MIAMI — He says there are no regrets wearing him down, and if we came to know anything about Don Mattingly back when he was ours, when he and New York engaged in a baseball love affair we assumed would last forever, it is this: He is pathologically incapable of deceit or mistruth.
“I like my job,” he says, and so you have to believe him. You have to take it on faith that Mattingly rejoices in the small victories, the only ones mostly available to a team that has already lost 77 games and remains on pace for 98 despite handing the Yankees their hats Wednesday night, 9-3.
You have to trust that he doesn’t miss the circus in Los Angeles, where he never won fewer than 82 games in five years, where in his last three he led the Dodgers to first-place finishes in the NL West, where he probably had more talent assembled on the bench than he can ever cobble together now on most nights in his lineup.
You have to take at face value the fact that Mattingly’s boss now is the kid he took under his wing almost a quarter-century ago, the one who used to observe every move he made, the future captain studying the old one, the one who, on a famous spring-training morning, whispered as they departed a back field in Fort Lauderdale: “Let’s jog it back, Derek. You never know who’s watching.”
Mostly, you have to assume that when he says he likes the job he has, it means he doesn’t covet the one he doesn’t, the one he was a finalist for 10 years ago, when it came down to him and Joe Giardi, when probably 10 million Yankees fans were rooting for him to get the job managing the Yankees and instead it went to Girardi.
The irony, of course, is the Yankees went looking for a manager in the offseason of 2017-18 that has just about every quality that the runner-up to the job during the offseason of 2007-08 possesses: quiet but fierce leadership, an understanding of how to talk to ballplayers, an ability to reach them and speak their language.
That isn’t what the Yankees were looking for a decade ago, because they’d just had 12 straight years of that with Joe Torre. They didn’t want avuncular relationship-building, they wanted fire and passion and energy, and they got every bit of that with Girardi. And along the way they also added a 27th championship, in 2009.
Would they have gotten there under Mattingly — who, unbelievably, is still waiting to take part in his first World Series despite logging so many years with the Yankees and the Dodgers? Assuming he would’ve had CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and the others in their prime that Girardi did in ’09, why not? Assuming that the Core Four members who grew up revering him would’ve translated that into high-level performance under him? Of course they would have.
And who knows what else might have happened.