Commentary

Don Mattingly ready for what's ahead

New Dodgers manager sits down and answers questions in a wide-ranging interview

Updated: March 31, 2011, 5:48 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

It's only an hour until game time, but Don Mattingly assures me this is a good time to chat. His desk inside the manager's office at the Dodgers' spring-training complex in Glendale, Ariz., is incredibly neat. A set of books are perfectly lined on a shelf along the wall. His notes for the about-to-begin spring game against the Diamondbacks are all arranged in front of him on large yellow, thin-lined paper. Even his handwriting is neat.

From all outward appearances, he is incredibly prepared.

The hard work has been done. Over an illustrious, but some will always say, too-short career. Then later at the side of Joe Torre, one of the best to ever fill out a lineup card. And most recently this morning as Mattingly took his team through its latest spring-training workout in preparation for the season.

After grabbing a quick bite to eat and wiping the sweat and dust from his forearms, Mattingly sat down with me to talk baseball, the Boss and why he could one day see himself settling down at the beach.

[+] EnlargeDon Mattingly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesDon Mattingly has now worked in two of the largest media markets -- New York and Los Angeles -- and says he enjoys the pressure of performing on the big stage.

ESPN LA: I really should ask you about the Dodgers first, but I really want to make sure I don't forget this question. Do you still put ketchup on everything?

MATTINGLY: Pretty much. Not everything. Steak. I put it on there. I like it like on steak. I kinda started putting it on eggs, too. Regular eggs I won't, but an omelet I do. Just a little touch.

ESPN LA: Sorry. Had to ask. It was just such a famous story about you and your small-town Indiana-roots, I had to know if your tastes had changed any over the years. Do you ever think about the fact that you're this Indiana boy who spent his entire career in the two biggest cities in America?

MATTINGLY: I know. I like it. It's kind of cool for me. I enjoyed New York. I liked when I was there. I like L.A. But I kind of always end up around home. That's where my boys all grew up. I could see myself staying in L.A. though. I like the beach a lot. I like the laid-back feeling here.

ESPN LA: You, laid-back? I think I once read a quote from Bob Tewksbury that compared you to a character in a horror movie during games?

MATTINGLY: I had a temper when I was young. I was always in fights, getting into it. But I kind of turned a page after, like, my eighth-grade year.

I learned to kind of channel it. On the field, I always felt like that's where that would come out. I could be whatever there. I could be angry, whatever. Let that stuff that's inside of me come out there and it was OK.

ESPN LA: Are you still like that?

MATTINGLY: As a player you're in a different mode. Coaching, it's more about your guys. I get fired up every once in a while at the umps. If somebody gets wronged, I get mad.

But for the most part, with my guys, I'm watching them. It's their game. So I'm paying attention to their reactions. My competition is more as a coach now. As a teacher. And to teach I have to see what's going on with them, so I'm paying attention to their reactions, body language. That tells me what's going on with them.

ESPN LA: You sound like a man who's been hanging around Joe Torre for a while?

MATTINGLY: I had this. My calmness has always been there. I might be like Joe, but I don't think Joe made me like this.

The coaching side is different because the guys are going to have success and failure. They got to know I'm the same all the time. Like if they go bad, I'm not turning my back on them. Because that's the one thing as a player that would make you sick about a coach.

ESPN LA: Where you a perfectionist as a player?

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I think so. With my work especially. I always knew when I won and when I lost. And what I mean by that is, I could be 0-for-4, but I could've won all day. I could've hit balls on the nose, got my pitch, hit it hard. But I won. And I know if I continue to win those battles, my hits are coming. So I think I was a perfectionist in the way that I wanted to do that.

ESPN LA: You've probably had this conversation with Andre Ethier a few times?

[+] EnlargeJoe Torre
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDon Mattingly and Joe Torre both share a calming persona, but Mattingly says he has always been that way, despite having a temper in his early days.

MATTINGLY: He has more trouble, like if he hits the ball at somebody and doesn't get a hit. That makes him really mad. Paul O'Neil was like that. I think, Andre just needs to channel it more. Because if you let it affect you, that's bad.

ESPN LA: You've said before that New York made you better. That you enjoyed that pressure.

MATTINGLY: I did. I enjoyed the fact that they pushed me. I'd have a good year, like I won a batting title in '84. But in New York it's not enough. You don't get a free year. You don't get a free game there.

ESPN LA: Is L.A. the same way?

MATTINGLY: Not quite. It's more laid-back. Here you have to ask the player to demand more of himself. Because you see a guy have a good year and the next year he comes out and is scuffling through the first half, and he's still hearing that golf clap. Which is good. The fans are loyal and you like that.

But I think it's just more the environment. L.A.'s got the beach, good weather, it's happy. Besides traffic there's really not a whole lot going wrong. New York has more of an edge. I think that's the difference in the East and West. There's more of an edge of [pounds his fist into his hand], 'C'mon, we gotta win today!'

It can be good and bad. For me it was good, because I didn't care about anything but the field. I wasn't afraid of the field. But if you're afraid of the field in New York, you're in trouble.

ESPN LA: Does this team have enough of an edge?

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I think everybody has it. It's just that you have to ask them to expect more of themselves. Your judgment of your game has to be the hardest one. I always felt like if you put more pressure on yourself than anybody else, you're the first person that knows when you're not getting the job done.

I'm asking guys to demand more of themselves. To ask more of themselves. Because I don't think you necessarily get that [Pounds his fist in his hand three times now] grind on ya, in L.A.

ESPN LA: You know people don't think you guys have a chance this year? That you're predicted to finish third in the NL West, if you're lucky.

MATTINGLY: That's all right. That's all right.

ESPN LA: Well, what do you think?

[+] EnlargeDon Mattingly
Bob Strong/AFP/Getty ImagesDon Mattingly, who won a batting title with the Yankees in 1984 and an MVP award in 1985, says as a player he considered himself a perfectionist.

MATTINGLY: Oh, I think we have a chance. I always think we have a chance. We have a good club. It's the same club we had in 2008 and '09 that were right there, knocking on the door.

ESPN LA: What did you see in this team that made you want to manage them?

MATTINGLY: It's not so much this club. I know they have talent, so it's a good opportunity to manage. And the fact that the Dodgers wanted me to do it was important to me because I turned down Cleveland, when they basically said 'We want you.'

There was a couple different ones -- I didn't really turn down the jobs, but I basically turned down the interviews because this place has talent. You don't want to go some place where guys can't play. This team's talented.

ESPN LA: That hasn't really been the problem though.

MATTINGLY: I'm not always happy with the way we went about our business. But that's why I like managing. That's the part of managing that I want to accomplish more than anything. There's an attitude you play with. That's the challenge, I think, for a manager. Because your personality gets to come out a little bit. In the team, the way they play.

Somebody says, "What kind of team are they going to have?" I don't know. But if they will play hard every day, if my guys will get ready and play hard every day, I've done my job.

They're the ones that are going to take us there. I mean, all these pieces are important. Me, Davey Lopes, Trey [Hillman] or Wally [Tim Wallach]. A coaching staff is important.

But in the end, it's these guys. They're going to either run or they're not. If they run, we're going to be good.

ESPN LA: What was your relationship with George Steinbrenner really like? I know you guys got into it pretty good a few times.

MATTINGLY: I always liked him. I respected the fact that he was the owner. But we're going back to the basics of: You know when you're not doing the job.

So when he'd come out and say, 'Mattingly's gotta do this or that.' I'd say, "He's absolutely right. I'm better than this.' That was never a problem.

The only problem we had was when I felt like I had to stand up for myself as a man. Once he said that I was being selfish when I homered in eight straight games because I was more worried about records than the team. That's really what got me fired up. But I let that simmer. Then something else happened and I went off in the paper. One time. One time, and that's it. The next day, I knew how it was in N.Y. and that they'd want to keep it going. So I said, 'I had my say, I said what I said, and I'm not going to keep you going.'

ESPN LA: You called him that winter, right?

[+] EnlargeGeorge Steinbrenner and Don Mattingly
The Star-Ledger/US PresswireOnly one time during his years as a player in New York did Don Mattingly and owner George Steinbrenner have it out over a disagreement.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, we kind of had it out pretty good. I remember getting off the phone going, 'I'm gone.'

But you know what, after I stood up for myself and said what I thought about things, there was never another problem. He invited me to the [Kentucky] Derby when his horse was running. He offered to fly me in, get me a hotel room.

He always treated me great. We had that one little section, but other than that he really treated me well.

He probably thought that was for my own good, too.

ESPN LA: Go ahead, you can laugh. I bet George would get a kick out of you saying that.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. His idea was, good publicity or bad publicity was publicity. It kept the Yankees in the news. And you know what, he built a huge empire over there. It was already a storied franchise, but he took it to another level.

ESPN LA: Last question: What kind of guys do you want on your team?

MATTINGLY: Guys that love playing, aren't afraid. They'll lay it out there. They might hit .260, but .260 is pretty much maxed out for him. He's busting his butt every day, at everything.

It's not like the guy who should be hitting .340 that hits .310 and everybody's excited he's hitting .310. I'm thinking, this f---ing guy should be hitting .340 every year he's so good.

This stuff here with [John] Wooden. [He grabs a book from the shelf]. I always read it. He's talking about his teams, some of them that won and some that just got the most out of their ability. Some of the teams won, but they didn't get the most out of their potential. You've always got to be reaching for that. Those are the kind of guys you want.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.