George Steinbrenner was at his post unstable in the years Don Mattingly spent with the New York Yankees.
All the owner’s worst impulses ran wild throughout the 1980s when the Yankees went a full decade without a World Series and Mattingly saw firsthand all the pratfalls of uncertainty.
New York changed managers 10 times in the 14 years Mattingly spent in the Bronx. The year Mattingly debuted, the Yankees had three managers, although Mattingly only got called up in time to play for the last. He played for Billy Martin three separate times. He played for Lou Piniella once. Mattingly retired in 1995 as perhaps the most successful Yankee to never win a World Series.
“It was one guy to the next every year, so as a player you kind of got to the point if things were going bad, you were like, This guy’s probably not going to be back,” Mattingly said. “You felt that.”
The Miami Marlins don’t want a similar fate for their young players going through a rebuild. On Friday, the Marlins (53-99) ensured at least two more years of stability for their organization, formally announcing an extension to keep Mattingly as their manager at least through the 2021 season.
CEO Derek Jeter and general manager Michael Hill said no decision has been made yet on the rest of Mattingly’s coaching staff.
Mattingly is already the longest tenured manager in franchise history. His extension keeps him in Miami for two more years with a mutual option in place to potentially keep him around a third. It also could let him see through the entirety of an extensive tear-down and long-term rebuild.
“I understand when you’re a young player, you want to have a familiar face in the dugout,” said Jeter, who debuted with the Yankees in Mattingly’s final season. “When you’re a young player and you make mistakes, the first thing you do is you take a look in that dugout. You see how your manager is responding. It could be someone that makes you nervous. It could be someone that calms you. Donnie’s the type that’s going to have that calming influence on young players and you want to have a sense of consistency for the players coming up.”
This season, Mattingly is steering what still has a chance to be the worst season in club history. Miami is still one win shy of matching the team record for fewest in a non-strike season. The Marlins are currently on pace for their second worst winning percentage and would have to win nine of their final 10 games — including Friday against the Nationals (83-68) in Miami — to match its second worst.
The Marlins haven’t judged Mattingly on what he has done this season, though. Miami hired Mattingly ahead of the 2016 season with the expectation he’d be guiding a contender. The Marlins won 79 games in his first season and 77 in his second, and then former owner Jeffrey Loria sold the team to a new ownership group led by majority owner Bruce Sherman. Miami traded away Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, among others, and plummeted to 63 wins in 2018 with a depleted roster. Mattingly went into the final season of a four-year contract with no chance to lead a competitive team.
“We’ve had many conversations over the last couple years. We’ve shared our frustrations about what’s been going on on the field, but Donnie believes in our vision. He believes in our direction and he’s all in,” Jeter said. “He’s shown a lot of patience with our young developing team, which his wife has reminded me is not an easy job. The great thing about Donnie is he understands what we’re building here as an organization. He keeps our guys competing on a daily basis.”
Earlier this year, Mattingly called this season perhaps the most difficult of his career. Earlier this month, he said he would have to make a decision as to whether he wanted to return.
Ultimately, the manager felt the level of competition in 2019 exceeded last season and likened his most recent meeting with Jeter about his 2020 status to “Jerry Maguire” — “You had me at, ‘Hello,’” Mattingly said. Although the they’re losing more often than they did in 2018, the Marlins’ run differential of minus-179 is on pace to be about 30 runs better than the minus-220 they posted last year.
Reinforcements should also arrive in the next two years Mattingly will spend in South Florida. Miami has six of the top 100 prospects in the MLB.com rankings and five of them finished 2019 with either Double A Jacksonville or Triple A New Orleans.
The fruits of rebuilding should start to show themselves in the next few seasons. Miami will let Mattingly see it happen.
“The losing is not easy,” Mattingly said. “No matter if you know the situation, and you know what we’re going through and what we’re trying to accomplish, that road to get there is not necessarily an easy road.”