Mattingly has place in his heart for Bronx memories
NEW YORK -- As he walked through the corridors of Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Don Mattingly said that he felt no pangs of longing for the old home that stood across the street, the diamond where he'd made an indelible mark during his 14-year playing career for the Yankees.
Of course, there is a special place in Mattingly's heart for the memories he helped create in those summers at the original Yankee Stadium. But many of the same employees are still here, having moved along with the Yankees in 2009, and Mattingly said that has kept the same comfortable feeling alive.
"It's always been, for me, great," Mattingly said. "You don't quite understand the relationship, honestly. You're from a small town, loved playing, came here and just played. I pretty much tried to keep it as simple as that, and they always seemed to appreciate that. It's nice for me, because I didn't have to do anything but just play. I always enjoyed that."
This visit, Mattingly's first as the manager of the Dodgers, actually marks his third time setting foot in the new facility -- the first came in 2009, when he snuck across town for a tour before he was due on the bench to coach a Dodgers game against the Mets.
"I just wanted to see it, as much as anything," he said. "Just see the building, what it looked like. A lot of people said the field pretty much had the same feel. I wanted to see it without anybody in it. That was one of the best things, so I could roam around and relax."
Mattingly was most impressed that day by the spacious Great Hall along the first-base side; he had less time to take in the sights during a subsequent visit in 2010, when he and Joe Torre flew across the country to attend a memorial service for George M. Steinbrenner.
It was Steinbrenner, of course, who once thought aloud that he someday might groom Mattingly to run his club -- a "what if?" that was impossible to ignore as Mattingly sat, cloaked in Dodger blue, in front of a pattern of interlocking Yankees logos in a media room on Tuesday.
Mattingly had that chance after the 2007 season, when Torre walked away from a contract offer. The Yankees interviewed Mattingly, Joe Girardi and Tony Pena, and Mattingly was thought to be a favorite because of his deep Yankee ties.
Girardi won that close race in part because of his prior big league managerial experience -- one season with the Marlins, in 2006 -- as well as what was thought to be a more statistical-based approach.
"I believe I made the right selection," general manager Brian Cashman said. "Joe Girardi has been a great asset for us. It was a very tough call. The only thing that for Donnie was difficult was that at the time he had never managed before. That's a hard hurdle to get over when you're trying to put forward a team that's trying to win now."
Cashman said that Mattingly knew the game inside out and had the right personality and demeanor for the job, as well as a knowledge of the Steinbrenner family dynamic, but the Yankees had difficulty coming to grips with the idea of handing the keys to a $200 million club to a first-year manager.
"It was a little disappointing," Mattingly said. "I didn't go through the interview process and all that to not get it. But I felt like I was treated really well through that process; Cash was great. He was up front and honest with me about everything.
"To be very honest with you, it was a blessing for me, at the end of the day. I had [a divorce] going on right after that; it would have made it really, really hard to do this job and try to go through that at the same time. That would have really been bad."
Girardi was excited to see Mattingly, with whom he worked as a coach under Torre, and said that there was no awkwardness left over from the interview process in 2007.
"The fact that you're in your interview by yourself, you're not really thinking much about who else is interviewing for the job," Girardi said. "I think that separates it and makes it easier. I knew that he was a great candidate. I knew that possibility was there, but I didn't think about it during my interview."
Girardi said that the only person who might get a better reception than Mattingly in the Bronx would be Mariano Rivera in a save situation, and those cheers will be a nice break for Mattingly.
Mattingly acknowledges with some humor that it has not exactly been the smoothest ride for him and his Dodgers this season: The club has a 29-39 record, last in the National League West.
But he still loves the job, even with all of the media scrutiny, and once in a while, he looks back to the lessons learned across 161st Street, when his job was to play a stellar first base and hit big home runs for The Boss' headline-grabbing team.
"I had a good training ground, put it that way," Mattingly said. "I think George liked controversy. Good publicity or bad publicity, it's still publicity. I kind of grew up with it. It prepared me to weather this storm."