Q: This whole Yasiel Puig phenomenon. Any comparisons to things you’ve seen in the past?
A: He reminds me a lot of (former Dodger outfielder Raul) Mondesi. Power, average, fielding, throwing. That’s what he’s displayed so far. Still, you can’t go overboard. Many years ago, Pittsburgh had a guy come up from their Hollywood farm team. Hit 11 home runs or something right away. Reporters went to Ted Williams and asked him what they thought of this guy. “See me after the league has seen him the second time around,” he said.
The other teams will find your holes and they’ll get you. I’ll wait and see what he does long term. The talent and ability is there. He’s done what we’ve needed, having fans get interested in the team again.
Q: But it’s only lately that the team has started winning with him the lineup. You wrote in one of your books that there are ways to get a team motivated – you’re a yeller and screamer, because you didn’t want to keep the anger inside. But you also talked about why a thoroughbred jockey carries a whip – even the best need to be pushed.
A: I told that story to Tony LaRussa once. The greatest class of horses are in the Kentucky Derby. On top of each of them is one of the greatest jockeys in the world. When that jockey gets up there what does he have? A whip. If he’s one of the greatest horses in the world, why would he need a whip? He doesn’t hit the horse when he’s coming out of the gate. It has it for the home stretch – boom – he pops the horse to extract every ounce of energy that horse still has.
Q: When you look up and down this Dodger roster of players, do they need some kind of whip to remind them how good they are?
A: Without a doubt. When you’re not playing up to your capability, you gotta try everything, to motivate, to get them going. All of them have to be on the same end of the rope pull together. It’s playing for the name on the front of the shirt, not the back. Individualism gets you trophies and plaques. Play for the front, that wins championships. I try to remind them of that.
Q: You must get the urge to go down there and start yelling sometimes?
A: Sure, but I talk to them in spring training. I give the speech – this is where you win championships, right here. If you leave and you’re not in good physical condition, you’ll have a problem with a 162-game schedule.
Take two fighters, one is in tremendous shape and the other isn’t. The guy who isn’t, by the the fifth or six round, his hands start to drop and he doesn’t realize it. And he gets the (bleep) beat out of him. The pitcher’s arm starts to drop and the ball gets up. The batters tries to pull the ball and he ends up hitting to the opposite field because he can’t get his bat around.
Q: Don Mattingly appears to be the complete opposite of you when it comes to giving fiery speeches. Or is he? You may now him better … Is there a side of him we don’t know that can ignite a team? Or is that just not his style?
A: All managers are different. A lot of times, when things go wrong, you start playing too defensively. You may not want to do something because it may not work. When that gets in your head — don’t do it.
Donnie has control of the team, I think. The players like him. But you can’t be too concerned with them liking you. You can’t forget to chew them out, and there are different ways to do it. Still, the manager doesn’t hit the ball, doesn’t catch the ball or throw the ball. But when things go bad, who do they blame?
Q: Did you get a sense recently that Mattingly’s job was on the line, that there was a tipping point?
A: I never thought that was in the minds of the higher ups. I never heard it, and I probably would have. This is a team that just isn’t always doing the job. And they have all the talent in the world. I remember once when (former Dodger owner) Peter O’Malley once asked me: What can I give you? I said: Two things. One, give me 25 guys all playing out their options. Two, have me make more money than at least one guy on the team.
Q: Did you try to convince Joe Torre to stick around a couple years when he wanted to retire?
A: I had no idea what he was going to do.
Q: Torre said in essence he felt he couldn’t communicate with today’s ballplayers, they needed someone more contemporary to speak to them on their level. Is that true? Can you always find a way to get through to a player?
A: I can’t tell you what he should say. But I can tell you what I’d say — and I don’t believe that. You can handle all players. When I managed in the rookie league for four years, Al Campanis was the only one who wanted to promote me to Triple A. Someone who didn’t want me to get that promotion said, “Well, he’s good with young kids, but he won’t be able to do the same with veterans.” I got the job in Spokane, we won the pennant by 26 games.
You’ve got to have confidence in your abilities as a manager. When I was interviewed after I got hired to replace Walter Alston, a future Hall of Famer, I was asked: “Don’t you feel pressure on you?” I said: “I want to know something, I’m worried about the guy who’s going to have to replace me.”
Q: That turned out to be Bill Russell.
A: I was in favor of him becoming the manager. I thought he had the right personality. I pushed him for it. But I was wrong. You know, you can get too interested in someone and maybe you can’t see over there (pointing right) or there (pointing left) you can only see there (pointing straight ahead). He just didn’t have the qualifications, he couldn’t handle the job.
Q: What former players that you had could make the best managers today?
A: I think the best would be (current Dodgers third base coach Tim) Wallach. He belongs in the major leagues. He’s got major-league talent as a manager. At one time I had 13 of my guys managing in the big leagues.
I know (current Dodgers first base coach Davey) Lopes could do it again, probably better now than before. He’s a knowledgeable guy. Maybe he’ll know better how to extract from the players the best of their ability. I wish he would get a second chance.
I’m proud of all those guys (who played under me), getting a chance to manage. I hope there’s a little bit of me in each one of them. When a guy plays for you, your personality, your knowledge, that’s what they look for. I made the clubhouse a lot of fun.
The players really do react to the manager. When Walter Alston walked into the clubhouse, we might be hollering and throwing food at each other, but then everything would get quiet. My personality I know is loud, boisterous, screaming — but I never allowed anyone else to holler at my players. I was the one who did that.