Mattingly's Dodgers need to start sharing his values
LA skipper preaches respect, hard work as club disappoints in early going
LOS ANGELES -- Adrian Gonzalez has seen a baseball season in ruins. He was in the middle of one in Boston at this time last year, before an August blockbuster deal sent him home to Southern California, a delighted Dodger.
"This is not even close," Gonzalez said of the rip tide of controversy that has reached Dodger Stadium and manager Don Mattingly.
Bobby Valentine managed to last the season amid constant storms in Boston before the Red Sox fired him last year.
There has been widespread speculation -- cast aside by Dodgers president Stan Kasten on Friday afternoon with an expression of confidence in his manager -- that Mattingly's days are numbered after he went public with criticism of his team's "grit" in Milwaukee before Wednesday's 9-2 win.
Gonzalez sees no comparison between the personalities and managerial styles of Valentine and Mattingly, nor with the dysfunctional Red Sox of last season and these disappointing Dodgers, struggling to meet inflated expectations.
"They're complete opposites," the first baseman said, asked about Mattingly and Valentine. "I think we all know what our roles are. We all get along. All we've got to do is play, win games. If we do that, everything will take care of itself."
Gonzalez felt Mattingly's strong words were in reaction to four galling losses in five days, including a three-game sweep by the Braves in Atlanta.
"It was frustration on his part -- understandably so," Gonzalez said. "We'd gone through a good stretch [taking four of five at home], and losing those three in Atlanta kind of put us back where we were. That's where the frustration came from -- for all of us."
Mattingly was a superstar in the biggest market in America on a Yankees team run by George Steinbrenner, the most controversial owner in sports. Turmoil was a way of life. Managers came and went with the wind.
"I don't know how many managers I had in New York," Mattingly said. "I was the guy who didn't get fired. If your team doesn't play well, somebody's going to go -- and it's not going to be [the players].
"It's all about the way we play. It's the only thing I stress over: how our club is playing and how we go about our business. I'm the guy who sets the environment. I haven't wavered in anything I believe in."
That would be the familiar heartland virtues the Indiana native acquired growing up, of hard work, sacrifice, doing the right thing. They carried him to fame and fortune in New York, and now have him absorbing a lion's share of the blame for the Dodgers' dismal start in the face of a wave of injuries to vital personnel.
"Respect to the game, teammates, the organization, fans," Mattingly said, expanding on his baseball beliefs. "It's all about respect -- how we play.
"What do I think of the experience of going through all this? It hasn't been that bad, honestly. I think I have a pretty good understanding of what goes on.
"Big city, big media. That's part of it. I know we have a lot of expectations ... we talked about it in Spring Training. This shouldn't be unexpected."
For his part, Kasten said he expected the Dodgers to turn it around and keep Mattingly gainfully employed well into the future.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, admittedly "grateful" to be working in a supportive heartland environment, alluded to the "big market [of Los Angeles] with a lot of eyes watching" each installment of the drama.
"There's going to be news," he said, "whether there's news or not."
As for the news he made in Milwaukee, Mattingly said he simply "spoke from the heart" about his team, which hasn't been above .500 since April 15.
When Andre Ethier was replaced in the series finale against the Brewers by Scott Van Slyke, the veteran right fielder became the media focus alongside Mattingly.
Ethier, with four homers and a .264 average, has been part of a power outage draining the club. He was back in the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Cardinals.
While Mattingly insisted he wasn't targeting Ethier, the player admitted he was stung by words he interpreted as questioning his competitive drive.
Seeking feedback from teammates, Ethier said he felt "enlightened and reinforced -- both ways." He expressed regret that he found himself in the middle of this mess, noting, "We don't need another issue or problem."
Mattingly said the two men spoke at length before Wednesday's game.
"I honestly didn't mean to single Andre out," the manager said. "I just put a lineup out and felt like it was the best club that day. It's not about Andre. It's about us as a team."
Teams function best when players police one other behind closed doors, strong leaders surfacing to enforce behavioral patterns. That happens naturally, with the manager's good graces.
The 2011 champion Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to the Angels in free agency, along with manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan to retirement, and didn't miss a winning beat. Their leadership comes from multiple sources, notably catcher Yadier Molina, one of the four or five most valuable players in the game.
"We think it's everybody's responsibility, regardless of his role," Matheny said. "We don't put pressure on our veteran guys [to lead], we put it on all of them.
"It's everybody helping everybody. It's selflessness. That leads toward positive things. It comes back to leadership, the examples that are set. Everybody is involved in our organization."
The Dodgers could benefit from some of that "everybody helping everybody" spirit. Anything less would be a cardinal sin.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.