Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Thursday, June 14, 2012
Updated: June 16, 3:29 PM ET
Don Mattingly: The manager, the dad

By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com

The video is both charming and quirky. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly walks into a baseball stadium and notices a giant bear mascot wearing a San Francisco Giants cap. Mattingly fires a baseball to knock the hat off and places a Dodgers cap on top of his head.

Preston and Don Mattingly
"When he was at home, he was at every game," Preston Mattingly said of his dad. "But he never said a word. He'd sit in the top row, never say a word. Just quiet, watched the game. He liked to watch the game."

Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" plays as soon as the Dodgers cap is affixed and all is seemingly right in the world.

Mattingly's middle son, Preston, enters the frame and they walk and talk a moment until the mascot, "Bearwinkle," defiantly puts the Giants cap on again. Mattingly knocks the cap off again, and "Don't Stop Believing" plays after a Dodgers cap is returned atop his head.

Bearwinkle, having been set straight, I guess, then participates in a six-minute trick basketball shot video with Preston and some of his friends from high school. It's actually the second such video they've made. In this one, "Trickwinkle," introduced by Don Mattingly, they all wear T-shirts that were later sold to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club in Evansville, Ind.

Complicated? Yeah. Confusing? A little. Why in the heck is Don Mattingly doing this? That one's easy.

It was winter, they were all home in Evansville and he just wanted to spend some time with his son.

"I knew it wasn't going to be some video that took over the world," Mattingly joked. "It was actually just fun. All those kids I've known since they were little. Those were like little bitty kids, now they're doing these funny videos."

So far, it has been viewed more than 86,000 times.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't think he would do it," Preston Mattingly said. "But that's my dad."


Don Mattingly gave up a lot to make sure Preston and his brothers Jordan and Taylor knew him.

There is a common narrative that he retired from the New York Yankees after the 1995 season because of lingering back issues. That narrative is false.

"Everybody always thinks it was my back," Mattingly said. "But it was really about my kids. I had kind of figured how to play with the back. I went a couple of years where I couldn't find my swing, I was messing with different stances, couple years were lean for me. But the last year, I was rolling. I was really crushing.

"The last month, we had to win 18 or 19 out of 22 to get in to the playoffs. That was so much fun to me. It was like the NCAA tournament. That was so much fun, to play like that, with that group of guys."

Of course that group of guys went on to win the World Series in 1996, the year after Mattingly retired. It was both awesome and awful to watch that team, with all the young players he'd gotten to know in his later years with the Yankees, win a World Series while he was sitting at home on his farm in Evansville.

Mattingly had been to the playoffs just once in his illustrious 14-year career. He hit .417 with a 1.180 slugging percentage in a five-game first-round loss to the Seattle Mariners that last year. He'd crushed it. The Yankees still lost.

So yeah, in a way it killed him that he'd retired just one year before the Yankees went all the way. But retirement had been a choice, not a sacrifice. And it was a choice he could live with as well then as he does now.

"That was an easy decision," Mattingly said. "The [Yankees] wanted me to sign for another two or three years, and if I did that, Taylor [his oldest] was going to be in high school, Preston was going to be right there. And I knew they weren't going to know me."

The first time Mattingly told me this story back in spring 2011, he teared up. The emotion was as real and raw as the day he walked away from the game. He was man enough not to fight it.

"I couldn't do it," he said. "I couldn't live my life with them not knowing me."


For the next eight years Mattingly spent his life at home with his first wife, Kim, and being a father to Taylor, Preston and Jordan. He went to their games and horse shows. He worked on the farm with them and watched TV. In the summers they would drive around the country and camp.

"When he was at home, he was at every game," Preston Mattingly said of his dad. "But he never said a word. He'd sit in the top row, never say a word. Just quiet, watched the game. He liked to watch the game."

Don Mattingly
Mattingly stepped away from playing baseball at a time he deemed crucial in his young sons' lives.

After all those years in New York, a little quiet was kind of nice.

"I wasn't a yeller at the umpires or coaches," Mattingly said. "It was such a busy time with three boys, chasing them all around. So I would go to the games, get my lawn chair out and just sit there.

"I was competitive still. Everything I watched, everything that was going on with the boys was like a teaching opportunity. If it was good or if it was bad, I was able to use that experience to say, 'Hey, whatever happened, just keep working.'"

But mostly he just wanted to be there. Be around. Be there for them as his father, Bill, had been there for him and his older siblings (three brothers and a sister).

"I think my dad just influenced so much," Mattingly said. "My dad would come to games, sit there and watch. My dad never, ever yelled at us about a game. There was no real praise about a game. But there was also no sitting there, cutting up every game and telling you everything you did wrong.

"There was just, 'You got to go play.' And then we came home."

Every spring, starting in 1997, Mattingly would head to Florida for spring training for a month and chip in a little. He was fine being away from the game, but Yankees owner George Steinbrenner could be persuasive.

"Steinbrenner is the one who got him back," said Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees from 1996 to 2007 and the Dodgers from 2007 to 2010. "George went out and paid him a good number. More than any coach like that has ever been paid. But George is a smart man, because once he got him in uniform, now George had him. Once he got the taste back, he was hooked."

But Mattingly was also patient. His priority was still to be a father. On that point he wasn't budging.

"It was kind of like I had a part-time job," Mattingly said. "It was nice because it kept me involved. I was able keep up with my boys and chase them around, but also be involved enough that I wasn't totally out of touch with what was going on."

The more Torre saw of Mattingly, the more he liked.

"I would've loved to have a chance to manage him," Torre said. "But he felt that his kids were at an age where they needed their dad around. He was very responsible, very mature.

"That's why, when he came to spring training, even after a few years out of the game, I recognized it right away and said to him, 'If you ever wanted to get back in uniform, let me know, we'll have a place for you.'

"I just felt very strongly of the character he had. You watched him play so you knew he had the ability and the sensibility. But he's a special individual."


Being a good father is something you just are. There's no faking it. No shortcuts. No lip-service. You do it, every day, because you want to and can't imagine it any other way.

In the last year and a half, there have been a lot of stories about Mattingly as a manager. Why his approach has worked. Why his players like him. How he's a good communicator. That he has earned respect by being consistent, honest and fair.

Those skills seemed to come naturally to him.

Those are the same reasons he's a good dad.


Trey Hillman always knew of Don Mattingly as the player. He was an Indians farmhand about the same time Mattingly was becoming Donnie Baseball and winning batting titles and MVPs in New York City.

Hillman's minor league stint lasted all of 162 games. He hit just .179 and moved on to become a scout for the Cleveland Indians after three years. The Yankees hired him away in 1990 and he stayed with the organization through 2001.

Hillman was a natural manager and quickly rose through the ranks of the Yankees' system. In summer 1999, Mattingly, came through Columbus, Ohio, where Hillman was managing the Yankees' Double-A affiliate.

Summer was ending. Hillman's family was on its way back to its offseason home in Texas to get ready for school.

"I was bummed about it. Really down," Hillman said. "Donnie overheard me talking about it to some of the guys on my staff.

"He casually came back in later and said, 'Hey, I wasn't trying to eavesdrop but I heard your family's leaving. Do you have time for dinner?'"

Hillman was touched.

"It was like, 'Go home and feel sorry for myself or go have dinner with Donnie Baseball?'"

Three hours and way too much food at an Outback Steakhouse near the Ohio State campus and Hillman and Mattingly were friends for life.

"He really is who he is," said Hillman, who now serves as Mattingly's bench coach for the Dodgers. "There's character there. There's no hidden agenda."

They ride to and from the stadium together every day.


As much as it might seem awkward to outsiders, Tim Wallach accepted the job as Dodgers third base coach without reservation when Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti offered it to him in winter 2010.

Wallach, the manager of the year in the Pacific Coast League in 2009, had been thought of as Mattingly's competition to succeed Torre. He was a former Dodger who had paid his dues as a minor league manager. Mattingly was a Yankees great who had never managed at any level.

It wasn't until later that we learned the choice had been made long before Torre retired.

If Wallach was disappointed, he never showed it. And though he still aspires to be a major league manager, he seems genuine when he says, "I really like where I'm at. I wouldn't change it. This is about as good of a staff as you're ever going to see."

He genuinely seems to like Mattingly. They didn't know each other well during their playing days, but found common ground quickly once they started working together.

Like Mattingly, Wallach stayed away from baseball for an extended period of time after he retired in order to spend time with his three sons, all of whom were drafted by the Dodgers.

He could have spent those years working his way up as a coach and manager. But they were also years he could never get back with his family. It was a choice, not a sacrifice. One he would make again in a heartbeat.

So yes, it may seem awkward to others that Wallach is the third base coach for the guy who beat him out for a job. But you have a choice in life of who you want to be and who you want to be around.

"He's the same guy he was last year and I think that's why these guys respond to him," Wallach said of Mattingly. "I think that's the most important thing. He doesn't change from day to day or month to month or year to year. He's who he is and he's not going to be any different.

"That's really important. Because you're never going to fool the people you're around, as much as we're all around each other. If you try to, that's when you lose 'em and that's one thing he'll never do."


Preston Mattingly retired from baseball this winter. There had been high hopes for him when the Dodgers took him 31st overall in 2006 draft, but after six seasons in the minors he never made it past Class A.

"I just feel like I gave it my best and it didn't work out," he said.

Don Mattingly was fine with the decision.

"Obviously, like everybody else, you hope they'll be able to make it," Mattingly said of his son. "But my biggest fear the whole time was just him getting disappointed.

"He's a worker and he put everything into it. Every winter we'd work. He would try. He was working his butt off every winter.

"That's the one thing I told him, 'I said Pres, you don't have anything to look back on. It wasn't like you didn't care. It wasn't like you partied everything away or you didn't try. You gave it everything you had and you just weren't good enough. That's nothing to be ashamed of. As long as you've given everything you have, there's something to learn from that. That's the foundation of everything that you put your heart into.'"

Preston Mattingly isn't sure what's next for him just yet. Another trick-shot video? Broadcasting? Business? He's got a good personality, so why not?

But no matter where he goes or what he does. No matter what either of his brothers do, they can count on one thing.

"My dad," Preston Mattingly said. "He's always kind of there for you, you know?"