LOS ANGELES — Regardless of what the Dodgers say or how they say it, their delay in announcing the return of Don Mattingly as manager Wednesday morning still didn’t feel right.
It shouldn’t have taken this long. It shouldn’t have been so awkward. What should have been a celebratory news conference for a man who guided the Dodgers to the National League Championship Series last fall was instead reduced to a conference call.
Blame the weather. The Dodgers wanted Mattingly to fly into town earlier this week for the announcement, but flight delays across the country forced them to cancel. And the freezing weather left Mattingly’s Indiana home with several broken pipes, so maybe it was a good thing he stayed home.
He knew where we were at, we knew where he was at, he wanted to be back here and we wanted him to be back here. As long as he knew that and we knew that, we didn’t see a rush to do it.
Ned Colletti, Dodgers GM
Either way, it’s done. Mattingly has three years to manage the team, and he has the credibility within the clubhouse that he needs going forward. Nothing mattered more to him than that.
What about the contract? Colletti said the deal was essentially done three weeks ago except for some fine-tuning. The fact it took so long was only because the team was tending to other business, he said. They knew they wanted him back.
"We had other things to do as well," Colletti said. "He knew where we were at, we knew where he was at, he wanted to be back here and we wanted him to be back here. As long as he knew that and we knew that, we didn’t see a rush to do it.
"What was the rush for the announcement?"
It wasn’t necessarily a rush, but it should have been a formality. Instead of Mattingly facing the media and saying he didn’t want to feel he was still auditioning for the job, the Dodgers should have made that the day they said he was coming back.
So even though he wasn’t in limbo — at least that’s what Colletti insisted Wednesday — it still seemed as if he was.
It’s not the way the Dodgers do things. They don’t, or at least they didn’t, let matters like this get so uncomfortable. They act quickly, do the right thing and move on. But this was different.
Understandably, his frustration took over that day. He had no assurances about his long-term future, and the team didn’t even announce that his contract had been vested for 2014 with its advancement to the NLCS. Mattingly had to do that himself.
"I kind of thought, at least, that would have been said that day, but it kind of got left open, and that’s what got me going a little bit," he said Wednesday. "If I had it to do over again, I would prefer to do it in-house."
But that didn’t happen, and it left him hanging. He said he didn’t intend to force the Dodgers’ hand with his pronouncement that he didn’t want to be anywhere he wasn’t wanted, but that’s exactly what he did. In a way, he had no choice.
"I didn’t go into that press conference with any preconceived notion about doing anything like that," he said. "Looking back at that day, when you get away from it for a while — at the time, you’re just out of the playoffs, it’s been a long season, a lot of different things have happened, there’s frustration — things just come out of you."
In fact, they poured out of him. But after conversations a few days later with team president Stan Kasten and controlling owner Mark Walter, Mattingly said he felt content that things would work out. And he also had Colletti in his corner.
"I don’t think anybody felt any differently about Don Mattingly from before that to after that to today," Colletti said of the now-infamous media conference. "It was always in our plans to do what we’re doing today."
Perhaps, but it should have been sooner.
The Dodgers owed Mattingly that much. He earned it.