If the Dodgers’ owners have not already decided to fire Don Mattingly, the manager all but fired himself on Wednesday.
In his latest and sharpest comments distancing himself from the organization, Mattingly appeared to criticize the Dodgers’ free-spending ways. Mattingly has pointed enough fingers at players and the front office over the past few days that he must either suspect his days are numbered — or he already knows that they are.
When Mattingly spoke with reporters in Milwaukee on Wednesday, as the manager of a last-place team with the highest payroll in baseball history, he said this: “It’s not just all, ‘Let’s go put an All-Star team out there and play games, and the team with the All-Star team wins.’ … All grit and no talent is not going to get you there, and all talent and no grit is not going to get you there. There’s got to be a mixture of both.”
If the owners recall what Mattingly said in spring training, they might wonder why the manager should not take the fall for failing to produce that mixture. In March, Mattingly had said the Dodgers should consider firing him if the team did not make the playoffs.
“If we don’t win, and we’re healthy, they really should look at it,” Mattingly said then. “This team has a lot of talent. My job, and my coaches’ job, is to get them to play the game right. If we can’t get them to play the game right, they may have the wrong voice.”
The Dodgers are not healthy, of course, but the only significant injury among position players is the one to shortstop Hanley Ramirez. The Dodgers have scored fewer runs than any team in the major leagues except the Miami Marlins.
Mattingly benched outfielder Andre Ethier on Wednesday, explaining the decision thusly: “For me, today, I’m putting out my lineup that I feel is going to be the most competitive and going to compete the hardest.”
That is two “I,” one “my” and one “me” in an industry that emphasizes “us” and “we.” Players and the front office notice those words.
In stark contrast, this is how Mattingly explained the weekend decision to demote catcher Tim Federowicz rather than clear a roster spot by cutting either infielder Luis Cruz or catcher Ramon Hernandez: “That was the move that the organization thought was the best.”
And, as the Dodgers’ bullpen lost all three games last weekend in Atlanta, Mattingly appeared to point out how the front office stashed surplus starters in the bullpen, forcing the team to cut veteran relievers who might have been useful
“We had guys get away early who seemed to fit,” Mattingly said.
Mattingly also publicly critiqued shortstop Dee Gordon and pitcher Kenley Jansen on the current trip.
There has been some thought within the Dodgers’ organization that the team might need a sterner voice in the clubhouse, a manager who would lean to challenging players rather than supporting them. Of course, the tag team of Joe Torre and Larry Bowa tried that and nearly lost Matt Kemp for good.
That Mattingly essentially is admitting he cannot get Ethier to play hard every day does not reflect well on either of them. The owners might notice that the manager did not get much out of James Loney, who is batting .353 for the Tampa Bay Rays and their manager, Joe Maddon.
Times columnist Bill Plaschke said Wednesday that Mattingly had “made it his mission to protect his players.” Those days are over, and Mattingly’s days as manager probably are too.