Maybe it didn’t rank up there with Knute Rockne’s inspirational “Gipper” pregame speech with Notre Dame. Or even Mel Gibson’s freedom speech in the movie Braveheart before leading his army into battle.
But in his closed-clubhouse address Tuesday before the first full-squad workout of spring training, new manager Don Mattingly fired up the Marlins with a passionate address that inspired players, coaches and even owner Jeffrey Loria.
“I went out to practice [Tuesday] like I wanted to eat the world,” Marlins ace Jose Fernandez said.
Said Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler: “I got chills. I don’t think I was alone.”
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One coach called it “the best speech I’ve heard in 40 years of baseball.”
Even Loria offered high praise for Mattingly’s 15-minute talk.
“It was the best I’ve ever heard, the best talk to a group of players that I’ve heard in a long time, since Jack [McKeon],” Loria said.
According to sources who were at the meeting, Mattingly emphasized that players needed to work hard while assuring them they had the talent to win — stock talking points included in most every managerial address to the players.
But players said Mattingly did it in a way that resonated with them.
“I haven’t been around a long time,” Fernandez said. “But it was the best.”
Afterward, in talking to reporters, Mattingly was vague on the details of his speech.
He made clear, though, that he doesn’t care that the Marlins have a low payroll. Or that they haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 2009. Or that they haven’t reached the postseason since 2003 — the second-longest such drought in the majors.
“Every year it’s the anticipation of where it’s going,” Mattingly said. “You don’t know where this is going and what it could be. Every team in baseball right now has the same message. They’re all excited. They all want to go to the World Series.”
Mattingly said every team, including the Marlins, starts with a clean slate.
“Nobody’s lost any games yet,” Mattingly said. “Nobody’s gone 0 for 4. I haven’t made any terrible decisions yet. Everything’s good right now. It’s the start of something new.”
Mattingly also said payroll isn’t as significant as many make it out to be. The Marlins are again expected to rank at or near the bottom in total roster payroll.
“I don’t think payroll has anything to do with whether you’re talented or not,” Mattingly said. “I don’t think the Royals … nobody was talking about how big their payroll was last year, and they got a [World Series] trophy.”
“He commanded the room,” one observer said.
Said Loria: “Don Mattingly is special, period.”.
Loria always tends to be optimistic at the start of spring training, only to watch season after season go down in ruin. But Loria, who enters his 15th season as the team’s owner, sounded even more upbeat than usual.
“The energy is palpable around here,” said Loria, who was wearing a Marlins cap. “It’s a very exciting season ahead of us, with one of the greatest collections of talent we’ve ever had, both on and off the field. We’ve got everyone back healthy and we’ve added some true icons in leadership positions in the dugout.”
The Marlins hired an All-Star coaching staff, led by Mattingly and including hitting coach Barry Bonds and bench coach Tim Wallach.