The Miami Marlins did something this week that was big, but got buried. The loose-ship baseball club mistimed leaking the news it was hiring Don Mattingly as its new manager. Then again, that wouldn’t make the top 10 of this franchise’s public-relations misplays over the years.
Loud sports noise was banging all over town. The University of Miami fired football coach Al Golden. The Dolphins’ Dan Campbell bandwagon was rollicking before finding that ditch in New England on Thursday. The Heat was opening its season.
Amid all of that trickled the gradual news that the Marlins were interested in Mattingly, that the two sides had met and then that he had agreed to terms — though still unofficially, because MLB doesn’t like attention-grabbing team announcements siphoning spotlight from its World Series.
My reaction when learning the Marlins’ interest in Mattingly was reciprocal: “Seriously? Why!?”
Mattingly spent his entire not-quite-Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees. He spent the past five seasons managing probably the sport’s second-most famous club, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He is a pedigreed baseball man.
Now he wants to work for the Marlins’ Jeffrey Loria? Loria, who is to worst-owner-in-sports surveys what the Kardashians are to the paparazzi?
Now he wants to lurch from the Dodgers’ highest player payroll in the history of American team sports to the notoriety of Loria’s coupon-clipping, low-budget approach?
This is what it has come to.
The Marlins are making what by most accounts is a very positive hire, one that should excite fans, but the unpopular Loria’s dubious reputation alone is enough to make you wonder. Everything about the Marlins is seen through the Loria Lens, whose tint is roughly the opposite of rose-colored.
Like, how can this be a smart hire destined for success if Loria is the one hiring?
Sorry, Mr. Owner, but this is your reputation, your track record.
You have richly earned it, from the controversial, lawsuits-mired stadium deal to the fire sales to the egregious under-spending on payrolls to the bad decisions and impatience that have caused the managerial merry-go-round to spin so dizzily.
Even when Loria seems to do the right thing, it is cast with suspicion.
Recall that when Giancarlo Stanton signed the richest contract extension in the history of baseball, we were looking for the catch, the loophole, not convinced the slugger still wouldn’t be traded when the timing or offer were right.
Now Loria lands a “star” manager in Mattingly and it’s impossible to not recall the fiasco of his previous “star” hire, Ozzie Guillen, who lost big, expressed admiration for Fidel Castro — as if unaware his team played games in the heart of Little Havana — and quickly joined the ever-burgeoning list of ex-managers.
How can benefit of the doubt be given that this time Loria got it right when Mattingly is the 11th manager since he became owner in 2002? Mattingly is the team’s eighth manager (including interim ones) just since 2010.
That is spectacular instability suggesting Loria either is picking the wrong leaders or not giving the right ones enough time.
It is that résumé, along with the penurious spending, that likely led USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale to lead a story thusly: “Don Mattingly just accepted the worst managerial job in baseball.”
It isn’t, of course.
It’s just that Loria makes it seem like that.
Then again, Mattingly is experienced with challenging owners. He played and coached under George Steinbrenner, who led the majors in tempestuousness and meddling in New York. Then he coached and managed under Frank McCourt, who drove the Dodgers into bankruptcy.
That should prepare the new manager for most all of the ego or dysfunction Loria can throw his way.
Mattingly, who agreed to a four-year contract, instead sees a youthful, ascending roster led by Stanton and ace pitcher Jose Fernandez. He sees much potential, even with the constraints of a payroll that will be about one-quarter what he had in Los Angeles.
“It’s just an interesting place because of the young talent they have and the challenges that it brings,” Mattingly said of the Marlins on The Dan Patrick Show this week. He noted Miami develops players more than spends big on free agents. “You have to be able to work from within,” he said. “It’s a different challenge, and to be very honest, that’s really interesting to me at this point in my life, my career.”
The pressure in this new relationship is shared. It is on Mattingly and Loria.
Mattingly must prove he is special as a manager. He won at a .551 clip with the Dodgers and won the past three consecutive NL West titles. But he failed to reach, let alone win a World Series, despite a record payroll and a starting staff led by double aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. He was 8-11 in the postseason.
Mattingly never has won a championship as a player, coach or manager, and you’d have a strong argument that he underachieved in Los Angeles, and that the “mutual parting” was more the club wanting a fresh start.
The pressure on Loria is for this to be the elusive smart hire who lasts, and wins big. Loria is a New Yorker who grew up a Yankees fan and has long-admired “Donnie Baseball.” They had become friends.
A Marlins source told me Loria was “thrilled” when the Dodgers were eliminated from these playoffs by the Mets, knowing that likely would make Mattingly available. Miami had interviewed six other potential managers, but, said the source, “Those were strictly fall-backs in case we couldn’t get Mattingly.”
This looks like a buddy hire that now must prove to be a smart baseball hire.
The more the Marlins win, the less likely Loria will be obtrusively out front as the unpopular face of the franchise.
That’s reason enough to wish Mattingly well.
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com.