Commentary

Mattingly makes NY debut as skipper

Donnie Baseball feels very prepared for his new job, after his zany days as a Yankee

Updated: May 8, 2011, 10:35 AM ET
By Rob Parker | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Not many people could be prepared for the job of manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers -- both on and off the field.

Then there's Don Mattingly.

Not only did Mattingly have the tough job of replacing a managing legend in Joe Torre, but now he has had to handle the pressures -- and nonstop questions -- surrounding the Dodgers and their owner's financial woes.

[+] EnlargeDon Mattingly
AP Photo/Alex GallardoDon Mattingly's first season as a major-league manager has been anything but smooth.

The Dodgers, one of baseball's crown-jewel franchises, have troubles everywhere you look these days. With ownership -- Frank and Jamie McCourt -- in the midst of a nasty divorce, Major League Baseball has taken control of the team's day-to-day operations and appointed an executive to run the club. A recent report also said the team will need cash help meet its payroll at the end of the month.

On the field, the Dodgers entered Friday night's game against the New York Mets at Citi Field with a two-game losing streak, in third place in the National League West with an under .500 record (15-17).

Still, Mattingly, in his first season as manager, says he can handle the potholes in the road for this storied franchise. And you have to believe him. After all, Mattingly learned to not only survive, but thrive through the noise during his 14-year playing career with the New York Yankees. And there was plenty of trouble and distractions in the Bronx playing for late owner George Steinbrenner.

"Playing here was good for me as far as this goes," Mattingly said before Friday's game, a 6-3 Dodgers loss. "There's a lot of stuff that goes on, a lot of stuff that's talked about. But it always gets back to the field.

"For me as a player, I know I can relate that to our players. There's only this little bit that we control. And that's what we do out here on the field. None of the other stuff -- as far as what [the media] wants to write, what's going on above us, what the owner says, what anybody is saying on talk radio -- none of that really changes what we do."

To his credit, Mattingly told his players they can't use the Dodgers' ownership mess as an excuse. "As long as we keep our focus on what we do out here, we're not affected," he said.

For sure, players have followed his advice. "We can't control it," former Yankees and current Dodgers outfielder Marcus Thames said. "The only thing we can do is handle the stuff on the field. Donnie's doing a great job leading us and making sure we don't forget what we're here for."

And that's to win. That's why Mattingly managed the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the 2010 Arizona Fall League in preparation for his new gig. Mattingly, who had no previous managerial experience, didn't take for granted the task at hand. Aside from playing for the Yankees, it's a dream come true.

"I love what I'm doing," Mattingly said. "It's not working out quite as good as I would like right now because we're two games under .500. But it doesn't change how much I enjoy it or love the challenge of it. That's for sure."

It's still weird to see Mattingly, who played his entire career in Yankees pinstripes, in a Dodgers uniform. And many Yankees fans desperately wanted Mattingly to manage the Yankees and get the job Joe Girardi got after Joe Torre's tenure ended. Many fans were mad that the Yanks didn't offer the job to Mattingly. That quickly went away when the team, under Girardi's guidance, won the World Series in 2009.

Those Mattingly fans who still dream that one day he'll return home and lead the Yankees to a title can only hope he has some success out in L.A. first. If he does -- and can weather the storm he's currently facing -- he would be battled-tested for the biggest job in professional sports.

Mattingly, now 49, has been to New York plenty of times with the Dodgers as a coach in the past. And although he's been gone from the Big Apple for years now, he still thinks of this city as home.

"When I fly in here, it feels like I'm flying home," Mattingly said. "I played my whole career in New York.

"I know how to get around."

Mattingly also knows how to maneuver through rough seas. It's going to come in handy this season.

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