So Don Mattingly is taking some heat for saying nice things about his club. Oh mercy, is that what we’ve come to?

The Dodgers lost three straight one-run games over the weekend in San Francisco, and afterward, Don Mattingly said he liked the way his team went about things. He didn’t like the outcome, but he liked the effort, approach, etc. For this, he has taken some shots.

One columnist used the world “clueless.”

Which brings up an interesting question.

What is a manager supposed to say in such situations? Is there anything he can say that will sound right?

I know what we want him to say. We want him to name names. We want him to call ’em all dogs, to threaten ’em and to declare things are about to change.

Problem is, that stuff never works. It didn’t work 50 years ago, and it sure doesn’t work now in this era of big salaries and guaranteed contracts and the like. Managers have nothing to gain by ripping players publicly. In fact, that’s about the quickest way to lose a club.

Instead, he must communicate, explain and get his guys to play hard each and every single game. His only real power is the lineup card, and with star players, that doesn’t go very far, either. He must get his players to believe that he makes every single decision thinking only of what’s best for the team.

I honestly can’t remember a manager ripping his players and lasting very long. I don’t think the great managers I’ve known—Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Bruce Bochy, Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Joe Maddon, etc.,—have ever publicly ripped a player.

“Just line us up and shoot us,” Earl Weaver once said after a tough defeat in 1986. “That’s what we deserve.”

That’s a funny quote. Got a few chuckles. Eased the tension in the room.

Notice that Earl didn’t mention any specific player. I’m not sure he ever did.

He was masterful with the media. During tough times, he would talk and talk and talk. He’d cuss and argue and tell a few jokes. He’d also keep us long enough that a good number of his players had time to shower and leave. In other words, during tough times, he was going to make it all about him.

But during good times, he’d broke off a few answers and told us to go talk to the players.

Plenty of people didn’t think Mattingly deserved the job when the Dodgers hired him after Joe Torre’s departure two years ago. He had never managed on any level, and if he really wanted to manage, he’d get some experience managing in the Minor Leagues.

Today, almost everyone agrees he has done a first-rate job. He has set the right tone with his players and worked hard at the preparation part of it. He has maintained pretty much the same demeanor in good times and bad.

In other words, the Dodgers aren’t in last place because of their manager. Let’s run down a few reasons:

  • Three starting pitchers—Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly—are on the Disabled List.
  • SS Hanley Ramirez has played four games and is back on the Disabled List.
  • CF Matt Kemp has one home run.
  • RF Andre Ethier is hitting .241.
  • 2B Mark Ellis is on the Disabled List.
  • 3B Luis Cruz is hitting .091.
  • The Dodgers are next to last in the NL in runs and 11th in ERA.

In other words, they haven’t done much of anything right. Even worse, they have no idea when Greinke will return or when Kemp and Ethier will start to hit. There’s still plenty of time to make a run, but the Dodgers have eight teams to pass to get one of the NL Wild Card berths.

With a patchwork rotation and a lineup dotted with slumps, there’s no reason to think they’re good enough to do it. And if they don’t, there’s nothing Mattingly can say that will make anyone, including himself, feel better.


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