When Joe Maddon opted out of his contract as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays on October 24, 2014 (as reported by CBS Sports), I thought there was only one destination for his next job. It was as clear to me as a Santa Monica day.
Inevitably, the Los Angeles Dodgers were going to announce they were going to let go of Don Mattingly as manager after 4 seasons, and reunite Maddon with his former Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman. Everything lined up perfectly and it would be a match made in baseball heaven.
I even began writing a somewhat snarky column for this website about the Dodgers being coy with their intentions while clearly pushing Mattingly out the door.
Oh, publicly, the Dodgers backed Mattingly, as they did here in the LA Times, but who were they kidding? Arguably the best manager in baseball was there for the taking.
Remember when Joe Torre suddenly became available after the 2007 postseason and Dodger manager Grady Little just HAPPENED to resign? What a coincidence that Torre was hired before poor Grady was done packing the office.
The Dodgers were poised to take on the champion Giants next year, and baseball would see a Maddon-led team take on Bruce Bochy’s boys with two of the best skippers in the business in the same division.
Then a funny thing happened to Joe Maddon, and also to this smart aleck know-it-all writer. The inevitable signing with the Dodgers turned into a Chicago Cubs love fest.
Maddon headed to Wrigley, bought everyone drinks (always a fool-proof way to win over Cubs fans) and seemed poised to take credit for the emergence of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.
Poor Rick Renteria was kicked to the curb. While the stench of tampering hangs over the move, nobody could blame the Cubs for wanting to bring in Maddon (no offense to Renteria, who will no doubt find another job.)
Maddon is going to join the likes of Leo Durocher, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella as high profile managers hoping to complete the Don Quixote-like quest of winning a title for the Cubs.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers go into 2015 with Don Mattingly still at the helm.
Can someone please explain to me how this happened? Why didn’t the Dodgers at least put on the full court press and wine and dine Maddon? They offer one of the sweetest managerial jobs baseball and could be the fast track for Maddon’s elusive title.
The appeal of “Dodger manager Joe Maddon” was staggering. From the 2008 World Series to the 2013 Division Series, the Rays reached the playoffs in four different seasons, with a payroll slightly larger than the average In-and-Out Burger location. Friedman made all the right moves, and Maddon handled the continually changing roster perfectly, winning Manager of the Year in 2008 and 2011.
One could only wonder what kind of success that tandem could have had with a solid payroll and fan support.
Oh, wait! There wasn’t a need to just wonder. The Dodgers could have brought Friedman and Maddon together with a $200 million payroll, the best attendance in the National League and an ability to keep stars instead of shopping them.
Forget trying to juggle a rotation without David Price, James Shields or an injured Matt Moore; Maddon could call on Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in LA!
He would inherit a team that has won back-to-back Division titles and posted 94 victories last season. But they also have seen their division rival Giants win 3 World Series this decade, two since the new ownership took over.
As a sports city, Los Angeles is first and foremost a Lakers town. But with the Lakers on a downward spiral, the Dodgers have a chance to take over Southern California for the cool sports dollar.
But with a huge payroll and an easily distracted fanbase, losing in the playoffs to the Cardinals in back-to-back seasons is not going to cut it.
The Dodgers are going into 2015 with a sense of urgency. Kershaw is going to be 27 and Greinke 31, probably the peak year of this tandem. Yasiel Puig is a budding star, but difficult to predict. The left side of the infield is in disarray and the bullpen was, to be kind, unreliable.
Changes were made. Friedman pushed GM Ned Colletti to a vague new role. Farm director DeJon Watson and scouting director Logan White have moved on. Oakland’s former Director of Baseball Operations, Farhan Zaidi, is making to move to LA.
And yet with all these behind the scenes moves, Mattingly remains.
Mattingly has been the Dodgers manager for four seasons. That is a Presidential term. Plus, he was a hold-over from the Frank McCourt ownership. When Mark Walter, Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson et al took over the team in 2012, they inherited Mattingly and Colletti.
Colletti’s inability to have any depth on the team for $200 million pushed him out. But what about “Donnie Baseball?”
For two straight years, he has made questionable decisions in the postseason. Whether it was pulling Adrian Gonzalez in a one run playoff game in 2013, or turning to Scott Elbert in a critical Division Series moment this year, there is no shortage of head-scratchers for Mattingly.
And of course Mattingly benched Yasiel Puig in an elimination game. Yes, Puig was not hitting well (except for an extra base hit the previous game.) Is it wise to remove one of the best bats the team has in a winner-take-all game? It didn’t work.
Is Mattingly a difference-making manager? Probably not, for good or for ill. But Maddon IS one of the few managers who at least seems to make a difference. And perhaps the arrival of Maddon to Los Angeles could have given the team a spark that is lacking with Mattingly.
Maybe Maddon would have figured out how to run the bullpen. Perhaps Maddon could get the best out of Puig and his former left fielder, Carl Crawford.
And what would firing Mattingly cost the Dodgers? He is signed for two more years, and eating that contract would mean swallowing roughly $9 million total, according to ESPN.com.
Look, I know it is not my money. But that is less than what LA is going to pay Brian Wilson, and there is not even a guarantee he will be able to pitch next year.
Carl Crawford is going to cash checks for $60 million more dollars! But they are too cheap to bring in Maddon?
The Dodgers run with Don Mattingly as manager is like a stale relationship. They are together because of circumstances that are no longer relevant and they are staying together because it beats being single.
Now imagine someone in a stagnant relationship has a chance to date Charlize Theron. In that situation, you at least have to ask her out!
All the Dodgers had to offer was a huge budget, a gigantic media market, a contending team, the best pitcher on the planet and a chance to reunite with the GM who turned the laughing stock of baseball into a pennant contender.
The Dodgers have not seen a World Series since Kirk Gibson limped around the basepaths in 1988. Clayton Kershaw was a 7-month-old baby during that Series.
That same year, Mattingly was a star with the Yankees, who missed the World Series every year he was in uniform. He made his debut in 1982, just after New York’s 1981 World Series loss. He stayed until 1995, never winning a pennant, and retired. The Yankees went on to win 6 pennants in the next 8 years, winning 4 championships. He returned as a coach in 2004, and the team couldn’t win the pennant. He left in 2007 for LA, and the team won in 2009.
Mattingly was essentially The Cooler!
And guess what, Dodgerland? Mattingly will be managing your team and making his trademark moves that make all of Southern California say “huh?”
If the Cubs win the pennant before the Dodgers, they may never live it down.
Paul “Sully” Sullivan is a Sports Contributor for The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @sullybaseball.