Family encouraged 'Donnie' to take job

Originally Published: November 4, 2003
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Don Mattingly hopped into the fire with no hesitation.

After eight seasons in George Steinbrenner's collection of beloved former Yankees, the former New York captain agreed to become the team's hitting coach.

Now, he's just a few losses away from the wrath of the Boss.

"I'm not naive to the fact that if this ballclub is not swinging the bat after a month, I'm going to be on the hot seat. That's just the way it is here," Mattingly said Tuesday after he was given a hero's introduction at Yankee Stadium.

Mattingly follows Chris Chambliss, Gary Dembo and Rick Down, all deposed as hitting czar since the Yankees last won the World Series in 2000.

Mattingly, looking relaxed in a black shirt and tan pants, claimed he was "not a savior or magician or anything else." However, manager Joe Torre made clear he didn't fight the decision to jettison Down after New York hit .140 with runners in scoring position during the World Series loss to Florida.

Mattingly then was persuaded by Steinbrenner to return fulltime for the first time since he retired as a player after the 1995 season.

"He's a guy you trust," Torre said. "He's very low key. Yet he gets pretty heated or emphatic when he has an opinion."

His successor as captain, Derek Jeter, attended the news conference along with former Yankees Whitey Ford, Graig Nettles and Mike Pagliarulo.

"I really learned the Yankee way from watching Don Mattingly," said Jeter, who arrived in New York during Mattingly's final season. "I learned a lot from how he handles himself in the good times and more importantly, in the bad times."

Mattingly had stayed close to his Indiana home since his retirement in 1995 to spend time with his family as his three children grew up. The oldest is now in New York's farm system and the other two urged him to return to the Yankees, as did his wife.

"I believe it's time to go," Kim Mattingly recalled telling her husband. "Your opportunity may run out at some point. They may quit asking."

Yankees president Randy Levine said Mattingly made the "ultimate sacrifice" by accepting the job. Torre knows that Mattingly's relationship with Steinbrenner could be tested.

"He's in there with the rest of us now. He's no longer exempt," Torre said.

Torre talked of how the owner used to be close to Don Zimmer, who quit as bench coach after the World Series, saying he never would work for Steinbrenner again. Zimmer felt the coaches were treated as scapegoats by the owner, who put pressure on them after the 2002 playoff loss to Anaheim.

"He and Zim were very close, so that's the sad part about this whole thing," Torre said. "So whatever the reason -- whether it is a way of tweaking me, I can't tell you for sure -- it's a shame that it messed up relationship that was there for a long time."

Willie Randolph, who had been third-base coach for the last 10 years, replaces Zimmer.

Lee Mazzilli, the first-base coach for the past four years, takes over from Randolph as third-base coach, unless Baltimore hires Mazzilli as its manager. Luis Sojo becomes first-base coach.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Mel Stottlemyre will decide by Nov. 13 whether to return as pitching coach.

"I know Mel had a tough time this year. We all did," Torre said. "He's just going to have to get through that. ... I really don't have a gut feeling."

Torre enters 2004 in the final season of a three-year contract.

"I'm not ruling out managing past this year, but I'm not looking for an extension," he said.

Randolph and Mattingly could wind up as possible successors.

"I'm not thinking that far," Randolph said. "I'm looking at this year."

Torre views both as manager material.

"I think he can take it as far as he wants," he said of Mattingly. "I think temperament-wise, knowledge of the game, respect -- he has a feel for the game. He's a very special person."

Mattingly views working with Torre as an opportunity to learn.

"If you even have a thought of doing it one day, you don't get a better chance to get a tutor any better than Joe," he said.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press