Saturday, November 19, 2022

Memories With Don Mattingly

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

I have to admit that the 2023 MLB Season will be very different covering the Miami Marlins.

There is a new skipper in town that is named Skip Schumaker. 

I haven’t met him yet and I’m looking forward to working with him. 

The Marlins hired the 42-year old from the St. Louis Cardinals and the only adjustment that Schumaker will have to make in Spring Training is moving from one side of Roger Dean Stadium to the other since both clubs share the same facility.

During my 42-years of covering Baseball, I’ve worked with a lot of great managers.

Some that standout include: Sparky Anderson (Detroit Tigers), Tom Lasorda (LA Dodgers), Stump Merrill (New York Yankees), Jim Leyland (Detroit Tigers), Marc Bombard (Cincinnati Reds Organization), Barry Foote (New York Yankees Organization) and many others.

In the early 1980’s, I was covering the New York Yankees in Spring Training and Mattingly was working his way through the Yankees farm system. 

I also covered the Fort Lauderdale Yankees in the Florida State League. We never formally met but at a time when Owner George Steinbrenner was trading home grown prospects for proven veterans, Mattingly was never dealt.

He would go on and play 13 years with and he’s honored at Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.

To this day, and I will not let off the gas, he deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame!

I did meet Don at the 2017 MLB All-Star Game and I bought a hydro stone action statue of him in Cooperstown. I quipped with the Miami Marlins Manager on the field at LoanDepot Park, that I’m counting on you to make this a worthwhile investment! 

He laughed and said that I’ll do the best I can.

I never visualized at the time that I would ever be working with “Donnie Baseball” covering the Marlins.

But all of that changed when I started covering the team in 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic season for the South Florida Tribune via Zoom!

During those Zoom Calls, I really got to learn more about his knowledge of baseball, but what a nice person he is. As with the rest of my colleagues, this guy never dodged a difficult question. 

Since I didn’t know much about the Marlins at the time, I learned from my colleagues and focused on general baseball questions.

The one question that stood out is when I asked him about so many no-hitters in a short period of time early in the season. I wanted to ask this question the day before but waited until the seventh occurred regarding a Detroit Tigers pitcher. What I figured was just a general question turned out to be much more.

One of my colleagues, Craig Mish picked up on this and this quote went viral. He located it from the Marlins Communications Department then put it on his Twitter account thus, this comment went viral to the tune of over 392,000 watches. 

I thought it was my question. As it turns out, I met Mish at a Marlins game and asked him about it. He said it was and I was impressed that he was sharp enough to put it out there for what I considered a simple baseball question.

Since that situation, Mish and I became good friends and he always told me that if I needed his advice, he would be willing to give it to me. Craig is simply a class act!

But back to Mattingly.

When I finally did get to work with him in person as Media Availability’s took place in the Marlins dugout or on the field, I was amazed at how much he knew about the game of Baseball. If you didn’t learn anything about Baseball from Don Mattingly, then that’s on you.

In fact, Marlins Broadcaster Tommy Hutton told me on an Edition of Fire Up Florida, “If you can’t play for Don Mattingly, you can’t play for anybody!”

There wasn’t a question that I asked that never had a great answer! 

During our working relationship, I saw a friendship build.

Last year during Spring Training in the back fields, he asked me how I was doing and I told him that I was having lots of medical issues. Among those, I had two concussions. He said with a smile to just stay positive!

During the beginning of the season, I was unable to cover Marlins games during the week because I was still in concussion protocol.

In June, I took a business trip to North Carolina with my wife, then decided while I was meditating on the drive that I would against doctors orders that I would cover the Marlins during the week. This is what I do.

I saw Mattingly and he asked me how I was doing. 

I told him that I’m still dealing with these concussion problems and they’re extremely frustrating! 

I told him that I wanted to be at the ballpark and missed it during the week and enjoyed talking to him.

He put his hand on my arm and told me he had a player that was dealing with concussions. He emphasized that I needed to be patient and continue to work towards recovering!

Once again, his positivity was evident and we continued to see each other more frequently for the rest of the season. 

Mattingly hails from Evansville, Indiana and I’m from Detroit, MI.

Once upon a time the Tigers had a AAA affiliate in Evansville. He saw a lot of the players that I grew up watching.

Don is 16 months older than myself and here you have two midwestern guys in South Florida connected to a team that didn’t even exist in the 1980’s in the Major Leagues. The Marlins had a minor league team in the Florida State League.

During the year, I sensed that Don Mattingly’s career would wind down. He led the Marlins to the playoffs in 2020 ending a 17-year drought. I know he was hoping to build on that. He won the National League Manager of the Year.

But lets face the facts, the Marlins success depends on player development and not paying large salaries. He knew what market he was in and made the most of it.

His all-time record as a manager is 889-950 with a winning percentage of .483.

With the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was 446-362 and a .551 winning percentage.

In Miami, during a rebuilding period, the skipper was 443-587 and a .430 winning percentage. He leaves the franchise as the all-time wins leader.

This week, his ace pitcher Sandy Alcantara became the first Marlins pitcher to ever win a Cy Young Award. The two of us talked about this a lot. I know that back in Indiana he’s extremely proud of this accomplishment!

Although Mattingly didn’t get a managerial job during this wave of turnover, it’s inevitable another club will hire him and he’ll return when the time and situation is right!

The Marlins are hoping that he returns to the club in some sort of capacity.

During our last conversation in October, I told him that he was the best manager I had ever worked with and told him those that I was associated with. As usual, the exchange and respect we have for each other as we have for three years, was something that I’ll cherish internally as well as all of our memories.

I could tell in his body language, voice that he had taken the Marlins as far as he could and it was time for a new voice to pick up where he had left off.

For now, Mattingly can just enjoy the time with his wife and family and who knows as we inch closer to Spring Training, will he be on TV as a commentator, with the Marlins, etc… time will tell.

But during our exchange, I told him that I’m sure that our paths will cross again and he said, he expects that to happen!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com and you can find him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.

You can hear all of his broadcasts, streaming and as well as remote ones by Subscribing to the South Florida Tribune.



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