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Don Mattingly has made minor league errors

Dodgers' coach could use some experience if he wants to fill Joe Torre's shoes.

July 21, 2010|Bill Plaschke

He has a hitter's steady stare, a first baseman's swaying gait, a calm veteran presence so stitched into the daily fabric of his game that it's actually part of his nickname.

For goodness sakes, he's Donnie Baseball.

But right now he is simply Don Mattingly, a hitting coach being groomed as the next Dodgers manager even though he has never managed at any level, a guy whose glittering pinstriped resume contains none of the dull mortar usually necessary to build a baseball boss.

In the wake of Tuesday's ninth-inning debacle against the San Francisco Giants, it's probably time to point this out.

After two Mattingly managerial bloopers this season, it's certainly fair to ask the question.

Should the Dodgers really replace Joe Torre with a guy who, for all of his celebrated baseball knowledge, has already botched a lineup card and bungled a mound visit? Isn't it time to forget Mattingly's New York Yankees pedigree and realize that he would be better off learning his new craft as an Albuquerque Isotope?

Don Mattingly will be a good baseball manager one day. But considering his lack of managerial experience and shortage of managerial fundamentals in his brief spells as Torre's replacement, that place should first be the minor leagues.

"If I have to go to the minor leagues, I will, but I don't feel that's necessary,'' Mattingly said Wednesday. "Maybe something like last night says that I need it, but I don't think so."

Something like last night. That was something, indeed. Subbing for the ejected Torre, Mattingly's inattention led to the Dodgers' demise when he inadvertently stepped on the mound twice on one visit in the ninth inning, forcing the removal of closer Jonathan Broxton, which led to a San Francisco Giants comeback against George Sherrill and Travis Schlichting in a 7-5 Giants win.

After talking with Broxton and positioning the infield, Mattingly briefly left the mound, then stepped back on to the dirt to clarify instructions for first baseman James Loney.

It was the sort of mistake that one can make in Santo Domingo or Chattanooga. It was the sort of teaching moment that takes place in San Bernardino or Ogden.

It is not something that should happen on a mound at Dodger Stadium in the middle of a pennant race.

Grady Little made a similar mistake for the Dodgers several years ago, but at the time he had the cushion of years of managerial experience. Mattingly has no such built-in credibility, especially after something silly like this has already happened to him once this season, while leading a Dodgers split-squad team in a spring training game when Torre was with another Dodgers team in Taiwan.

In his first game as a manager at any level, Mattingly did not check the lineup card filled out by bench coach Bob Schaefer, resulting in the umpires receiving a different lineup than the one in the Dodgers' clubhouse. The Dodgers then batted out of order, chaos ensued and, well, it was all very understandable for a guy making his debut in Midland.

Not so cool for a guy who could soon sit in the seat once occupied by two guys with plaques in Cooperstown.

"By the time that day comes for him, he'll be ready to manage," insisted Ned Colletti, Dodgers general manager.

But like others in the Dodgers' organization, Colletti seems to be now subtly wavering on whether that day should be next season.

The Dodgers are sending Mattingly to manage in the Arizona Fall League, but perhaps that will be only the first step in his schooling.

"We are open to a lot of different things," Colletti said. "Obviously, most major league managers have minor league experience. We're going to do what's best for everyone involved."

About the minor leagues for his protégé, even Torre admitted, "That could be a thought. But it's about the individual, not the experience."

Mattingly, the individual, is impressive. He doesn't seek the limelight, but he doesn't shrink from it either. He stepped into the afternoon sun Wednesday to be surrounded by doubters, and answered every zing.

Will the mound muff hurt his chances of managing?

"Only if I let it," he said. "I look at it like, I've had roadblocks throughout my career, but with me it's always been, I can."

How discouraging is this to your career goals?

"I don't turn back, I keep moving forward, I keep trying to learn and adjust," he said. "This has not changed the thinking that I can be a good manager."

The feeling here is, he will be. But probably not now, and maybe not here.

If Torre leaves this winter, the Dodgers should bring up Albuquerque Manager Tim Wallach, a Scioscia-in-waiting. If Torre stays, how about Mattingly goes to Albuquerque, Wallach replaces him as Dodgers hitting coach, and then Torre's successor is picked from one of those two?

The Dodgers need Donnie Baseball, but only after he has learned how to manage it.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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