Mattingly unfazed by contract situation with Dodgers
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There's a line in Moneyball in which Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tells Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), "I can't manage a team on a one-year contract."
"Sure you can," Beane tells him.
I asked Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on Wednesday morning if he remembered the scene.
"That guy was out of shape," he said, smiling.
He smiled when he said it, and indeed, he is in better shape than Philip Seymour Hoffman and a lot of other people. At 51, he still looks a lot like the guy who played 14 seasons in the big leagues and retired with 2,153 hits and a .307 career batting average.
That was then. Now he finds himself in a potentially uncomfortable position this Spring Training. His new bosses have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at players the last nine months on their way to constructing baseball's most interesting roster.
Yet perhaps their most intriguing decision involves Mattingly. After two seasons in which he has distinguished himself in virtually every aspect of the job, the Dodgers decided not to extend his contract beyond 2013.
So like the fictional Art Howe in Oakland in 2002, Mattingly will be working with virtually zero job security. If the Dodgers start slowly, it could be a huge issue, and given the number of players who've arrived from other organizations the last year, it would be almost a miracle if they were a cohesive group by Opening Day.
Mattingly emphasized again on Wednesday that his job security will not be an issue. At least he hopes it won't be. After so much spending, it would have taken only a bit more cash to extend Mattingly for a season and remove a potential distraction.
"It can be," he said. "It can be part of the noise. I'm not going to be a distraction for this club. That's one thing I've never been. I always feel I'm going to be part of the solution. I'm not going to be part of the problem. There's not going to be a situation where it's a big deal. It's not a big deal to me. I'm happy. I'm not worried about it. I played under one-year contracts. It's the game. If our club plays the way they're supposed to play, I did my job."
Two years ago, his hiring was widely ridiculed because he hadn't managed an inning at any level of professional baseball. In two seasons, he has done almost everything right, from creating the right environment to building relationships. He has shown he can run a game, manage a bullpen and patiently deal with the assorted storms that hit a team during a long season.
He kept the overachieving Dodgers in contention last season despite an assortment of critical injuries. But after managing two teams with virtually no expectations, he will have one with a gigantic target on its back this season.
"Why deny it? Why run away from it?" he asked. "I feel like that's something that's there."
His first job seems to be making the various pieces fit. He began that process last season after Hanley Ramirez was acquired from the Marlins and then watched as Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett fit comfortably into their new clubhouse upon arriving from the Red Sox.
When Mattingly is asked about team chemistry and players getting to know one another, he said it's not something he worries much about.
"It's respecting each other and everybody having a common goal," he said. "[As for the] chemistry part, I honestly haven't had any real fears of. With our club, we've got good guys. Guys who are focused and know what's ahead of us. This club hasn't been any problem chemistry-wise since I've been here."
He laughs when asked about the expectations and about managing all that talent, from Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp. This team is so different from his first two in terms of talent and experience that he's not even attempting to tone down expectations.
"Just worry about preparation and getting ready to play," he said. "You see teams that are supposed to be great, and they look great on paper and what guys have done last year or two years ago. You just don't win games like that. You win games by going out and performing, executing, doing the stuff I'm sure nobody wants to hear about, the small things. Make sure they're prepared. Make sure the environment is one they can flourish in. That's my job. At some point, I open the gates, and they run. I'm at their mercy at that point. If we don't prepare and we don't do our job, then it's our fault."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.