Don Mattingly: Here he is Dodgers fans, ready or not

On the way out was a man who managed for 29 seasons. On the way in was someone who hadn’t managed any.

Turns out, the decision to have hitting coach Don Mattingly replace four-time World Series champion Joe Torre as the Dodgers’ manager was made official long ago — this spring, when Mattingly signed a contract that guaranteed him the job as soon as his mentor felt ready to move on to the next phase of his life.

That time came Friday, when Torre, 70, announced he would step down when his three-year, $13.1-million contract expires at the end of this season.

“Donnie,” Torre said, “it’s all yours, pal.”

Long championed by Torre as the Dodgers’ next manager, Mattingly turned down opportunities to interview for vacant positions in Washington and Cleveland based on conversations he had about his future with owner Frank McCourt and General Manager Ned Colletti.

Mattingly, 49, will be under contract for three years.

“We wanted continuity,” Colletti said.

Because the Dodgers kept Major League Baseball updated on their plans to mold Mattingly into their next manager, they were granted an exception from a rule requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate.

Mattingly has never managed at any level, except for a couple of games in emergency situations.

He managed a game in spring training this year when Torre was on a exhibition tour of Taiwan. Mattingly’s mistake in that game was in filling out the scorecard, resulting in the Dodgers’ batting out of order.

Then he took over a regular-season game in July in which Torre was ejected. His mistake that time: stepping on and off the mound, then on again, which umpires ruled the second trip of an inning. The Dodgers were forced to take out closer Jonathan Broxton and fell to the San Francisco Giants, 7-5.

But Mattingly said Friday, “I feel I’m ready.”

A former All-Star first baseman with the New York Yankees, Mattingly will get a trial run this off-season when he manages a group of minor leaguers in the Arizona Fall League. Torre will be with him in Arizona at least part of the time.

Mattingly has asked third base coach Larry Bowa, a former NL manager of the year, if he would be interested in being his bench coach, a position presently occupied by Bob Schaefer. Tim Wallach, the manager of the Dodgers’ triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque, has also been approached about being part of the coaching staff.

Experience or no experience, Mattingly will be inheriting a considerable challenge.

The bullpen is a mess, largely because All-Star Jonathan Broxton hasn’t looked the same in the second half of the season and has lost his title as closer.

Three of the Dodgers’ starting pitchers will become free agents at the end of the season — Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla — and there are no guarantees the Dodgers have the financial resources to do anything significant in the free-agent market.

McCourt said the Dodgers will have “plenty of financial flexibility” this winter.

But he made similar statements last year, and the Dodgers entered this season with a payroll that ranked 11th among the 30 teams in baseball.

The Dodgers were saddled with $433 million in debt as of last year and McCourt is in the middle of a costly divorce trial.

But Mattingly said he is confident the Dodgers will be a better team next year because of the number of hitters who should be entering their primes — a group that includes Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney.

With Mattingly as their hitting coach, the Dodgers went into Friday’s game batting .253, 11th of 16 teams in the NL.

“I’ve seen ’08, I’ve seen ’09,” Mattingly said, pointing to the two seasons the Dodgers reached the NL Championship Series.

“We were able to do pretty good things. The fact that I’ve seen it before, I know it’s there.”

If anything, Mattingly has age on his side.

Torre cited his age as a reason for deciding not to manage next year.

“During the second half of the year, it came to a point where I just thought that this ballclub needed a different voice, a younger voice,” Torre said. “And there was no one I would feel more turning it over to than Donnie.”

Torre said he isn’t sure what’s next for him. He said he will talk to Colletti next month about a possible role in the front office.

Torre said he didn’t anticipate managing anywhere else, but didn’t completely rule it out.