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Winter Meetings interview with Don Mattingly

December 13, 2017

Q. Don, how would you kind of categorize kind of the direction that you're seeing the organization going as this team kind of goes?DON MATTINGLY: For me, I'm excited about what's going on, with an understanding of kind of the fans and what the perception is from the outside. But

Q. Don, how would you kind of categorize kind of the direction that you're seeing the organization going as this team kind of goes?
DON MATTINGLY: For me, I'm excited about what's going on, with an understanding of kind of the fans and what the perception is from the outside. But to know actually what our direction is and to know that we're going to sustain that and we're going to build this organization from the bottom to the top and it's going to be consistent and we're going to stay with it, it's an exciting time for me from that standpoint.
So it's been busy. Again, you recognize the disappointment in the fans. It seems like there's been a lot of negative. I look back at what Houston was able to do a few years back and where they're at right now. We needed a reset. It wasn't working. What we were trying to accomplish and the way we were doing it, trying to win, it just wasn't working, and we had to get a model going that was sustainable, a chance for us to build something that we could have success on a yearly basis, be able to compete.
We're like every other club that comes here. You may look at some more seriously than others, but we're trying to build a team that has the opportunity to compete for a World Series on a yearly basis.
Q. Do you get the sense that more could be coming before you build it up? Meaning core pieces?
DON MATTINGLY: I think that's the part of working with Michael, working with Derek. Again, you're going to make decisions. Some decisions we know have been unpopular but have really reset the organization from the standpoint of -- from a financial standpoint. I think now it's at a point where you're still moving in a direction and building something. But it's going to be more baseball decisions.
This is about building the best team that we can build starting from our scouting and developing players. This is a we from the bottom up. We know that we need all our factors to be on the same page kind of in lock step on where we're going, consistency, kind of a consistent march to being a great organization.
Q. Did you talk to G at all during the process or after the trade was official?
DON MATTINGLY: I texted back and forth with G through the course of the winter. Obviously, he won a lot of awards, congratulations type thing. Sent him a text the other day as I watched the press conference. I told him New York's a great place to play. Again, I think you -- you're never as a manager sitting there and even going to act like you're going to be better or we can fill that spot right now -- a guy that hits 59 homers, drives in 130-something runs.
But on the back side of that, you recognize it still didn't work, and it wasn't working. We haven't been able to put a winning season together in a while. So there needed to be a change. And I know the fans of South Florida have been through this, but this is going to be different. This is a new group. You hope they'll have some patience with the new group because I think the difference is going to be there's going to be a sustainable model that's going to be consistent with decisions based on continued development, continued growth, putting together an organization that has a chance to compete year in, year out.
Q. How important is it going to be to get the players, those that are remaining and they have to go through some rough times, to then provide the leadership and to stay with the program? What challenges do they have?
DON MATTINGLY: We're still building this, what it's going to look like in this coming season, and I think there's a timing of that. When you start to know who your guys that you're going to lay your hat on and you talk with them about what we're going through and what we look at and lay that out with them.
I don't think that timing is now. I think there's a misconception of you want to have communication with your players and you want to lay them out and know what the expectations are for them, hold them being accountable to their job and us being accountable to them. That doesn't necessarily mean we're asking their opinion on what moves we should make. That's not what this is all about.
But there will be a time with your core guys that you know you're going to -- you can lay your hat on, that you're going to have to have some communication with and talk with. Lay it out and explain what we're trying to do. And then at that point, you're hopeful that they're going to be able to see that light.
That's the way I look at it. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, that we're going to go through some stuff, but I believe in what we're doing and where we're going to get to. And that's what they have to believe, and they have to be on board with.
Q. I don't want to put you on the spot because things could happen above you in this process, but J.T. Realmuto is a guy that kind of fits that mold. You mentioned him earlier. What do you see in him?
DON MATTINGLY: I love J.T. I honestly love a lot of our guys. J.T. -- and I talked about this a little earlier. He's a guy that I think all our players have so much respect for, the way he plays the game, the toughness he brings, who he is as a person and who he is as a player, and I kind of laid -- it's probably not fair, but I laid a little bit of a Yadier Molina tag on him because I think he's that kind of guy.
When you're facing the Cardinals and Yadier Molina is behind the plate, you're not happy about it. You don't like it. You know he's involved in that game and he's going to direct it.
We feel J.T. can be that guy. He's not there yet, but we think this guy will step up leadership-wise, has a chance to take steps forward in leading your pitching staff and a guy that you can win a championship with.
Q. With last year going with starting pitching, how tough was that with you as a manager with not having depth when guys went down or underperformed? What was that like for you last year with that rotation?
DON MATTINGLY: You know, it is what it is. When you're going through it. My thought is we've got to find a way to win a game. There's no time to complain about, hey, I wish I had Kershaw and Greinke and all these guys. You don't. So I think when you're in that, you're trying to find ways to win a game. Last year we were offensively built. We're trying to encourage our guys, hey, we've got to score eight, and we've got to score eight, and we've got to put up runs. That's just the way it is.
So I think when you're in that period, you're realistic, when you look at it from afar or when you back away from it. But you never want your players thinking, hey, we can't win because of this. We can't whine about how we don't have this or we don't have that. You have to find a way to win a game, and that's where you're at as a manager. When you're going through a season, you're going to -- you're in a battle to just get your guys ready to play, and that's what you try to do during that.
But when you step back at the end of the day and you look at the end of the season, you go our chances weren't real good. Our chances, when you throw that out there every day -- and you don't want to downplay your guys. It just didn't work out, right? Some things that we tried to do. We had some injuries. Guys didn't bounce back. Guys that we were kind of counting on didn't step forward, and it didn't work.
Q. With Derek, you've obviously known him a long time as a person and a player. What's that transition been like these past couple weeks?
DON MATTINGLY: There's not been a ton of interaction. We had meetings in the winter and really what I expected, him laying out to us where we're going, how we're going to get there, and how -- again, laying out to us that we're going to have a plan, and we're not changing. We're sticking with it. We'll make adjustments. I'm sure there will be adjustments in how you're going to get there. But it's what I expected.
Q. He's taken a lot of heat, criticism.
DON MATTINGLY: I understand.
Q. How do you see that? Is it fair? Unfair? How do you see what's going on with that?
DON MATTINGLY: Well, I know what goes on from the inside, so I know it's unfair. But I think, if you look at -- Derek may be the first to admit, hey, I would do some things maybe a little differently. I don't know that. But I kind of look back to Derek's first year in pro ball. He makes 58 errors -- 50-something errors at shortstop, and we know what happened after that.
He's got a lot on his plate, a lot going on, a lot happening very fast, but I fully expect any adjustments that he has to make or that he thinks he has to make, we're just going to move forward. We're not going to look back. We're going to keep our eye on the prize and where we're going, and we'll make the adjustments as an organization.
I have to make adjustments as manager. Mike Hill has to make adjustments. I'm sure Derek, in his own mind, will make the adjustments that he has to make.
Q. Don, you said from the inside the criticism is unfair. Why is that?
DON MATTINGLY: Just because I have more information than you all. As I watched the trade rumors and what's going on with stuff, through even the Giancarlo and different stuff, as I read, it's like are we just making things up? Because they weren't close. A lot of them had so much information that was wrong. So I know the truth in a lot of these matters. It's not for me to talk about. A lot of times you understand you take the high road. You're not going to go out and dispute everything that comes out because you waste all your time doing that, but I know the truth. I know what really happened in situations. It's not for me to talk about. If somebody else wants to talk about it, they can.
But it's not something that you sit here -- you know, you don't have time or energy for that, to fight all that. It's just you keep your eye on the prize. Where are we going as an organization? Let's not worry about all the stuff on the outskirts. Let's keep our mind on where we're going and what we're doing and what we're building. That's what we have to do.
We've added 19 new players to this organization since the trade deadline last year. Nobody has once said anything about that. But this build has started. It started before the new ownership even took place. We knew what was in front of us with David Phelps trade, the A.J. Ramos trade, Hechavarria trade.
There's been a lot going on, and we've been steadily adding players to our system, and that's our belief. We have to be able to win and sustain through development, getting the best players into our system, developing them in a way that we feel like we're creating or help them to be championship caliber players.
It's been going on. So I mean, we're just going to stick with it.
Q. Don, talk about the challenges of keeping a player. In your career, you stayed with your organization. Derek Jeter, the same. Giancarlo, eight years as a Marlin. The challenges of keeping a superstar on a team like Miami for a career, how can --
DON MATTINGLY: There's challenges. Seeing Paul Molitor walk off this stage before I came on, he's in Minnesota. They do the same things. They have to build from within. So it's really hard to be able -- with today's marketplace, to be able to go out and do -- to be able to sustain for your organization a deal. Some of the deals that you can do.
We know we have to develop our players and we have to build through our minor league system. So it's extremely hard in our market, but that's what it is, and that's the challenge of being a Miami in our market is that we have to be better at developing our players. We don't make -- we can't make mistakes and then be caught in a situation that now we're strapped and it holds our organization back.
So we have to be good at developing and be able to take that young player from the Dominican or from wherever, from Cuba, get him into our system, help him be a major league player, help him be a championship player. That's the challenges of Miami.
So it's really hard. It's a lot harder here than it would be in a New York or an L.A. or a Boston because they have the resources to be able to absorb certain things. We don't have the resources to be able to absorb those things.
Q. Don, you're in a unique position because you know Stanton the player so well and you know what it means to be the star player for the Yankees. Does his personality match up to handling everything that's about to come to him in the Bronx?
DON MATTINGLY: G handles himself great. G is a no maintenance player for me as a manager. He basically is at the ballpark, he's ready to play. You don't have to worry about him being there. He's going to be in shape. He's going to be ready to go.
The one thing you always say about New York is you can't be afraid of the field.
Q. Can't be afraid of what?
DON MATTINGLY: You can't be afraid of the field. You take care of your business on the field, everything works out. And G can really play, obviously, and he's going to be fine.
Q. Joe Maddon talked about his time in Tampa, saying he sort of enjoyed the challenge of being in that division when everybody was spending money. He thought there was this thing with players that he will fight for you and get your ABs. Is there sort of that whole idea now with you that the door's open, come get your innings pitched, come get your ABs? Let's find out who wants to play the right way.
DON MATTINGLY: I'm right there. Again, I'm so excited about what we're trying to do and being a part of helping a young player grow into a major league player. You say it in a way that play the game the right way. It's about going about your business, how to help them prepare, how to help them go through the process of being a championship-type player.
I'm excited about what we're embarking on. So, again, I understand the disappointment of the fans in Miami, and I see the negativity that's been going on around us. That's a little -- it's one of those things you look at and don't quite understand, but maybe it's from what's happened in the past, and that's where you just encourage fans to know this is a different time. It's a different group. Give us a shot.
Q. Don, in the near term, how do you think you'll be evaluated as a manager from the front office?
DON MATTINGLY: I don't know. I don't know. And I don't worry about things like that. You go out and do my job the best way I can. I love where I'm at. I love what I'm doing. It's for somebody else to judge what they think -- you know, if you're the right guy for that. Again, I love what I'm doing. I love this game. I just keep moving forward, never look back, in that sense. So we'll see. If they don't like the job that I do, then they'll get another guy.
Q. Generally, it's wins and losses, but obviously you guys are kind of doing something different here.
DON MATTINGLY: Again, we don't plan on losing. We plan on winning. I'm not going to talk about losing. I'm going to talk about winning games. And that's not going to stop. It's never going to be different. I don't care what's going on.
We're going to talk about winning. We're going to be a competitive club from the standpoint of we're going to play the game hard. We're going to play it right. There's going to be competition for our guys to be a major league player. We're going to build an organization that says, hey, if you don't want to play the game the right way, we've got another guy coming, and that's the way it's going to be.
It's going to be a competitive world within the Miami Marlins organization.
Q. How many teams mentioned the last couple minutes, Joe Maddon's Rays before they got to the World Series, the Astros, they lost a lot as they were trying to build something. That's oftentimes just part of the reality of a build. How do you help guys get through that when in the clubhouse, obviously, winning is the goal?
DON MATTINGLY: I think you go through the process of winning. You prepare to win a game. You prepare to have a winning season. You prepare yourself as a player. We continue to coach. We continue as a manager to win a game. We're going to empower our coaches to continue to teach, develop, prepare to win games. We have to teach the process, and we have to build the process, help them grow into that.
We don't ever back off away from, again, worrying about what happened yesterday or what they think might happen tomorrow. It's win a game today. It's be ready to play. It's pretty simple honestly. You just don't give in to saying -- I'm never going to say we're going to be awful. We're not going to win. Never.
I've told players over the years I never, ever went into a game thinking we're going to lose. I don't care what the matchup is. I don't care who's pitching for their side and who's pitching for our side. I never, ever went into a game as a player or a manager or a coach thinking we're going to lose today. I think we're going to win.
Q. Don, speaking of winning, Buck is an old colleague of yours, old teammate of yours.
DON MATTINGLY: He's just old, isn't he? He's getting old.
Q. Fifth oldest manager.
DON MATTINGLY: Yeah, he is old.
Q. What's the most important lesson you learned as a player playing for him that you've brought into managing?
DON MATTINGLY: The thing that Buck had a view of was he had a good vision of who could play and who couldn't. To me, he knew exactly what he wanted in that locker room, the type of player that he wanted. That's what -- it's one of things -- he did a lot of things when he came in. He changed -- we were not playing very well as an organization.
Buck really was the first piece of stability of the New York Yankees. He was the guy that set the tone for what went on there. Joe came in after that, obviously, with a great group of players and did a tremendous job, and then Joe Girardi really followed that up.
So Buck started that train. Buck came in and put all the preparation stuff. We were going to prepare. We were going to do this. We were going to do that. If we don't have the right guy, we're going to move him on. Buck had a great vision for young players and what he wanted.
Q. Your experiences and what you feel of Gary Denbo brings to this organization?
DON MATTINGLY: That's another thing, we've put some new eyes in this organization. Derek bringing in Mr. Denbo, who is basically the architect of all of those great young players that the Yankees have in their system.
Again, that's our model from the standpoint of we're going to develop players. We're going to get as many good players in our system as we can layer after layer, where they're going to have to compete and fight to get through the organization, but we're going to help that player be the best player he can be.
That's Gary's specialty. He's a tremendous worker, has a great knowledge of what it takes, and very confident in where we're going with Gary Denbo.
Q. When you were a player in the early '90s and Gary is a minor league coach, did you know him?
DON MATTINGLY: I really didn't. I met Gary more after I was retired. I would go back to -- you know, go to Spring Training, and then I would go like AAA and instruction league and things like that, and Gary was the hitting coordinator at the time. So our interaction came through that, where I learned about Gary, and obviously he just kind of went on and grown and grown and grown from there. So that's where it started.
Plus he's from Indiana and really can't be that bad if you're from Indiana. You know he's going to be good. So that's where it started.
Q. You said that Stanton, obviously, is on the field what he has. Just off the field in terms of handling the media, he's been a guy -- just like Joel kind of asked you. If terms of dealing with that part of it, the extra part of it, what do you think he'll do?
DON MATTINGLY: As long as he'll be himself. It's the one thing that's tough because you're going to struggle at some point. New York is not a great place to struggle. The one thing about New York, for me, I loved playing there because it's kind of a no excuse town. But when you struggle for -- you could have had a good year or two. That's behind you. They want now. So you're struggling for ten days, you're going to have to live with it, and I think how you handle that is the important thing.
Although, again, as long as he's himself, continues to take care of his business on the field -- struggling in Miami is not like struggling in New York, but I think he'll handle -- he's a good person. He handles himself fine. So he'll be fine.
Q. To go back to J.T. real quick, to have a catcher with that well rounded skill set, why is that so valuable and so hard to find?
DON MATTINGLY: He's a leader. I think you look at a lot of the manager out there, ton of catchers. The game runs through that guy. He sees the game from right here, and everything's happening right in front of him. He knows that pitcher. He knows who's coming up, who we're going to pitch around a little bit. We're not going to let this guy beat us. And he has to be that guy that takes charge and runs that. There's times he needs to walk out that mound and makes sure that guy -- he sees something in that guy's face or that guy's eyes, he has to be the guy that takes charge of that and knows what's going on.
So it's a huge role. You get that guy behind the plate, it's just a huge advantage for me as a manager because he's basically a manager on the field. So as he develops -- again, back to A.J. We brought A.J. in as an investment -- and A.J. knows this, so I'm not like looking at this badly. It was an investment into J.T. and to his growth and helping him develop as a player. We think that was -- for me, that's money well spent because I feel like he took steps forward.
Does he need to continue to grow? We all do. You need to get better and better and better all the time, but we feel like that's there with J.T.
Q. You spent some time with Ichiro. How was he with you?
DON MATTINGLY: Ichiro is great. He's one of my favorites of all time. He's sneaky funny. But I mean, he's just such a professional. I got to watch him when I was doing the hitting in New York and watch him as a younger player in Seattle. Just tremendous, just so much fun to watch, the artistry and just who he is. I can't tell you how much respect I have for this guy, the way he prepared, the way he gets ready.
I think he was great for our club, for our guys seeing that professionalism and how he worked every day and continued to go through the process and just didn't look at -- just nose to the grindstone, work, work, work, prepare, prepare, prepare. I think he was really great for our players. To me, he's one of the best players I ever saw play. A different type player than a Giancarlo or a lot of different guys. But in his right and what he does, he was just an artist.
Q. Some people say that he could homer pretty much any time he wanted to?
DON MATTINGLY: I don't know about that, but I don't think anybody can homer any time you want to. He probably could have hit more. It's kind of like a Boggs-type thing where Wade took his hits, but he probably could have hit more homers if he wanted to take more chances. That's just not what his game was.