A week ago Monday at Dodger Stadium, it should have been Donnie Baseball’s night to shine.
As manager of the Dodgers, Don Mattingly was the acting host to Jackie Robinson Day at the stadium, where he greeted the Robinson family and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars – Harrison Ford, who portrays Brooklyn General Manager Branch Rickey in the new Jackie Robinson film “42.”
Ford was even throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the game, and he appeared excited and nervous, carrying his own 35 mm camera so that his wife, actress Calista Flockhart, could take their own personal pictures of the special event.
But the most visibly nervous person of all was Donnie Baseball. After more than 7,000 at-bats in a 14-year career playing in Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built and in front of the most ruthless fans in baseball, here was Don Mattingly having a difficult time handling the role of introducing the Robinsons, the Fords and other dignitaries to each other and to his own star players.
Tommy Lasorda, who used to dine with Frank Sinatra and his pals, could have done it in his sleep.
Which is the point.
It was a moment for Donnie Baseball to truly stand up and hit a personal home run. But instead he hit a single, at most a double, something he was magnificent at when playing for the Yankees, though the Yankee fans expect far more from their stars.
In 2013, in Mattingly’s third season as manager of the Dodgers, the issue of how at-ease Donnie Baseball truly is in handling himself around multi-millionaire stars seems important to raise -- because the players who were young when he was Joe Torre’s right-hand assistant and in his first year as manager have become grown men with multimillion-dollar contracts and fat heads in a city that reinforces their identity as stars.
If the career of Phil Jackson in being able to coach sensitive, temperamental millionaire stars to 11 NBA titles proves anything, it is this: It takes a special talent to continually inspire, direct, motivate and counsel talented rich athletes who think they have it made, and to tell them success will not be automatically handed to them.
For this is who the Dodgers are now.
No fewer than 18 Dodgers are earning at least $1.45 million this season.
And that’s just what reliever Ronald Belisario, hanging on to his job by a thread, earns. Juan Uribe, who doesn’t even play every day, makes $7.3 milllion, if you can believe. There’s seven players making $11 million and up.
Every night, when TV shows the lineups, the screen should should show the annual salary along with the players' position and batting average. That would put today's national pastime in perspective in the national economy, unemployment and the guy who can no longer afford to go to the games.
So how does Donnie Baseball, one of the nicest guys to ever play the game – and that’s how Mattingly is generally known – get a team unlike any he ever played on, inspired?
Or does he?
After the slow start to the season, there has already been one reputable get-rid-of-Mattingly call – from LAObserved.com’s Phil Wallace, who has called for a straight-up trade: Mattingly for the Angels’ Mike Scioscia.
Mattingly is in the final year of his contract, and his star has been hitched to General Managr Ned Colletti, who dates back to the old Dodger ownership, which must be hardly assuring to him. So there’s no telling how the new Guggenheim Baseball Management would look upon a campaign that doesn’t at least get the New Rich Boys of Summer Dodgers into the playoffs.
It is all still too early, traditional baseball people will tell you.
But when you have a bleeding business with a payroll approaching a quarter-billion dollars, is it ever too early?