In good, bad times, Mattingly keeps level head

In good, bad times, Mattingly keeps level head

In good, bad times, Mattingly keeps level head
LOS ANGELES -- A 7 1/2-game division lead long vanished, the Dodgers are in a desperate fight for the last National League Wild Card spot.

Best hitter Matt Kemp is playing hurt and looking like it. Best pitcher Clayton Kershaw, facing likely hip surgery, wants to pitch hurt but can't. An unprecedented recent spending spree to fill the roster with stars looked good on paper, but on the field, not so much.

These are the times that will try a manager's soul, making him wonder what in the world he was thinking when he took the job. But not Don Mattingly.

"I love what I'm doing, and I like it here," Mattingly said after general manager Ned Colletti confirmed Mattingly would return in 2013, even though he was already under contract. "I'm pretty vocal that I like it. At that point, if they don't want you here, then you don't want to be here anyway. I say the same thing with my players. If they don't want to be here, then I don't want them to be here. That being said, I'm happy."

Often, the first move of a new ownership is to blow out an inherited manager. Mattingly is more likely to get a contract extension if club president Stan Kasten means what he says about management permanency, especially now that Colletti has received an extension.

Colletti hired Mattingly five years ago to be heir apparent on the recommendation of then-manager Joe Torre. Through conversations with Dallas Green, Lee Elia, Billy Connors and Dave Righetti, Colletti said he felt like he already knew Mattingly was right for the job before meeting him, even though Mattingly had no managerial experience.

"Watch how he relates to people," Colletti said. "Look at his playing career: a batting champion, an MVP [Award], to have his number retired in the Bronx. How does that happen without a ton of work and effort and practice? He has the type of personality that isn't going to rest on his laurels or be content."

Although he's been in charge less than two full seasons, Mattingly, 51, is the rare manager who seems to have equal support upstairs and downstairs. In a season ripe for finger-pointing, there hasn't been any in the clubhouse, either.

"What I like about Donnie is the confidence he exudes," said 37-year-old reliever Jamey Wright, who has made 17 professional team changes and played for 28 managers, including Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Felipe Alou, Ron Washington and current Dodgers coaches Davey Lopes and Trey Hillman.

"Donnie's been in the locker room, been in tough games, suffered through tough losses. I like his calmness. He makes me want to run through a brick wall for him. It speaks volumes that there's never been a sense of panic in his voice since Day 1. He truly believes we'll be there in the end, and that carries over to us in good times and bad. If his stomach is in knots and his mind is racing a million miles an hour, he doesn't show it to us."

Catcher A.J. Ellis summed up Mattingly's best asset in one word.

"Consistency," Ellis said. "The guy is exactly the same every day, no matter what, win or lose. The next day, he does a good job of not getting frustrated with a bad loss or too excited about a dramatic win. He's exactly the same."

Mattingly said one thing he learned from watching managers as a player was not to give up on a player in bad times. Kemp has some firsthand experience there, having followed up an MVP-type season with an injury-plagued year.

"For a frustrating season, Donnie's made it good, if that makes any sense," said Kemp. "He keeps you positive, tells you to keep going and he's on your side.

"He could have gotten down on me. I haven't played the way I should. But not once did he ever give up on me. He keeps telling me how good I can be. He reminds me of that every day and keeps me going."

Mattingly said the best advice he received before taking the job came from his managerial mentor, Torre, whom he first worked with in New York as a batting and bench coach. Although Torre was the Dodgers' manager from 2008-10, he had pretty much delegated the decision-making to Mattingly by his final season.

"He just said to be myself," Mattingly said. "Joe was always saying it: 'Be confident in who you are, in your beliefs. Just know who you are and don't let anybody bend you to what they want.'

"Everybody will second-guess you in this job. Just the way it is. You've got to be strong enough to say, 'I understand, but I made that decision. It didn't work, but it wasn't a mistake.' I just never get away from that."

A former American League MVP Award winner with the Yankees in 1985, Mattingly was headed for a Hall of Fame career until a back injury affected his production. While he played, he wasn't everybody's pick as the most likely to manage.

"I really didn't think about it until the last few years I played," Mattingly said this past spring. "All of a sudden, as I got older and we went through the lean years before [Buck] Showalter ... you would see different things every year, I'd see things and think maybe there was a different way. La Russa was a big influence, the way the A's played. They came and stepped on you. They were a good team, but they played really hard, too. [Torre] was the steady hand. He was the right guy at the right time there."

Mattingly falls into the category of "players' manager" -- to a point.

"I like players in general," Mattingly said. "I have their back, because I have an understanding what they go through. But I don't have their backs if they don't play the game the right way."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.