Mattingly welcomes change, challenge in late-season Sox acquisitions

Mattingly welcomes change, challenge in late-season Sox acquisitions
August 28, 2012, 4:17 am
Share This Post

DENVER -- Don Mattingly was born in the Midwest (Indiana) and makes his baseball living now in Los Angeles.

But once, he was in the cauldron, playing for the New York Yankees when George Steinbrenner raged, the manager could be fired on any given day and the threat of a trade was omnipresent.

So Mattingly, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, knows that a new address can mean all the difference for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and next season, Carl Crawford.

All three -- in addition to utility man Nick Punto -- were dealt off Saturday by the Red Sox in one of the biggest and most shocking deals in modern baseball history. Beckett was perceived as a bad influence while Crawford and Gonzalez appeared to be poor fits for Boston.

Now, they each get a fresh start and Mattingly is happy to have them.

"I don't know if you ever really know (how players will respond)," he said before the Dodgers faced the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. "I don't know if it's a change of scenery, a new start, you want to show people you can play. I just think it kind of gives you a little bit of a do-over, for a guy that's coming from a place where there's kind of been a negative vibe going on around him.

"So when a player comes in, coming out of that circumstance, it gives you the opportunity to say, OK, I'm starting over.'"

Mattingly, of course, never had to change uniforms, cities or leagues. He was a Yankee for his entire playing career, and he understands the pressures that come with playing in a baseball crazed-market on the East Coast.

"How you go to a Boston or go to a New York (is critical)," said Mattingly. "You go there as a free agent and they build you up like you're the next coming because they've just signed you. It's kind of almost the reverse of when you leave town, they're talking about all the bad stuff that's happened with you.

"But when you come to town, you're right next to sainthood. That puts you in trouble because you can't live up to it. It's hard to live up to that as a free agent. So it's a lot easier to be in New York or Boston or Philly if you're coming up through the minor leagues because you come up with zero expectations. You get to be yourself. Nobody expects a young kid to do anything and you grow into a city.

"When you come in as a free agent, it's a lot tougher. It's a lot tougher and I've seen people struggle with it, especially if you struggle (right away). A guy comes in, he's played eight years somewhere and he did well. If he struggles early in the city where he's been, people know he has a track record. They know he's going to come through. They've seen him produce.

"But when you struggle in a new city, it's like, 'I haven't seen you do anything.' Or, 'This guy is not that good.' And then guys press, and it just snowballs on you."

Mattingly has seen his share of upheaval with the Dodgers. He managed last year with the franchise essentially became wards of Major League Baseball, with outgoing owner Frank McCourt unable to meet payroll. More recently, he went to spring training not knowing who would win the bidding as the team was put up for sale.

And just last month, the Dodgers landed, in the span of a few days, Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Joe Blanton.

So he knows all about change and vows to be patient with the former Sox players getting acclimated to a team, a new city, a new league.

"You think about all the different changes," he said. "Your life is kind of turning upside down. Guys, I think, play better when they get settled and they're comfortable. It's pretty hard to be settled and comfortable when you make that move.

"That takes a little bit of time. There's nothing we can really do about that. We'll just try to make it as easy as possible and have some understanding with that."

And yet, there's a sense of urgency. The Dodgers are second in the N.L. West and went into Monday's action two games out of the wild card race with 33 games to go.

The Dodgers don't have a lot of time to figure all of this out.

"I think we all know, we're in a short-term, short-run sprint situation," he said, "and anything can happen in this game, no matter who you've got playing. I think we're all pretty realistic. There's no, 'Oh, you guys are in.' We've got to play and we know it. I don't feel like there's any guarantee. I don't think our players feel that, either.

"I think we all know we're in a short-term situation as far as the window to put this thing together and play good baseball."