In the next 72 hours, Don Mattingly has a very good chance of unceremoniously being relieved of his duties as the Dodgers manager. Yes, he finished second in the National League manager of the year in 2013, but that means virtually shit when your employer spends more than the GDP of Palau and your season ends the same way as the Houston Astros.
Not winning it all.
While it may not be Mattingly’s fault, there has to be a fall guy. And as we know, managers are expendable. Hell, even the same can be said for 34-year-old first baseman with chronic back problems.
The year was 1995. After 14 years of “sticking it out” in the Bronx, Mattingly had finally reached the postseason. After a labor stoppage, an ever moving coaching carousel, and a sideburn fracas that still lives in infamy, Donnie Baseball breathed in that sweet sweet playoff air. Even though some critics were actually belittling the Yanks postseason entrance as it involved this novel and foreign “Wild Card” concept, it didn’t matter. It truly was a case of Billy Shakespeare airing it out there. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.
October baseball was on Mattingly’s resume.
No longer was the first baseman the hard-hitting slugger he was in the mid 80’s. Mattingly had been resigned to a gap hitter, whose line drives sometimes rose high enough to clear the fence. Many times they didnt. In 1995, he hit just 7 home runs, but unfortunately had only smashed 6 the year before. Time was running out.
So when they saddled up to take on the Mariners that year, it was now or never. In Game 1, the Yankees outlasted the Mariners and took the first of an eventual five game series. Then Game 2 happened and I was lucky enough to be there as a 15 year-old at my first playoff game.
Before I even get to the Mattingly portion of the night, I can truly say I will never, EVER, be to a game that crazy for the rest of my life. And not all had to do with on-field action. My father, brother, I were surrounded by a band of drunkards who began booing the Harlem Boy’s Club choir while singing the national anthem because they were “taking too long”.
Oh, it was going to be a good night.
The chants from the stadium faithful included the predictable “Asshole” and “Bullshit”, but also included “Fuck you, Jr. (Ken Griffey)” and “(Vince)Coleman Sucks”. Griffey responded with the “jerkoff” hand motion, but was smart enough to do it between innings where no camera caught it. While Coleman mimicked the chant with rhythmic body motions, which prompted dozens (yes i said dozens) of people to launch their beers and hot dogs in his direction.
But, I digress.
In the sixth inning of a 1-1 ballgame, Ruben Sierra launched a home run to give the Yankees lead. Twenty-minutes later after Sierra crossed home plate, Mattingly stepped up to the dish. The sheer excitement and noise reverberating throughout the stadium generated by pure anticipation was unlike anything I’d ever heard. So on the second pitch from Andy Benes, he sent the ball where 55,000+ only dreamed he could. My brother and I began yelling in excitement at each other and quickly realized we could not hear a noise from the other’s mouth. The sheer decibel force was a universal cry of jubilation that blocked out any real spoken word.
As we all know, the Yankees eventually won the game when soon-to-be serial drunk driver Jim Leyritz homered in the 15th. But, it creully ended four days later in Seattle with Ken Griffey Jr.’s sickeneing smile being branded on my brain forever.
In five games, Donnie batted .417 with four doubles and that one unforgettable home-run, but his time in New York had expired. Mattingly knew it and so did the Yankees, which made the transition slightly easier. Soon, Tino Martinez swapped his Mariners jersey for Yankee pinstripes and took over the right side, Mattingly’s stomping ground for the last dozen or so years. Ultimately, Martinez became a key player in the Yankees dynasty, powering the Bombers with 25 HR and 117 RBI in 1996.
So here we are again. Mattingly in the playoffs, his team not advancing, and his exit almost imminent. Life is cruel sometimes. And if the Dodger’s hire a new manager who takes home the title in 2015, then we know Donnie is a cursed soul, who was truly not meant to win baseball’s last game of the year.
But, that 1995 ALDS was something. It was a quick trip in the way-back machine to when he was perennial MVP candidate. It didn’t last long at all, but it won’t be forgotten.