Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

Donnie Baseball returns to LA with no hard feelings

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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 1/2 games behind first-place Washington.

In the home dugout, first-time manager Dave Roberts has the Dodgers atop the NL West by 2 1/2 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.”

Meanwhile, in baseball fashion . . .

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Baseball fashion, like non-baseball fashion, is a cyclical thing. It lags the culture at large in a lot of ways, of course, but it still follows it.

Everyone had a haircut you could set your watch to until the 1960s, but then things got long and unruly and facial hair got popular too. Baseball followed in the 70s. CopStaches, blow-dried mullets and the like proliferated in the late 70s and early 80s in America at large and then they followed suit in baseball shortly thereafter. Beards got hip several years back in society, now they’re all over baseball. Ballplayers are human just like anyone else.

But I do think we’ve reached peak scraggly beard. And people outside of baseball are noticing too:

 

I don’t want to go back to crewcuts or CopStaches, but I do feel like we need a change. And a few hundred razors.

The Braves’ offensive futility is utterly gobsmacking

Associated Press
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The Braves got beat 1-0 last night. Not surprising. They really can’t hit a thing. This morning, Mark Bowman of MLB.com passes along a couple of reminders of just how bad they are.

He tweets that three of the Braves’ five clubs — the big club and its four minor league affiliates whose seasons are underway  — were in action last night. The entire organization went scoreless, with Atlanta losing 1-0 to Boston, Triple-A Gwinnett losing 4-0 to Columbus and Double-A Mississippi losing to Biloxi 5-0. That’s quite a thing.

As far as the big club goes, Bowman notes that Atlanta has gone 14 consecutive games without hitting a homer. The last time they did that was September 11-26 1970. Meanwhile:

 

I get rebuilding. I get that there are a lot of prospects in the system. But the Braves built a virtually unwatchable club of sub-major league talent for 2016. I expect at some point the brass will make a plea to the fans for patience or they’ll get defensive about this sort of criticism, but this is their doing. They have to own it.