Don Mattingly will not manage the Dodgers next season. That was about the only definitive statement that was made Thursday, when the Dodgers announced the end of Mattingly’s five-year reign as their manager.
What inspired the change remained a mystery.
The Dodgers called an afternoon news conference to discuss what they described as a “mutual” agreement to part ways with Mattingly, but very few details of the decision-making process were provided by the team’s president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, and General Manager Farhan Zaidi.
Mattingly, speaking on a conference call hosted by the Dodgers, was no more illuminating.
Both parties sounded as if they were reciting lines from the vague news release the team issued earlier in the day, describing the decision as something that came naturally to them after days of dialogue.
The steadfast refusal to answer direct questions typified the arrogance that has become an organizational trademark since Stan Kasten became the team president three years ago. The designated speakers on this day declined to categorize Mattingly’s departure as a firing or resignation.
With Kasten standing in the corner of the room, Friedman said in his opening remarks, “Obviously, this is a little bit of an unusual situation and something that’s out of the ordinary. We recognized that, which is why we tried to lay out as much detail as we could in the press release.”
Never mind that the news release was short on details.
Friedman continued, “Obviously, you guys are going to have more questions that we’re more than happy to answer.”
About all that was revealed over next 40 minutes was that the Dodgers would like to have their next manager in place by baseball’s annual winter meetings in December and that the members of Mattingly’s coaching staff are free to pursue opportunities with other teams.
Mattingly was the first manager in franchise history to lead the team to three consecutive playoff appearances. His regular-season record was 446-363. His winning percentage of .551 was better than those of his predecessor, Joe Torre (.533), and Tommy Lasorda (.526).
The Dodgers’ season ended Oct. 15 in Game 5 of a National League division series against the New York Mets. Friedman said management went into its year-end review the next day with the mind-set Mattingly would remain with the team for the upcoming season. In fact, Friedman said the Dodgers were willing to commit to Mattingly beyond the next season, which was the last year of his contract.
And Mattingly said he “definitely” wants to continue managing.
And the Dodgers are willing to pay Mattingly his entire salary for next season even though he won’t manage another game for them.
So what happened?
“We kind of got to a point where, we felt like, mutually, that it might be better to part ways at that point,” Friedman said.
What made Friedman think that? “It was more as the conversation evolved,” Friedman said. “It was really was kind of organic.”
Were there philosophical differences? “No,” Friedman said.
How much of this was predicated on disagreements in player-personnel matters? “Zero,” Friedman said.
Why was this the right time to make a change? “Again, it’s not a real clear answer,” Friedman said.
Zaidi offered more of the same. “Look, you’re not going to have any more luck with me,” he said.
Zaidi made some cryptic references to Mattingly’s “mind-set.” “I think there was part of him that felt a fresh start would be good for him,” Zaidi said.
Zaidi at least recognized the ridiculousness of the spectacle.
“Frankly, I’ve had my own level of cynicism when you hear about people mutually parting ways,” Zaidi said. “But we can sit up here with all sincerity and say that’s how it came about.”
Zaidi then delivered a variation of the company line.
“It was a conversation, it was an organic dialogue that just led to this point,” he said.
Mattingly summarized the move in similar terms.
“It was definitely a mutual decision,” he said. “I think as we kind of talked through the weekend and all different things, it just became, for me, clearer, for all of us, clearer, that this was the right time, best for me and best for the club.”
Did the fatigue resulting the constant pressure of managing a $300-million roster play into Mattingly’s decision?
“Nothing to do with that,” Mattingly said.
Perhaps inadvertently, Friedman made at least one statement that was unquestionably true.
Asked what kind of message was sent to the fans by the decision to part ways with Mattingly, Friedman replied, “It’s not clear.”