LOS ANGELES (AP) — Don Mattingly sat in his usual spot on the top of the dugout bench. Except he was wearing a black hat and jersey with a multi-colored ‘M’ on the front.
Yep, Donnie Baseball was back at Dodger Stadium on Monday night for the first time as the visiting manager. He brought a Miami Marlins team that is fourth in the NL East, 7 ½ games behind first-place Washington.
In the home dugout, first-time manager Dave Roberts has the Dodgers atop the NL West by 2 ½ games.
But Mattingly insists he wouldn’t change a thing. He said last fall was the right time to leave Los Angeles after five years as the Dodgers’ manager and three consecutive division titles. Officially, the convoluted explanation was that both sides reached a mutual parting of the ways.
“Pretty much everything here was a positive experience for me other than us not being able to take it to the next level,” Mattingly said.
He departed in October, not long after the Dodgers lost 3-2 to the New York Mets in a decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series. The Dodgers haven’t been in the World Series since 1988, when they won it.
The Dodgers showed a brief video of Mattingly’s years in LA before his pre-game introduction. He received a mixture of cheers and boos.
“He’s a great guy, you still miss him and the guys that were here last year,” Dodgers left fielder Kike Hernandez said. “I loved everything about last year and I’m always going to be thankful for the opportunity he gave me. Just really thankful to him for letting me be myself.”
Viewing a throng of media behind mirrored sunglasses, Mattingly refused to throw any of his former bosses under the bus. He said stories about the Dodgers front office dictating lineups and how to handle mercurial outfielder Yasiel Puig “got overplayed a little bit.”
“No, we’re not going to throw at him,” a smiling Mattingly said of the Cuban. “There’s not one thing that ever happened that wasn’t about him growing, being a better player and teammate. It was nothing personal. That’s what I tried to do. Maybe didn’t succeed in some areas.”
Mattingly worked last season under the new tandem of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi, who had greater hands-on management than what Mattingly had been used to under the previous regime. Between Zaidi’s expertise in advanced analytics and Friedman’s reputation for building a roster by crunching numbers, Mattingly had a plethora of data at his disposal.
“I enjoyed Andrew and Farhan a lot,” he said. “They think a little different, but that didn’t make it bad thinking in my mind. I learned a lot.”
Among his favorite Dodgers memories were winning the first of three consecutive division titles and “being able to watch their young lefty grow up,” he said, referring to two-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. “That’s pretty special.”
Moving to Miami reunited Mattingly with former Dodger second baseman Dee Gordon, who had already made the same move via a trade.
“I was very happy when I heard,” Gordon said. “He brings good direction, good leadership, so it was very good.”
With the Marlins, Mattingly has a group of young, mostly unproven players. Team owner Jeffrey Luria is an unabashed Mattingly fan from his years as a Yankees star and the two speak weekly, which is more than Mattingly ever heard from any of the Dodgers’ ownership group.
“I like the situation I’m in,” he said. “I love the challenge of what we’re trying to do here. I feel the same pressure to win here as I did on the other side.”