Don Mattingly has his ‘Wu-Tang moment’, keeps it real, we’ll see if it goes wrong

WuTangChappelleMattingly

Yesterday, Don Mattingly had what I call a “Wu-Tang moment”, inspired by the “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong” skit on Chappelle’s Show.

Humorous? Yes, but what it mean to me is that Mattingly basically dropped all the fronts and simply went in on the Dodgers players and front office in surprisingly pointed comments.

“We’re in last place in the National League West,” the skipper said. “Last year at this point, we played a lineup with nobody in it, but they fought, they competed and battled every inch. I felt like we got more out of our ability. I don’t know if that team was tougher. I don’t know why and it was only for a short period of time.

“Part of it is the mixture of competitiveness. It’s not just putting an All-Star team out there and the All-Star team wins. You try to find that balance of a team that’s got a little grit and fight, and has enough talent to get there also. It’s not all grit and not talent that gets there, and it’s not all talent and no grit. It’s a mixture of both.”
Mattingly wouldn’t say Ethier was guilty of anything. Instead, the manager said what he’s looking for.

“There’s a touch of a difference between saying you’re giving your best effort and you’re willing to fight for something,” Mattingly said. “Some guys go to another level for that price, will do whatever it takes to win a game … that inside, you’re not beating me today. There’s something there you can’t measure with Sabermetrics. You can’t put a number on it.”

The media expected saber-friendly bloggers like myself to be offended by his comments, but I don’t necessarily disagree with him. Yes, “grit” is practically a meme amongst bloggers, but his points about focus and effort and what not are all part of the evaluation process, and it’s the job of the manager and front office to get the best out of their players in anyway they can.

If this is part of it, then so be it. But it remains to be see if it’ll actually be an effective tactic or not.

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A lot of focus was put on Mattingly’s comments and how they related to Andre Ethier, who was benched against a right-hander and called out by Mattingly.

“For me, today, I’m putting out my lineup that I feel is going to be the most competitive and going to compete the hardest,” he said.

Asked if Ethier is no longer a player he automatically writes into the lineup every day, Mattingly said, “Well, he wasn’t today.”

Does Mattingly think Ethier won’t fight?

“I can’t really say that,” he said. “I don’t really want to say that, but we’ve got to compete.”

Asked if he was dissatisfied with Ethier’s toughness and mental approach, Mattingly said, “I want to put a club out there that I think for the long range that you can trust, that’s going to fight and compete the whole day.”

Has Mattingly not seen that from Ethier at times?

“Anything like that would need to be a conversation in-house,” he said.

Mattingly said he has had several conversations with Ethier about this over the years. After the 2011 season, Mattingly estimated that Ethier gave away 100 at-bats because of his inability to control his emotions. Asked if Ethier still had similar issues, Mattingly said, “Yeah, at times.”

Remember that hilarious stare-down from the other day? As funny as that was, it was a prime example of him giving away an at-bat (and his spot on team for the rest of that game), which may be part of the reason for this outburst. Either way, it’s certainly an example of what Mattingly is talking about.

Ethier, for his part, took the high road.

“Yeah, I take offense to that, without approaching me first,” said Ethier. “Other than that, I show up every day and find ways to compete, to work hard whether I’m going good or bad. Just like everyone here, I have to get a grip and a handle on what’s gone on. We can never lose hope to get back on top of the division. That’s my approach every day.”

“I don’t think there’s ever a question,” he said. “I made a commitment to what we’re doing. We all have tough times. We just have got to figure out what’s going on and battle through it. Quitting is not an option.”

People reading these comments and then citing Ethier’s stat line in comparison with Matt Kemp and others are sort of missing the boat on this, I think.

Normally, I wouldn’t support this kind of stuff, but I think this situation is more nuanced than “Ethier hitting now, so Mattingly dumb”, as it’s not just Mattingly that doesn’t support Ethier.

Over the years, basically everybody I’ve talked to that’s been close to the team has not exactly come away with a glowing impression of Ethier, and it wasn’t Mattingly that tried to eat the contract of a recently-extended Ethier just this past winter.

Mike Petriello affirms the same general feeling about Ethier, as well as the trade aspect of it.

I don’t know what happened with Ethier behind the scenes, though anyone surprised that he’s got a reputation as being difficult hasn’t been paying attention — and yes, they did try to trade him over the winter.

So while I’m not all that sure what happened behind closed doors, and I’m not saying it’s absolutely justified, I am leaving open the possibility that this was a necessary action due to something that might be happening behind the scenes.

More to the point, I don’t think commenting about Ethier is going to lead the front office to fire him.

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That said, what probably will get him fired is Mattingly effectively calling out Ned Colletti and Stan Kasten for roster construction.

When Mattingly spoke with reporters in Milwaukee on Wednesday, as the manager of a last-place team with the highest payroll in baseball history, he said this: “It’s not just all, ‘Let’s go put an All-Star team out there and play games, and the team with the All-Star team wins.’ … All grit and no talent is not going to get you there, and all talent and no grit is not going to get you there. There’s got to be a mixture of both.”

Mattingly benched outfielder Andre Ethier on Wednesday, explaining the decision thusly: “For me, today, I’m putting out my lineup that I feel is going to be the most competitive and going to compete the hardest.”

That is two “I,” one “my” and one “me” in an industry that emphasizes “us” and “we.” Players and the front office notice those words.

In stark contrast, this is how Mattingly explained the weekend decision to demote catcher Tim Federowicz rather than clear a roster spot by cutting either infielder Luis Cruz or catcher Ramon Hernandez: “That was the move that the organization thought was the best.”

And, as the Dodgers’ bullpen lost all three games last weekend in Atlanta, Mattingly appeared to point out how the front office stashed surplus starters in the bullpen, forcing the team to cut veteran relievers who might have been useful

“We had guys get away early who seemed to fit,” Mattingly said.

The disagreement over roster decisions was never more obvious than the decision to send down Tim Federowicz, who had been playing as the primary backup over Ramon Hernandez. Unlike the other stuff, this is a very real problem when the manager and front officer are thinking in very different direction.

On one hand, the disconnect is unhealthy and it seems like a death wish by Mattingly for him to rip his bosses. On the other hand, if it’s a fight between Mattingly and Colletti, I’m in Mattingly’s corner everyday of the week.

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But will all this really get him fired? One GM thinks so, but neither Kasten nor Colletti will be in town until Friday, which leaves me thinking two things: 1) Mattingly already knows he’s gonna get fired 2) neither Kasten nor Colletti are as sensitive to his critique as the media makes it out to be and don’t really care.

Either way, though, Mattingly appears to be safe for the upcoming series.

Don Mattingly will be managing the Dodgers on Friday when they open a three-game series at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, according to two people familiar with the team’s plans.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but certainly not one that seems to confirm the belief that Mattingly already knew he was fired when making his comments.

So it seems he’ll stick around a bit longer, for better or worse, and the only thing I’m certain of at this point is that a lot of words will be written about this situation.

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All of this is to say I’m not sure exactly how significant of an issue the ranting on the team is going to affect Mattingly, but I do think that the disconnect between him and the front office is troublesome and will likely be the cause for his undoing with the Dodgers.

I’ve said again and again that my continued backing of him was based on how he handled relations with the players and the clubhouse, as it certainly wasn’t because of his decision-making acumen. Therefore, my support for him, meaningless as it may be, is actively in doubt now, as he may or may not have just lost the players. Additionally, even if he is right, it seems to be causing more distractions than anything else, which is rarely a net positive.

With that said, the final chapter is yet to be written, and Mattingly seems to have taken a gamble to see if a different approach will work to pull the Dodgers out of whatever horrid funk they’re in. We’ll see how it plays out with the team going forward, and we’ll see whether or not Mattingly deciding to keep it real will cause his tenure with the team to finally go wrong.

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