Don Mattingly, Trey Hillman, Sue Falsone and our ignorance

Well, folks, we sure got a humbling wakeup call about our understanding of the Dodgers this week.

For starters, all season long, everyone — and I mean everyone that wrote, commented, tweeted or otherwise published a word about the 2013 Dodgers — attributed in-game strategic decisions wholly to manager Don Mattingly. Then, this week, all of a sudden there was Trey Hillman.

Sure, the bench coach had been there all along, been there for three years, but he had walked the Dodger planet in almost complete anonymity, save for taking over after a rare Mattingly ejection. Hardly a word was uttered about his role with the team until Monday, when he was fired for whatever advice he did or didn’t give, day after day, to Mattingly. Even today, no one seems entirely clear what that counsel was or wasn’t.

Mattingly was the guy in the driver’s seat, of course. The in-game buck stopped with him. But now we’re told that the bench coach played a much more significant role with the Dodgers than anyone realized. There was this nearly invisible x factor that reminds all of us that as much as we think we know everything that’s going on with the team, we still operate in large pockets of complete ignorance.

On top of that, a new mystery about what exactly the Dodger clubhouse was like in 2013 emerged Monday, via the infamous Mattingly-Ned Colletti press conference. I made the point, on Twitter I believe, that this seemed to be the most peaceful Dodger clubhouse in my memory — certainly in my time doing Dodger Thoughts. Outside of roughly 24 hours worth of quickly defused tension between Mattingly and Andre Ethier and whatever wrassling might have been going on with Yasiel Puig, there was no hint of conflict reported by the media.

But on Monday, Mattingly opened a small window into what may actually be a large world of in-house second-guessing and authority-undermining, the extent of which still isn’t clear. Whatever it is, it was not a part of the published story of the 2013 Dodgers until after the 2013 Dodgers were history.

Part of what made Monday’s awkward press conference so shocking is that the organization has seemed so amazingly united this year. Even when Mattingly’s job was in jeopardy in May/June, the manager displayed a rather remarkable level of poise and understanding. Mattingly, in a fashion I’ve seen other managers make little use of, accepted the blame for the team’s last-place start and hardly hid behind the injuries. Even the incident with Ethier has always struck me as more about getting the team more focused than anything else, which is why I think the team moved on from it so quickly. From May 25:

… while I think Andre Ethier was clearly in mind as Mattingly spoke about what it takes to win and all that, I don’t think Mattingly was singling out Ethier.  I think he was making an example of Ethier, which is an entirely different thing.

Take note of this. The Dodgers put out their Wednesday lineup. Ethier isn’t in it. Reporters ask why. Mattingly doesn’t directly answer the question, instead delivering his rugged sermon about what he expects from every member of his squad. It’s clear that Ethier is falling short of this standard. But it’s also clear that Ethier is not the only one falling short of the standard (in Mattingly’s mind), and I don’t know why people didn’t see this. …

Ultimately, Mattingly seemed at peace with the responsibility of being the fall guy. But clearly, he was wrestling with other feelings that emerged this week, and even more clearly, not everyone was on the same page when Monday’s press conference was called. Perhaps rather than the epilogue of the 2013 season, what Monday brought us was the first page of the book on the 2014 Dodgers.

As for head trainer Sue Falsone’s departure (once more, the Variety term “ankling” seems useful here), it was celebrated by numerous fans who weren’t in thrall to her or her pioneering position in the guys’ club. But our ignorance about the impact of her presence or absence could hardly be higher.

Few inside the organization, and fewer still outside of it, have any idea how Falsone, Stan Conte or anyone on the Dodger medical staff improved or diminished the team’s overall health — that is, on the injuries they actually might have had any influence upon. There was undeniable inevitability of injuries to middle-age players like Chris Capuano, Carl Crawford or Mark Ellis, while putting mishaps like Zack Greinke’s broken collarbone on the staff’s plate is particularly ludicrous. Logically, the only question is not whether the 2013 medical staff wasn’t good, but whether anyone could do better. That’s a much different way of framing things than assuming they were actually contributing to the Dodger injury problems, which I’ve seen some fans posit.

Look, I’m not above questioning things that the Dodgers do, from player transactions to bunting decisions to the presence of in-stadium pregame hosts. Not only is that part of following the team, but sometimes, I think outsiders really do know better. But be wary of having too swollen a head about this stuff. There’s lots going on beneath the surface that we don’t know about until much, much later.

  • Bumsrap

    Never saw Lopes say anything to Mattingly

    • btimmer

      During a game, Lopes wouldn’t have much to say. His work is usually done before the game when he would do outfield instruction or baserunning instruction.

      As a first base coach, his main job would be to tell the runner on first that he shouldn’t let the 2nd baseman tag him on a ground ball.

      • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

        And yell “BACK!”

        • michaelgreenlasvegas

          My understanding is that when Lopes came to the Dodgers, he was to have the authority to send runners at first if he felt the time and the moves were right, and that he had had that authority in Philadelphia.

          • Bob_Hendley

            I recall that, but hard for me to imagine Donnie not wanting to control that aspect as well, so wonder how long that lasted. Donnie also came in saying that he didn’t care about righty-lefty matchups.

          • michaelgreenlasvegas

            Yes, we didn’t hear much about it after the original discussion.

  • Casey Barker

    I wondered a lot about the state of the clubhouse before the 42-8 stretch.

  • ASW1

    Winning cures all – losing leads to the blame game and scapegoats – nothing new here. To me, the Dodgers had a very successful season. They played a fun, exciting brand of baseball, broke some records and won the NL West going away. I loved the season and am looking forward to the next one – with or without Mattingly. As far as Hillman and Falsone, I could care less.

    • WBBsAs

      Mattingly fills me with passionate indifference.

  • chuck hoag

    Terrific article. Lots of food for thought here. I had no idea what a bench coach even did.

  • btimmer

    An article about the Cinderella story in Japan, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, in just their ninth year of existence, they are facing Japan’s version of the Yankees, the Yomiuri Giants, in the Japan Series.

    http://www.japanball.com/news.phtml?id=26101

    They feature Old Friend Takashi Saito. And (insert adjective here) Andruw Jones. And they have Masahiro Tanaka who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA. Which is pretty good in any part of the world.

    Game 1 will be at Kleenex Stadium in Sendai on Saturday, but may be delayed because of Typhoon Francisco. The middle three games will be at the Tokyo Dome. The attached pictures are from my visit to the stadium in 2005. The Eagles won that game with a walkoff bases loaded triple in the bottom of the ninth when they were down by two with two outs.

  • Howard Fox

    Excuse my ignorance, but when did this whole “bench coach” thing begin? Strikes me as Billy Crystal being coach/psychologist for Robert DeNiro.
    On Lopes and even Honeycutt, I seem to recall them talking with Mattingly more later in the year than earlier in the year.

  • Bumsrap

    There is a story about an executive that made a decision that cost a business a million dollars. The executive felt the only honorable thing to do was submit his resignation. The CEO rejected his resignation telling him he just spent one million dollars training him and wanted to get his investment back.

    The Dodgers have just spent $3.3 million of salary alone training Mattingly. Mattingly should say thank you and nothing more. He is still learning so he said more. The Dodgers know how an uncertain status affects the play of the team and will make a decision on the Manager that best supports their vision for the team and their investment.

    • Howard Fox

      Speaking of uncertain status, isn’t that what we just got rid of when McCourt sold? They should sit Mattingly down (if they haven’t done so already) and in no uncertain terms, explain the facts of life to him. He still looks at the game as a player. That is fine in keeping peace in the clubhouse. But I think that might be part of his problem when making on the go strategic decisions.

  • foul tip
  • Bumsrap

    The Dodgers want to get younger and I agree with that. Pederson, Lee, Puig, Seager are in-house keys to accomplishing that. Kemp is young and hopefully his foot will not make him play older than he is.

    Puig could be a multi-year MVP and the most exciting player in baseball. Still, I would trade him.

    Miami is such a terrible team. An outfield of Jake Marisnick, Puig, and Crawford would make them at least fun. They need to spend more on payroll but the Dodgers could still pay for some of Crawford’s salary. Puig would save payroll cost over Stanton.

    Stanton to the Rays plus a player/prospect hopefully from Maimi with Longoria going to the Dodgers. Dodgers don’t add payroll with Crawford mostly off the books. Giving up Puig and Crawford is addition by subtraction.

    • foul tip

      Not that the Dodgers have a crying need for more fannies in the seats, but Puig helps put them there. He’s one of the biggest head-turners in the game, and he hasn’t even been around a year. Additionally, he seems great at community stuff like pitching to the Little Leaguers this past week. He’s already kinda become one of the faces of the franchise.

      Not to mention his 5 tool ability and almost unlimited potential, a rare combo, and his youth.

      Given all this it’s extremely doubtful the Dodgers even consider trading him. If they did, they’d take a big PR hit and a bit of one at the turnstiles.

      I’ve seen a bit of talk about trading him but don’t get the thinking. Why would you? How would moving Puig not be subtraction, period?

      • thescrounger

        Not only that, Puig is not playing for league minimum, if I remember right, the Dodgers are paying him something like $42MM for 6 years. Miami won’t pay that and I doubt the Dodgers would pay that for him to play in Miami…

      • Howard Fox

        unless an opinion is forming internally that Puig has terrific potential that may never be more than terrific potential, upside being perhaps the best player in the game, downside being you never know if he will win or lose the game for you…

    • WBBsAs

      This is simply silly.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Yeah, nothing personal, but this is kind of a weird fantasy. Among other things, can’t fathom why Miami would take Crawford when he, for all his virtues, is overpaid, aging and injury-prone.

      • Bumsrap

        I guess if brainy guys like Kasten will take Crawford to get Gonzales it can’t be ruled out that Miami would take Crawford to get Puig. One might say it was fantasy to think Crawford would get that contract before he got it. Weird things happen not that such a label is needed. Jon, it is personal as soon as you say it isn’t.

        • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

          “it is personal as soon as you say it isn’t.”
          I have no idea how to respond to that. I just wanted to clarify that I was only critiquing the idea.

          • Bumsrap

            Yeah, nothing personal, but this is kind of weird denial.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Farewell, Marcia Wallace.

    • WBBsAs

      Another one I’ve never heard of.

      • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

        I don’t really understand why you think that’s worthwhile to point out.

        • WBBsAs

          I guess I’m just amazed that you can keep track of all these people.

    • dalegribel

      Very sad indeed.

    • RBI

      I met her several times, and she was a feisty, funny woman. Sorry she’s gone.

    • PismoBruce

      Her ‘Carol’ character on the Bob Newhart show was hilarious. For the young whippersnappers here, she also played Bart Simpson’s 4th grade teacher.

  • ASW1

    Not sure how many have been following AJ’s writing for the Times the last few days. I’m thinking this morning’s article was written with the hope in mind that a few of his teammates would read it and take it to heart :

    http://www.latimes.com/sports/baseball/mlb/dodgers/la-sp-aj-ellis-1026-dodgers-world-series-20131026,0,6642600.story#axzz2iqx5SXLJ

    • RBI

      I had exactly that thought. Also, Mattingly! (I wish AJ would point out how Mike Matheny, as a former catcher, made the managerial decision in Game 2 to stick with a relief pitcher who was throwing serious heat, going with what was actually happening on the mound versus pulling him to get the “right” lefty/righty combination.

      • rumped6

        Agree. Have always thought the most valuable commodity in a tense game , late innings, is a guy who’s already shown he has his stuff THAT DAY.

        In re OP: All injuries are unique, have specific, sometimes long-term genesis. But some classes of injuries are more preventable in the aggregate than others. Seems, anecdotally, Stan and Sue had an awful lot of that kind of injury in their seasons here. Could be a very bad run of luck, could be a very indifferent bunch of players unwilling to eat, sleep, and exercise appropriately. Could be both, and a whole lot more.

        Questioning that, from far away, with respect for the complexity, is not unfair.
        Assuming you know any answers, from far away, is categorically so.
        So nice work, Jon.

  • michaelgreenlasvegas

    A few days ago, I tried and failed to make a point about the Colletti-Mattingly relationship, but the bigger point was the one Jon made so well here: we aren’t on the inside, so we just don’t know. But no one here is mentioning the firing of the advance scout, who supposedly is another Mattingly friend and ally. I’d also like to add something else I read and I wish I remembered where: Donnie B. doesn’t feel he should have to audition to be manager, but, in fact, this was his first full season with a new ownership group that also had authority on the baseball side–Kasten presumably (ah, there it is) has a role, and given his experience, he should. So, the manager was, in a sense, a first-full-year manager. And I’m reminded here of when Bill Veeck took over the Indians, inherited Lou Boudreau, didn’t want him to be manager, found that he had to keep him, and hired a different set of coaches based on the belief that he would benefit from more sage advice.

    • rumped6

      Nice point about the first year in new relationship…

  • michaelgreenlasvegas

    I thought I’d mention that Jon links to Ross Newhan’s blog, and he has an interesting commentary on the situation: http://newhanonbaseball.blogspot.com/

    • ASW1

      Agree with Newhan’s take but I’m dismayed he had to include the detestable “It is what it is” – the most ridiculous, empty-headed nonsense saying ever perpetrated into the english lexicon.

      • michaelgreenlasvegas

        Well, I read an otherwise brilliant commentary elsewhere that used “impact” as a verb, so, ah feel yo pain!

  • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

    Game Thread, World Series Game Three.

  • 41

    It startled me that, in his comments, Mattingly referred to the Dodgers as “the organization.” Why separate yourself? It only weakens your position. He is Don Mattingly and he has got to confirm that life is good, like it or not. A brief visit to Indiana is needed.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT