Dusting Off His Dodger Uniform

Dusty Baker has been the Forrest Gump of baseball for the past 40 years.  He was on deck when Hank Aaron hit home run number 715 to pass Babe Ruth.  He was managing Barry Bonds when Bonds passed Aaron.   When Cubs fan Steve Bartman made the infamous grab that will echo throughout Cubs history, there was Baker managing in the Cubs dugout.

Just as Forrest Gump returned home at the end of the Hollywood movie,  it would make sense for Dusty to return to Los Angeles to finish off his career managing the Dodgers.  Considering the very unusual interactions taking place between the Dodgers and Don Mattingly lately, I don’t think I’m the only one with this opinion.

Donnie “Ballgame” appears to not have many more ball games to manage in Los Angeles.

Baker would bring with him the nostalgia of the Dodger glory teams from the 70’s and early 80’s, where he played from 1976-1983. Just as much as Mattingly is identified as a Yankee, Baker is a Dodger.  He would bring a manager to LA whom players love, a manager who could get superstars like Yasiel Puig to fully buy in.  In fact, Dusty is such a “player’s manager” that he has learned how to speak Spanish.

Mattingly did not publicly support Puig when, after Puig’s “excessive” celebration during the Cardinal series, Mattingly was quoted as saying, “Puig is more our problem, not theirs”.  Dusty would never say that.  No matter how bad things got with Barry Bonds, you always heard Baker standing up for Bonds.  Even when Bonds grabbed Jeff Kent by the throat, Dusty did his best to downplay it. He essentially said that it was just competitive spirits boiling over into the dugout. He never called Bonds “our problem”.

After the Dodgers defeated the Braves this year, the Dodgers announced that Mattingly would be coming back to manage in 2014.   It surprised me that they would announce this before the playoffs were over, but it definitely seemed like a compliment to Mattingly.  Later, however, it came out that when the Dodgers defeated the Braves in the playoffs, a clause was triggered in Mattingly’s contract guaranteeing him an option to manage next year.  That explains why “sources” reported that Mattingly would be back. But why was it kept under wraps that the Dodgers were compelled to bring him back?   This is very uncommon for a manager, when every clause in the contract is usually front page news.

Then the Dodgers fired Mattingly’s bench coach Trey Hillman.  Again, it is  rare that a bench coach gets fired, especially on a playoff team.  It appears that Dodgers executives were doing a power play right in front of Mattingly, almost daring him to resign.  Days later Mattingly sat right next to General Manager Ned Colletti in a press conference and said that he felt disrespected by Dodger ownership because he had not received a long term contract offer.  This is also very uncommon–maybe the first time in baseball history– that a manager has complained like this right in the General Manager’s face.

Mattingly is a baseball legend, with nicknames “Donnie Baseball” and “Donnie Ballgame”.   If injury had not curtailed his playing days, he would have been well on pace to be a Hall of Famer.  Yet the Dodgers are pushing his buttons and showing him they don’t believe in him for the long term.  They are saying that the only way Mattingly can save his job is to win the World Series next year.  This can affect the clubhouse, because if a manager does not have complete authority the players sense this.

It is not surprising that Mattingly is insulted.  He has paid his dues to get to his position.  He waited for years for the Yankees job, loyally serving as a Yankee hitting coach and then as  Joe Torre’s bench coach. It was speculated that he was the heir apparent to Torre in New York.  But when Torre was dismissed, Mattingly was passed over.  So he followed Torre to the Dodgers and waited for two more years, serving as the bench coach.  Now Mattingly is fed up with being the company guy getting strung along.  He wants long term job security and the Dodgers just have not given it to him.  He threatened to walk away from the one year offer.  Why are Mattingly and the Dodgers are playing this high stakes public game of chicken?

The Dodgers are the team who had Jackie Robinson.  Their announcer Vin Scully has been calling games since 1950!  The Dodgers would not be treating Mattingly this way if he had the Dodgers pedigree of a Dusty Baker.

There were many times during Baker’s glorious run managing the Giants from 1993-2002 that he stated he would never return to the Dodgers.  All Giants fans appreciated his saying that.  I have no doubt that he meant it at the time.  Reportedly he was insulted after the Dodgers let him go as a player.  But then  the Giants treated him even worse. After the Giants experienced the worst agony of defeat imaginable, with the heartbreak loss to the Angles in the 2002 World Series, Baker was unexpectingly fired  on  November 9, 2002.  Then it was reported that Baker had tax problems.  The question of who leaked that troubled Baker.

Baker had done a lot for the Giants organization.  He managed winning teams at CandlestickPark when hardly any fans were showing up.  He then led the Giants into their new stadium in 2000, and won two division championships in a row, laying down a culture of winning in this new stadium.  The Giants owe him and appreciate him.

It’s been a bitter pill for Giants fans to see their favorites like Juan Uribe and Brian Wilson become Dodgers.  But it has also been gratifying to see these players who meant so much to the Giants get a chance to display their talents.  There is no better place for Dusty today to display his talents today than back where he had his glory years as a player.

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