Don Mattingly will always be a lifelong New York Yankee. His No. 23 is retired by the team, and both that number and a plaque are on display in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. He’s the Blue Jays’ bench coach right now and was in The Bronx last week as Toronto took two of three games from the Yankees.
Donnie Baseball, now 62, played his entire 14-year Major League Baseball career in New York across 161st Street at the former stadium, a career cut short by a back injury. He batted a career .307, a number that dropped only to .288 in his final 1995 season, the only time as a player he made the playoffs.
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Mattingly told Sportico last Wednesday night he has a soft spot for the Yankees, which he feels every time he returns to this iteration of the ballpark.
“This is home,” he said. “I love it. It’s always a good place. I love coming into this town.”
And so, if the Yankees do decide to fire manager Aaron Boone after this disastrous non-playoff, possibly losing season, don’t be surprised to see Mattingly’s name among the potential replacements.
When Mattingly was asked about that possibility he said the question was “just not for me to respond to.” He’s comfortable right now in his position with the Jays.
“It’s not for me to answer that. I’m happy where I’m at. Who knows what tomorrow brings?” he said.
But in the next breath he waxed eloquently about the Yankees. He’s a Yankee at heart.
“I think that’s the way it is for all players if you’re drafted by a team [19th round of the 1979 draft] and stay there your whole career,” he said. “It’s where I got my foundation in pro ball. That’s the way it will always be.”
Mattingly didn’t have the managerial experience general manager Brian Cashman deemed necessary when he replaced Joe Torre with Joe Girardi after the 2007 season. Mattingly, Tony Pena and Girardi were all coaches under Torre, and all interviewed well with the Yankees during that process. But Cashman ultimately chose Girardi, who had been named National League Manager of the Year in 2006 with the then-Florida Marlins but was fired after one year because of a public tiff with former owner Jeffrey Loria.
That managerial experience tipped the scale toward Girardi, Cashman later said. Mattingly had never managed before, which was hard for the Yankees’ general manager to look past.
Mattingly went with Torre to Los Angeles and was his bench coach with the Dodgers, succeeding the retired Torre as manager in 2011. He had five years with the Dodgers, winning three consecutive NL West titles in his final three seasons. He then left the Dodgers for seven years managing the Marlins. In both situations, Mattingly ultimately couldn’t weather changes in ownership and baseball operations. He departed the Marlins by mutual accord after last season, and jumped at a chance to join the Blue Jays rather than do analyst work in New York for the YES Network.
“In Miami I was disappointed. Not the way it ended—the ending was fine. I was disappointed that we didn’t get better and more consistent,” he said.
The Marlins had stars: A young outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. But because of finances, the team couldn’t keep that group together. Mattingly—along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada—is an example of a player who was able to play his entire careers in pinstripes during the era of free agency. Aaron Judge will likely be another.
“It’s a cool thing when you play your whole career in one spot,” Mattingly said. “It’s harder to do it now with free agency and all the rules, but it’s probably easier here because they can afford to keep their stars. Some places they just can’t afford to keep their players when they turn into superstars.”
If the Yankees’ position opens again, Mattingly now has the experience managing at a Major League level to be considered a strong candidate to return to New York, as his 899-950 record attests.
It’s worth acknowledging that when Cashman fired Girardi after the Yankees lost Game 7 of the 2017 American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros, managing experience was not one of the criteria as New York searched for its next manager. Mattingly was ensconced in Miami at the time. Boone—a fine player but with no managerial experience at any level—was hired right out of the ESPN broadcast booth where he was an on-air analyst. That deficit of experience has been one of Boone’s major problems during his six seasons.
Weighing on the Yankees is the fact that Girardi managed the team to their last World Series win in 2009. The Yanks had been to the playoffs every year since 2016 and 12 of the past 15 seasons. But that seven-year playoff streak will be broken this year, and the team is in jeopardy of breaking its 30-season run of a record better than .500. Boone said this weekend he takes this year’s results “very personally.”
“You have to own it and I have to own it,” Boone said before the Yankees defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night, 7-1, on the strength of three Judge homers. “We are the leaders of this team, and you have to take the good with the bad. This year has not unfolded the way we wanted it to. So, you take a lot of ownership of that.”
Boone has one guaranteed year to go and a club option for 2025 on his contract. If Girardi was fired after missing the World Series by a game, what will the thinking be after Boone misses the playoffs a year after his club was swept in the ALCS by the eventual champion Astros?
“It’s ultimately not my decision,” he said. “It’s not a question for me. We’ll see.”
Enter Mattingly, who offers multiple positives for the Yankees: He’s beloved by fans in New York, who remember his playing days fondly. He has all kinds of managerial and bench coach experience. And he managed a young and productive Stanton when they were both with the Marlins.
Stanton, now 33, has again had an injury-prone season in which he’s floating along at .189 with 24 homers and 58 RBIs. Stanton’s misery and 86 OPS-plus is one of the many reasons why the Yankees have underperformed this season. The Yanks owe him $108 million through 2028.
Could Mattingly hold the key to unlocking Stanton’s potential in New York?
“Maybe it’s just getting healthy,” Mattingly said. “I’ve always said for me with Big G, if he’s healthy all year, watch out. Even in a bad year he’s hitting 25. That’s just what he does. It’s in there. I don’t know the circumstances, but I always look at it this way: if you did it once you can always do it again.”
The same can be said about the Yankees with perhaps a change in dugout leadership.
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