managing a near $230 million dollar payroll and dealing with a locker room full of combustible big name stars such as Yasiel Puig, he would already have the experience needed to handle Detroit’s situation. Best yet, the Tigers’ locker room doesn’t possess an enigma like Puig, but instead has a core of tough, hard working players like Miguel Cabrera who are willing to play through pain.
Many worry about Mattingly’s baseball sense. Put him in the less complicated to manage American League with a quality front office like Detroit’s, however, and that wouldn’t matter one bit. In a coaching climate which is devoid of obvious big names or slam dunk candidates in 2013, Mattingly would be as close to a slam dunk as huminly possible. Not only has he already been successful under circumstances perfect to the Tigers, but he comes with the desired name credibility that many other candidates lack.
Best of all, his current players seem to love playing for him. Just last season, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw spoke in a New York Times interview regarding what he enjoyed the most about Mattingly as a manager:
“He’s so positive,” Kershaw said. “All he asks of us is just go out there and play the way we’re supposed to. Do things the right way on the field, and he’s happy with you. When it’s simple like that, it’s easy to play for, and it’s fun to play for.”
Sounds like the same elements most people could agree they loved about the man who just retired. In the same interview, Mattengly confesses to being a disciple of Tony La Russa, who he admired as a player for the competitive fire he instilled in his teams. Considering that, he might be a baseball blood brother of Leyland’s tough, no nonsense approach as well. Mattingly also shares Leyland’s deep respect for the game:
“I go back to respect with these guys,” Mattingly said. “There were a lot of guys that went before us, and we honor the game by playing the game right. The fans come every day. You’re 10 up or 10 back, they’re showing up. They want your best effort. Out of respect for the fans, they deserve your best every day, to the organization itself and then to each other. So we have an obligation to play the game right, and that’s all you ask.”
Tactically, Mattengly would be enough of a fresh start for the team and would bring a new voice. Coaching wise, the Tigers could certainly benefit from “The Hit Man” taking over both at the plate and in the field. Approach wise, he would bring many of the same values Leyland brought to the job for eight years. It would be the perfect blend of old and new to bridge the gap and help keep the Tigers on top.
Will Mattingly even become available? That’s uncertain, although it sure feels so, thus the Tigers should be patient. If or when he is, Detroit need to make Mattingly their first call. He’s got the perfect mix of youth and big time experience to confidently lead the team. It would be an ideal fresh start for both parties.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax