MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Pressure to win nothing new for Mattingly

Dodgers skipper was under constant scrutiny during playing days with Yankees

Pressure to win nothing new for Mattingly

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is a product of the Yankees, circa the George Steinbrenner era. Mattingly knows all about expectations and consequences. And he has learned life is not a whole lot different on the Left Coast than it was in the Big Apple.

No problem. He can handle it. And the Dodgers are better because of that. He never lets you see him sweat.

"You know what they say,'" Mattingly explained. "Fake it until you make it.'"

The challenge with the Dodgers is that "making it'" means a World Series championship. They came up short a year ago, losing to St. Louis in the National League Championship Series. And while Mattingly survived the moment, there actually was speculation about his job security despite the way he led a second-half surge that allowed the Dodgers win the NL West in 2013.

He and the Dodgers are back again this year to make another run at that World Series title, which has eluded the franchise since 1988. They open the postseason by hosting the Cardinals in the NL Division Series at Dodger Stadium on Friday at 3:30 p.m. PT on FS1, looking to live up to their preseason billing.

The Dodgers have a veteran-laden roster. Second baseman Dee Gordon, 26, and center fielder Yaisel Puig, 23, are the only members of the projected lineup who haven't yet celebrated a 30th birthday.

They also have the highest payroll in baseball.

They do not, however, have any guarantees.

Nine franchises won World Series titles in the first 13 years of this century. And this year, for the first time in two decades, neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox are even qualified for the postseason.

Only one team with the game's highest payroll in baseball -- the 2009 New York Yankees -- has won a World Series championship in the 21st Century, and only one other time has the team with the highest payroll even advanced to the World Series -- the '01 Yankees, who lost in seven games to the D-backs.

There have actually been more teams with a payroll in the bottom 10 -- the 2002 Angels who ranked 22nd out of 30, and 2003 Marlins, who ranked 25th -- win it all than clubs with the No. 1 payroll in this century.

So does that bode better for the Cardinals, who ranked 13th in Opening Day payroll, or even the Orioles (15th), Royals, ( 19th) or the Pirates (27th), who face San Francisco in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday night?

Time will tell.

That's why they play in October.

Payrolls, betting lines, even past histories don't mean much. It's how a team plays today.

And regardless of the payroll, there's no way to underplay the way Mattingly has been able to milk the most out of an aging roster of star-quality players, who an ownership group that took over at the start of the 2012 season was willing to gamble on bringing a World Series championship back to Los Angeles while the farm system was being rebuilt.

Mattingly took them on a three-month rampage in 2013 to get to the postseason, which eventually led to three-year contract extension in the offseason.

"He was so steady,'"general manager Ned Coletti said last fall. "You couldn't tell when you saw him if we had won or lost. When you have talent and you are steady and show patience, you will be rewarded.'"

There is talent with the Dodgers this year, too -- at least talented resumes. But there also are concerns. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke give the Dodgers as strong of a 1-2 combination at the top of the starting rotation as there is in baseball. After those two, however, there are questions -- the biggest of which is the health of Hyun-jin Ryu, who has been out since Sept. 12 with left shoulder inflammation.

The hope is Ryu will be available to start Monday in Game 3 at St. Louis, which would be after 23 days of being sidelined. Mattingly points out that Ryu had a similar injury early in the season, also missing 23 days, then returned after an extensive bullpen session. The results? He won his first four starts after returning to the rotation and went 6-1 in the first seven.

And this year there's no lingering question about an option in Mattingly's contract. He has two more years on the deal he received last offseason, although the skipper doesn't feel the financial aspect of the deal is what matters.

"It's more the confidence that is important,'" he said of the multiyear pact. "The organization had confidence in me. It lets the fans and players know that management feels `This guy can do the job.'"

During his playing time with the Yankees, which began in Sept. 1982 and ended at the conclusion of the '95 season, Mattingly learned firsthand that guaranteed money doesn't guarantee managerial longevity.

Mattingly played for eight managers with the Yankees, and two of them -- Billy Martin and Lou Piniella -- served two terms each. He had 145 teammates. While he appeared in 1,785 games during that stretch, only three others even played in 660 games during the Mattingly era -- Dave Winfield (956), Willie Randolph (787) and Mike Pagliarulo (703). Eighty-nine of the teammates didn't even play in 100 games.

Steinbrenner was never hesitant to make changes -- with managers, coaches and players. He loved to intimidate.

Mattingly wasn't intimidated.

There was a time that Steinbrenner singled out Mattingly and made it known through the New York media that he was looking to deal Mattingly.

Mattingly called Steinbrenner on it.

"I told him it was his team and he could do anything he wanted, but I've given everything I have for his team and he owed me respect,'" said Mattingly.

Mattingly didn't get traded. Steinbrenner got the message.

And Mattingly learned a lesson that helps guide him to this day.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.