Don Mattingly uses brief postseason playing experience to lead Dodgers into playoffs

first_img“No doubt you want to see how you respond, how you stack up in that setting,” Mattingly said.That it finally happened as he was writing the final chapter of his career makes the near-misses especially poignant, because when Mattingly did get to the postseason in 1995, he didn’t just show up.He went off, hitting .417 with a .440 on-base percentage and .708 slugging percentage with 10 hits, four doubles, a home run and six RBIs for a whopping 1.148 OPS in 24 plate appearances against the Seattle Mariners.After waiting 14 seasons to see Donnie Baseball in the postseason, we were left wishing we could have seen so much more of it.Nearly 20 years later, Mattingly is much less disenchanted about it.As he prepares to guide his National League West champion Dodgers into their divisional playoff series against the Atlanta Braves, Mattingly is more grateful then resentful. “I would have been disappointed had I not gotten at least that one chance to play in the postseason, because you really wanna see how you handle it,” Mattingly said. “And I did get that chance. And that’s satisfying.”More than that, it’s something he can draw on as the Dodgers prepare for what they hope is a prolonged October run.“The playoffs are a whole different animal, it is. Because you wake up in the morning and your stomach’s in knots, you feel it, and you get to the ballpark and it’s just a whole different kind of energy,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s energy during the regular season, but it’s 162 games so it’s not quite the same. In the playoffs, you wake up in the morning and you know exactly what’s up. So the experience was good because you want to see how you react, how you play. How you deal with that big stage.”Understanding that, Mattingly believes he’s properly equipped to deal with it as a manager working with a club largely made up of inexperienced postseason players.“That’s why I’m so glad I got to experience it myself,” Mattingly said. “Because I know what that feeling is, what it’s all about. What these guys are dealing with. The emotion and the nerves. I had the good fortune of being there as a player.”Mattingly didn’t sense as much of that anxiety as a coach under manager Joe Torre with the New York Yankees and Dodgers from 2004-10, but he guarantees when he wakes up Thursday morning in Atlanta for Game 1 against the Braves, that feeling will return.“Oh, most definitely,” Mattingly said.If Mattingly’s learned one primary lesson managing the Dodgers the past three years, it’s how dramatically different the pressure is making suggestions as a coach compared with making decisions as a manager.And that’s going to be ratcheted up considerably during the postseason.“It’s just different as a coach,” Mattingly said. “As a manager, you have to make so many decisions. And it’s all happening right now. And you may have two or three different options to consider, but you have one shot to make the right decision.”Much like he did as a player, Mattingly deals with that stress by meeting it head on with a practical approach.It’s not that he doesn’t sweat it.Just that he tries to minimize it. “I always try to bring it back to the most simplistic form,” Mattingly said. “Just keep it all in perspective. The key is never letting anything get bigger than the game.”That minimalistic sensibility helped him get through the Dodgers’ early-season struggles when they languished in last place and people were howling for him to be fired.At the time, Mattingly outwardly preaching patience, that the Dodgers were capable of turning it around. And while inside he was churning, his level-headedness dictated the players would ultimately determine whether they flourished or continued to flounder.And his fate ultimately rested in their hands.To overly worry about it, to live and die with the speculation did him no good.So he reported to work every day, kept grinding and just let the future unfold.Mostly, he turned down the volume on the noise swirling around him.“It’s just keeping it simple. It’s having perspective,” Mattingly said. “And you don’t let the chatter get to you. You gotta break away from that and focus on what you do, what you can control. Because what happens is that chatter gets loud and distracting, if you let it.“And the reality is it doesn’t matter. You can’t let it affect you.”Not that he wasn’t aware. “You can’t ever block everything out, and I think with the way things are today more gets through because there’s just so much more chatter out there,” he said. “I mean, I like to put SportsCenter on and look at the scores, but it always seems like there’s something there. And I don’t like the outside stuff. Listening to someone’s opinions, because really, that’s all it is. And that’s the part you can’t let get to you.”His players appreciated how calm he remained. Especially during the dark times.And as they sit on the doorstep of the playoffs, they feed off his steady leadership.“He’s been great. It’s very important to have a guy who’s consistent, who doesn’t panic no matter what,” Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. “Win or lose, go on a losing streak or a winning streak, he doesn’t get too high or too low and we feel that, we respond to that.”Understanding the pulse of his team and figuring out all the various personalities is an aspect of managing Mattingly was attracted to toward the end of his career, especially after watching vastly different managers like Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Lou Piniella and Buck Showalter deal with the Yankees over his 14-year career.And after putting in his time as a bench coach and hitting coach under Torre, Mattingly is settling into his role as a manager.There’s been a definite process finally taking the reins.“It’s fairly natural, but confrontation is not natural. For anybody, I’d imagine. And that’s one of the things you’ve got to deal with,” Mattingly said. “There’s always a little fire going. For the most part it looks smooth, but there’s always guys that aren’t happy with playing time or the way you’re using them or they think they should be doing something else or doing something a different way. So there’s always guys that are not happy.”Initially, it was a part of the job Mattingly had to get used to.“Not so much that I didn’t like it, it just didn’t come easy for me,” Mattingly said. “But now it’s getting easier, and now it’s at the point of ‘Come on, let’s deal with it. Let’s talk about it. Let’s nip this at the bud. And not wait until tomorrow.’”It’s just one of the aspects of managing Mattingly is mastering.As far as knowing what the playoffs are all about for a player, he learned that 18 years ago.It took awhile. But at least he got there.See the Dodgers Playoff Page for slide shows, latest updates and more coverage. But for various reasons it didn’t happen, not the least of which was the Yankees’ misfortune of playing in the stacked American League East and under the then-stringent playoff format.“It wasn’t like you just had to play ‘OK’ to make the playoffs,” said Mattingly, the Dodgers’ third-year manager. “You had a lot of teams in your division and obviously it was just two divisions. You had to have a great season. And we had some great seasons, but just not quite great enough.” Put it this way: Without the wild card and three-division format of today, 90 wins didn’t go as far then as it does now. The Yankees won 90 or more games three times from 1983 to 1987 – and won 87 and 89 the other two seasons — but had no postseason berths to show for it.Which meant fans never got the chance to see one of the best players of an entire decade play October baseball.There is something disappointing in that — for us as fans and for Mattingly himself. That Don Mattingly the player had to wait until the final year of his career to experience postseason baseball wasn’t so much a tragedy as it was a disappointment.Mattingly wasn’t the best player of his generation, but he was in the conversation while winning the MVP award in 1985 and finishing second in 1986.And from 1984 to 1989, he was arguably the best first baseman and among the best hitters in baseball.When someone puts together the type of resume Mattingly authored with the New York Yankees through most of the 1980s, the fan in us wants to see if he can carry that sweet left-handed batting stroke and slick Gold Gove play at first base onto baseball’s biggest stage.center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img