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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Mattingly no stranger to great expectations

Dodgers manager dealt with pressure of playing in Bronx for more than a decade

Mattingly no stranger to great expectations play video for Mattingly no stranger to great expectations

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- So the new ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers went on an in-season spending spree to show their commitment last year, adding the high-priced contracts of the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.

So they continued their roster revamping during the offseason with the free-agent signing of right-handed Zack Greinke, the elite pitcher on the open market.

So the expectations are growing that the Dodgers can dominate the National League West.

So what.

It's not what you do in the offseason; it's what you do on the field in-season.

"Expectations are the noise created by all the moves we made, and there should be expectations at this point of the year," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "Every year you want to go into the season expecting to win. But you won't know until you play the 162 [games]."

Expectations are welcomed by Mattingly.

Mattingly, after all, knows all about great expectations. He spent his entire playing career with the New York Yankees of George Steinbrenner, and Mattingly began his coaching career in the Bronx, as well.

"[Steinbrenner] was pretty tough," Mattingly said, "but you knew what you were in for. That is a good thing.

"It doesn't make you do anything different. I asked a lot of myself as a player. Nobody could ask more. And I ask a lot of myself as a manager. I have a job to do, and because there are expectations that does not change what I do."

As Whitey Herzog said so often during his managerial career, the best thing about expectations is it means the team has a chance to be good.

Mattingly added, "Having a lot of good players is a good thing."

The fact that the good players could hit bad times isn't taken into consideration. But it is a reality.

Greinke has been bothered this spring by a cranky right elbow, although the Dodgers are optimistic he's going to be OK. Crawford, still rehabbing from left elbow surgery, had played DH but not left field until Saturday. Third baseman Hanley Ramirez underwent surgery Friday to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, and he won't be ready to play until late May, at the earliest.

Nobody wants to listen to that kind of talk, though.

New ownership is looking to re-establish the Dodgers as an NL power. It only took over last April, but it still has to deal with the fact the Dodgers have not been to the World Series since 1988. That's a longer World Series drought than any other team in the division.

Besides, there's too much money invested for L.A. to get sympathy.

The Dodgers will break the $220 million payroll level this year, setting a Major League record that for so long has belonged to the New York Yankees. That is a Dodgers record for payroll by more than $100 million.

It's close to $200 million more than what Houston will spend on its 25-man roster. But then while Bud Norris is the highest-paid Astro at $3 million, and only three of his teammates will even make $1 million, the Dodgers have six players who will make more than $15 million, led by Gonzalez at more than $21 million.

"It's important to be out in the open," said Mattingly. "This is what we expect. These are our parameters. This is our road map.

"For us, it's [about going] all the way. We'd like to talk about a parade along the way. That's the goal. That's where the map leads."

Now it's up to the Dodgers to follow that map.

But then that's how life was in the Bronx. Steinbrenner never skimped, and he expected performances to vindicate his expenditures.

And when things didn't go well, Steinbrenner didn't sugarcoat his disappointment.

Mattingly admits it wasn't always easy.

Patience wasn't a Steinbrenner virtue. In 12 full seasons and the final month of 1982, Mattingly was around 11 managerial changes, involving eight managers. Lou Piniella had two tours of duty during the Mattingly era, and Billy Martin was hired three different times.

Mattingly reached his boiling point following the 1988 season. Lou Piniella, who replaced Billy Martin in the middle of the '88 season, was replaced by Dallas Green for '89. The Yankees had gone seven years without advancing to the postseason and a decade without winning a World Series championship.

Steinbrenner publicly lashed out at Mattingly. He called the first baseman selfish. He said Mattingly was just trying to pile up records. He fed speculation that Mattingly might be dealt.

"Dallas called me and I told him I had had enough," said Mattingly. "He said if I wanted to play for the Yankees I better make a call."

Mattingly did, and once Steinbrenner said hello, Mattingly said his piece.

"I told him he had to respect me, and money is not respect, that I play hard every day, and I play hurt," remembered Mattingly. "We went back and forth and he said, `Good luck to you,' and hung up. I thought, 'Oh no. It's over in New York.'"

It wasn't, though. Steinbrenner respected Mattingly for standing up for himself.

"After that, he invited me to the [Kentucky] Derby, had me come to Tampa to speak to groups," said Mattingly. "I was like a son to him. He treated me great."

But then, Mattingly embraced the challenge in New York, just like he has in Los Angeles.

"You keep your head down and do your job," said Mattingly. "That's what you control."

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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