Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly is still facing uncertainty

Manager Don Mattingly visits the mound to talk with Clayton Kershaw in the ninth inning against the Giants.

Manager Don Mattingly visits the mound to talk with Clayton Kershaw in the ninth inning against the Giants.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The sentence appeared Wednesday in the final paragraph of an online story about the future shuffling in the Miami Marlins dugout and front office.

It would have been nothing more than common speculation, except it was on a Marlins website owned by Major League Baseball, and the story was apparently emanating from the Marlins’ front office.

“For next season, the Marlins are expected to make a push for an experienced manager, and Don Mattingly could draw interest if he doesn’t return as manager of the Dodgers.”


Wait a minute. One team is publicly expressing unofficial-official interest in eventually hiring another team’s manager even though he still has a job? And they’re expressing that interest in the middle of a pennant race, when this manager is on the verge of leading the Dodgers to their third consecutive postseason for the first time in franchise history?

Crazy, right? Well, um, er, maybe not so much.

There’s one of two scenarios involved here, both of which are plausible given the turmoil that has surrounded Mattingly’s job and will now surely follow him into October.

The first scenario is that somebody close to Mattingly, fearing he will be fired if the Dodgers don’t advance to the World Series, whispered his name to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, a New Yorker who has long been enamored with the idea of employing Donnie Baseball.

“I’m happy here,” Mattingly said Wednesday in the corner of the dugout before the Dodgers 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants. “Obviously, I’m not the one starting those rumors.”

The second scenario is that in baseball circles, Mattingly’s situation has become so precarious, a dysfunctional team like the Marlins feels free to just throw his name out there as a likely bet to be a job candidate with no concern that anyone will become insulted or even indignant. And no, it’s not tampering because no official actually said anything.

“I don’t know, I don’t even know” said Mattingly, spreading his hands wide. “I just know it got out there, I don’t know how it got out there.”


Whatever the case, the story was a confirmation of something bigger than the story, something about Mattingly’s precarious job situation that will make the Dodgers playoff run even more tumultuous.

After all, the story didn’t say the Marlins were interested in currently secure managers like Mattingly’s Wednesday counterpart Bruce Bochy. In fact, the only other name mentioned on the Marlins wish list wasn’t even a current manager, but Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa.

“It’s not going to be a disruption, I promise you,” Mattingly said Thursday.

It already is, I promise you.

The players hear this and murmur. They haven’t always responded well to Mattingly’s stoicism while sometimes wondering about his dugout decisions, and this could give them just another excuse to shrug.

The fans hear this and scream. When news of the Marlins story reached Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon, it was only minutes before locals were filling comment sections with hallelujahs, virtual high fives, and overwhelming encouragement for Mattingly to take his talents to South Beach. Seemingly from the moment he was anointed as Joe Torre’s replacement five years ago, Mattingly has taken the brunt of the blame for all Dodgers problems — his pitching changes continually pour fuel on the fire — and this could only make things worse.

“I don’t listen, really, I don’t,” Mattingly said. “You know, early on, maybe it hurt more. But now, I’m pretty confident.”

The Dodgers’ postseason hopes will be affected by Mattingly’s ability to project that confidence down the stretch. He has been through some tough times here — he worked for Frank McCourt, remember? — but this next month could be the toughest.


Bottom line, he indeed probably has to lead this team to its first World Series in 27 years or he’s gone.

Nobody is saying that, but everyone is thinking it. The Dodgers’ management has been publicly supportive of Mattingly, but after two consecutive early postseason exits, the manager is being judged on his ability to leap that October hurdle, and no vote of confidence now will save him if he doesn’t.

Last October, the fall guy for the failure was Ned Colletti, a fine general manager who built a team that reached the playoffs five times in his nine seasons.

This October, the same thing could happen to Mattingly, who has struggled in enough big-game situations that one could easily see baseball boss Andrew Friedman, who didn’t hire Mattingly, making the switch to a more analytical sort.

“I’m happy where I’m at, I like being here, I feel like I’m a Dodger,” Mattingly said.

The thing is, he is a Dodger. He may have started this job as a former New York Yankee and Torre’s sidekick, but for five years he has kept the raging waters calm enough, long enough, to be considered solid blue. For all of his struggles during games, for his frustrating inability to steer the team past the well-managed St. Louis Cardinals, he should be given credit for holding the team together with a Torre-like calm amid everything from the end of the McCourt era to the beginning of the now-abbreviated Yasiel Puig era. Bad bullpens haven’t been his fault. Thin starting pitching hasn’t been his fault.

About the only time Mattingly has showed emotion was during a news conference two seasons ago when he basically announced he didn’t want to manage without a contract extension. The angry and embarrassed Dodgers management nearly fired him on the spot. Instead, they eventually gave him that extension.


Well, guess what. His current contract ends after next season, which means this off-season he will be facing the same potential lame-duck situation that he once fought against.

Unless the Dodgers can make history, the winter of Don Mattingly is setting up to be a perfect storm. Already, the clouds are rolling in.

Twitter: @billplaschke