From nearly fired to possibly on his way to being the Dodgers’ longest-tenured manager since Tommy Lasorda, Don Mattingly’s time on the bench in Los Angeles sure has had its fair share of peaks and valleys.

As tweeted by ESPN’s Sportscenter, Mattingly and the Dodgers agreed to an extension on Tuesday, Jan. 7, completing at-times contentious negotiations that should nonetheless keep him in L.A. going forward. 

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal indicates that the extension is two years, in addition to the one year currently on his contract:

If Mattingly manages the entire extension without being fired or resigning, he will be the longest-tenured manager since Lasorda, who presided over the Dodgers bench from 1976 to 1996. The club has hired seven different managers since then, none lasting longer than Jim Tracy’s five-year reign from 2001 to ’05. 

Mattingly is the only manager under the team’s current ownership, which includes former Lakers great Magic Johnson. All others were hired and let go by Frank McCourt or News Corp., the organization’s previous regimes. 

Although ownership looks to be all-in with Donnie Baseball now, this long-term extension seemed unthinkable midway through the 2013 season. With the Dodgers’ high-priced roster sitting at 30-42, playing listlessly and sitting in last place in the National League West, team president Stan Kasten made it clear Mattingly was on the hot seat.

So Mattingly laced up his cleats, put his foot into the behind of his team with a scathing summation of the roster and went to work saving his job. It is unclear whether it was Mattingly’s words, the arrival of Yasiel Puig and return of Hanley Ramirez or a combination of both that caused the Dodgers’ turnaround.

All we know is that whatever happened worked.

The Dodgers came back from their dreadful start, roaring back to take the National League West crown while compiling the best record in baseball over the second half. At one point they became the first NL team since the 1975 Cincinnati Reds to win 40 out of 50 games. They went 62-28 following their season nadir and looked primed for a run deep into the postseason.

In the end, Los Angeles came just two wins shy of going to the World Series. Although any team with a $200-plus million payroll is going to be disappointed, the turnaround is one of the best in recent MLB history. 

Despite the excitement, though, an undercurrent of tension carried over into the offseason. The Dodgers fired bench coach Trey Hillman without Mattingly’s consent in October, a move that stoked the fires of multiple public criticisms of management. While changes to managerial staffs are sometimes not up to the manager, rarely do you get anything except platitudes about “organizational decisions” in these situations.

But Hillman’s firing frustrated Mattingly, as did the Dodgers’ apparent unwillingness to commit long-term, per Billy Witz of The New York Times

With a club like this, you come in basically as a lame duck. With the guys that you have, it puts you in a tough spot in the clubhouse, so we dealt with that all year long. And really what it does, it puts me in a spot where everything I do is questioned because I’m basically trying out or auditioning to say: can you manage or can you not manage? To me, three years in, you either know or don’t know.

A couple months later, though, it seems cooler heads prevailed and the Dodgers realized Mattingly’s concerns were valid. Going into 2014 with championship expectations and a lame-duck manager would create an untenably tense situation, leading to a distraction that could submarine the entire season.

Signing this deal allows Mattingly to breathe easy. For now.


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