By Jason Keidel
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Now that we’ve recovered from the abject mystery and misery of firing Joe Girardi, we can pseudo-focus on the next guy while we scratch our scalps.
Back in 2008, when the Yankees tried to fill the biblical shoes of Joe Torre, there were three main candidates: Don Mattingly, Tony Pena and Girardi. And it seemed the locals were equally split on the selection. I was actually in Pena’s camp, considering the remarkable job he did in Kansas City, back when the Royals were still a baseball black hole. Pena somehow ushered a 100-loss team to an 83-79 record in 2003, winning Manager of the Year.
There were logical cases for either of the three men. Girardi was hired and his record speaks for itself — at least to everyone but the Yankees, who asked G.I. Joe to hit the road.
Now we’re back to the pre-Girardi era, and Pena is still a possibility, although there has been little noise about him. But is Mattingly?
Mattingly is, of course, manager of the Marlins. But Miami was just bought by a group led by Derek Jeter. Reports indicate he will want his own regime, and seems to be shopping superstar Giancarlo Stanton and his epic contract.
Will it stop with Stanton? Or is Mattingly disposable?
Is there a more popular Yankee than Mattingly? He would be coming back to the Bronx to bag the ring that has eluded him for so long. By far the greatest Yankee to never win a World Series title, Mattingly has earned his managerial chops. If the Yanks demurred on Donnie Baseball a decade ago for lack of experience, he’s more than made up for that since, leading the Dodgers to three divisional titles and making a rather mediocre Marlins club at least relevant for much of the 2017 season.
The Marlins (77-85) finished in second place in the enervated NL East. Miami was seven games ahead of the Mets (70-92), despite a disparity in payroll. On Opening Day 2017, the Mets had a payroll of $155.2 million, while the Marlins spent $111.8 million.
After seven seasons as MLB skipper, the 56-year-old Mattingly is 602-530, for a .532 winning percentage.
You can decide who’s the best X and O guy, who motivates the most, who has the most wins. But no one has the native gravitas, the historical prerogatives or the Big Apple experience that Mattingly has.
When I suggested earlier this month the Yanks give Alex Rodriguez a serious look, I was alternately laughed out of the room or had my IQ, ancestry and sexual preferences questioned. Comes with the Twitter territory and accompanying online muscles. While there are questions about Rodriguez’s history and veracity over PEDs, there are no such concerns with Mattingly, who was Derek Jeter before Jeter — classy, gutty and great. And here’s the simplest question that frames Mattingly’s qualifications: What is the argument against hiring him?
Is Mattingly too dumb? Too young? Inexperienced? Temperamental? No. No. No. No.
This assumes, of course, that Mattingly wants the job. But who doesn’t want the job? Especially Mattingly, who wasn’t one of King George’s endless line of mercenaries from the 1980s or one of his bad baseball investments that yielded an ugly return. Mattingly is the picture of the homegrown Yankee, from his flawless glove to the sweet swing that was perfectly contoured for Yankee Stadium’s right field porch. Mattingly was so respected and revered, he got his sobriquet, Donnie Baseball, from another legend — Kirby Puckett.
An article in Monday’s Sun-Sentinel in Florida asserted that Mattingly will manage the Marlins in 2018.
“He’s under contract,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “Just spoke to him today. He’s doing great.”
But Jeter has made no such assertions. And let’s be candid: If the Yankees wanted Mattingly, they would get him. Jeter still has a contact or two in the Bronx, and it wouldn’t require sprawling algorithms to make it happen. Jeter is not only uber-competitive, he’s fiercely independent, and it wouldn’t shock any of us if he wanted to brand the team in his likeness.
This is total speculation, conjecture, projection and just plain jabber. There is no official or unofficial word that Brian Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees want Mattingly. But it would be silly to say Mattingly doesn’t want the Yankees. Home is home. And no matter where Mattingly lay his vocational head, the Bronx is his home.
The overwhelming public sense is that the Yankees want someone they can control. After the stubborn, media-allergic Girardi, the Yanks want a manager that comes with ample strings the brass can pull. That doesn’t sound like Mattingly. Which probably makes him one of the best, if not the best, choice to manage the New York Yankees.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel