At Dodgers headquarters, this was not a good week for clarity in the information age.
Don Mattingly didn’t have it when he sat in front of a row cameras Monday, genuinely upset that his bosses had not signed him to a long-term extension. “When you basically come in with a club like this as a lame duck, with the payroll and the guys you have, it puts you in a tough spot in the clubhouse,” he said.
Sitting not far from the Dodgers’ clubhouse, Mattingly was in a tough spot of a different kind. It’s believed now that he never intended to quit, that he would fulfill the option year of his contract that vested when the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series. But Mattingly didn’t intend to hide his feelings about managing on a one-year contract either, not once the season was over at least.
For as often as Mattingly has been criticized for his lack of transparency — sometimes rightly so — that was not among his faults Monday.
The same can’t be said for team president Stan Kasten, who had not delivered a clear enough message to Mattingly by the time Mattingly was expected to deliver a clear message to the media on his own. A tough spot, indeed.
Mattingly was simply going off the cuff, and off what little information he had at the time. General manager Ned Colletti was more guarded in his comments but still optimistic that the manager’s situation would be resolved quickly. It was an awkward moment to be sure, but not the cause for alarm that many perceived it to be in the moment.
This wasn’t the case of Jim Riggleman, who asked for assurance of a contract extension from the Washington Nationals 75 games into the 2011 season, wasn’t given that assurance, then resigned after that night’s game.
This wasn’t the case of Joe Torre’s final days with the New York Yankees, when Torre was offered an actual contract after the 2006 season that he perceived to be an insult.
Rather, this appears to be the case of a manager who wants an extension, and a front office that wanted to wait until after the season to begin negotiations, but simply hadn’t gotten around to it less than 48 hours after the final out in St. Louis.
Some things have been cleared up since. The move to fire bench coach Trey Hillman was a decision long in the making, not one meant to deter Mattingly from returning; Mattingly understands this, according to those with knowledge of the situation. Kasten wasn’t inclined to speak Thursday about the remaining questions, such as how much say Mattingly will have in hiring the next bench coach and whether Monday’s remarks might adversely impact any negotiations.
But with Mattingly intending to honor his contract, the road map is clear: If his contract isn’t extended by the time the 2014 season begins, questions about his standing within the organization remain legitimate. The challenge of commanding a clubhouse as a “lame duck” manager will linger.
If Mattingly does get his extension between now and spring training, then we’re all left to wonder what took so long — or rather, why the manager needed to speak so soon under the uncertain circumstances he was dealt.