For the last eight years, Generation X Yankee fans have had to watch one of their heroes ply his trade on the wrong coast and in the wrong shade of blue. Between 1979 and 2007, Don Mattingly spent a total of 21 years as a member the Yankees organization, the last four as a member of Joe Torre's coaching staff. During that time, he ingratiated himself with the Yankee fan base perhaps more than any player in the franchise's great history. For that reason, when the organization decided to part ways with Torre following the 2007 season, Mattingly was the front-runner to take over as Yankees' skipper. However, Brian Cashman instead decided to hire Joe Girardi, leaving the franchise favorite without a baseball home for the first time in three decades. That is until Torre was hired to manage the Dodgers for the 2008 season and decided to take Mattingly with him to Los Angeles.
Despite looking out of place in Dodgers uniforms, Torre and Mattingly enjoyed success out west. They finished as the runner-up in the National League in both 2008 and 2009. When Torre decided to step down as manager following the 2010 season, Mattingly was immediately promoted as his replacement. In his five years steering the ship for the Dodgers they never had a losing record and secured division titles in each of the last three seasons. It still wasn't enough as another first round exit in the playoffs with a very high priced roster cost him his job this week. With Donnie Baseball unemployed again, does a return to the Bronx make sense for him?
While it's clear that the Dodgers were ready to move on from Mattingly, there must be at least some truth to reports that the decision was mutual. Being handed a roster with a payroll approaching $300 million is as close to a no-win situation as a manger can get in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win is unacceptable and that's simply not fair in today's expanded MLB playoff environment. Mattingly even admitted to being worn out by the unreasonable expectations and scrutiny from the fans, especially when the playoffs rolled around. In the brief aftermath since he stepped down, he's insisting that he's strictly interested in managing. but the down to earth Mattingly may feel differently once assessing what he's been through. In the short-term he could be better off staying out of the spotlight while rediscovering his passion for the game by latching on with a current manager's coaching staff. Why not Joe Girardi's?
The Yankees have an obvious vacancy at hitting coach, but if Mattingly is truly not interested in that position Girardi could shakeup his staff again to make room for him as bench coach. Current bench coach Rob Thomson's contract will expire at season's end so the opportunity is there for an upgrade to a fan favorite and someone who players love playing for. With young players such as Rob Refsnyder, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge likely to spend at least some time in the majors this year, Mattingly would also be there to impart his wisdom on what it's like to break in as a potential star in New York. Something he handled flawlessly while some of his contemporaries struggled mightily with it. At least kicking the tires on a possible Mattingly return should be a no-brainer for the Yankees and for him there's probably no better situation than coming back to the Bronx. The players will love him, the fans will love him and the pressure to win won't be squarely on his shoulders.
In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James described Don Mattingly in one beautifully concise sentence: "100% ballplayer, 0% bullshit." At a time when the Yankees are becoming more about developing ballplayers and less about bullshit, it would only make sense to see Donnie Baseball in pinstripes again.