— For a day, maybe even two, Don Mattingly will be king again.
Donnie Baseball is returning to the Bronx.
Even though Mattingly is in town to manage the Dodgers’ first games against the Yankees in New York since the 1981 World Series, and even though he never played or coached in the new Yankee Stadium, part of him considers this place home. He will always be a Yankee.
“It’s like Larry Bird, right?” Mattingly said. “He played for the [Boston] Celtics his whole career. Even though he coached the [Indiana] Pacers and was the president of the Pacers, what do you think about Larry Bird when you think about him? You think about his days with the Celtics playing.”
Mattingly played his entire 14-year career with the Yankees. He was the American League’s most valuable player in 1985, a six-time All-Star and one of the sport’s most recognizable figures of the 1980s. He never won a World Series as a player or coach but was wildly popular, which is why Yankees Manager Joe Girardi expects him to be cheered louder than anyone on either team when the two-game series opens Tuesday.
“Donnie is one of the greatest Yankees that has ever played and one of the greatest teammates that has ever put on that uniform,” Girardi told reporters in Anaheim. “I know that I’ve always loved him and appreciated what he’s done, and the fans have seen a lot more than I have. I think it will be a great day for him.”
With the Dodgers sitting in last place, Mattingly hasn’t had many great days this season. The low point came last month, when he was hit with the first major media firestorm of his managerial career. There was rampant speculation that he would be fired.
“Fairly rough,” Mattingly acknowledged.
He never endured anything similar to that as a player, but he said his time in New York prepared him as much as he could have been prepared.
“I had a good training ground, at least,” Mattingly said. “I was used to that type of stuff.”
Whatever disappointment and frustration he has experienced this season, Mattingly considers his time in Los Angeles a gift. His only previous chance to manage came in the fall of 2007, when he was a finalist for the Yankees job. The Yankees went with Girardi.
“I understood,” Mattingly said. “I didn’t have any experience at that point; Joe Girardi had managed the [Florida] Marlins.”
Mattingly followed mentor Joe Torre to the Dodgers to be Torre’s hitting coach. But before the start of the 2008 season, Mattingly walked away from the position. Mattingly was in the middle of a messy and public divorce and remained at his Indiana home to watch over his youngest son.
“It would have been really bad timing for that job,” he said. “It would have been miserable. That was a blessing in disguise.”
By the middle of the 2008 season, Mattingly returned to his coaching post under Torre. When Torre stepped down as Dodgers manager at the end of the 2010 season, Mattingly inherited the position.
Although the Yankees are in Mattingly’s past, they continue to influence him. His long-term vision for the Dodgers is based on what he saw as a coach with the Yankees.
Mattingly started listing the number of homegrown players who were part of the Yankees’ most recent golden era: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Jorge Posada.
“It’s like this list of all these guys who came out of the system,” Mattingly said. “There’s a vibe when you come out of the system. A guy comes up as a Dodger and went through the system as a Dodger, he feels like this is his organization. It’s different.”
Mattingly has visited the new Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009, only once before. That was in 2010 for late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s memorial.
“I’m actually excited about going back to the stadium, being on the field,” Mattingly said. “I think, with our guys, it will be a fun couple of days. Hopefully, we’re going to play well. We’d like to go in there and kick their butts a couple of times, to be honest with you. We need every win we can get.”