TORONTO – Over 1,785 big-league games as a star major-league player, another 1,839 as a manager plus seven seasons in between as a hitting or bench coach, Don Mattingly has built a uniquely deep and varied catalogue of baseball wisdom to draw from.
As the new bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, a hiring announced by the club Wednesday, the 61-year-old will apply it to a still young team looking to push beyond its two-game loss in the wild-card round after a 92-70 season.
“I’ve always found out there’s no reason to offer it if they don’t want it, let’s start with that,” Mattingly quipped of his approach to working with players during a Zoom chat with media. “There are different ways to get things across and there are different things that cause problems. Sometimes it’s the swing itself, sometimes it’s the thinking at the plate, either approach or lack of approach, an understanding of that.
“So you just have conversations and really, you have to build trust with these guys. They have to trust that you’re there to help. I’ve always come from that kind of teaching point, that, hey, I’m not here for me, I’m here for you and I want to help you in any way I can. If I’m suggesting something that doesn’t work for you and doesn’t fit, then get rid of it and it’s not going to hurt my feelings.”
Mattingly’s addition is likely to be the only significant change to manager John Schneider’s coaching staff, with general manager Ross Atkins saying everyone else will be back with the club in some capacity. Casey Candaele, who joined the Blue Jays as interim bench coach after the July firing of Charlie Montoyo, returns to triple-A Buffalo to manage the Bisons.
While there could be some minor tweaks at the big-league level, pitching coach Pete Walker and bullpen coach Matt Buschmann rightfully return, with hitting coach Guillermo Martinez, assistant Hunter Mense and hitting strategist Dave Hudgens leading the offence.
Given his stature as a six-time all-star and former AL MVP, Mattingly will work with hitters “more from a big picture and psychology standpoint as players want to lean on him and as coaches want to lean on him, but not from a leadership standpoint,” said Atkins.
His exact day-to-day duties are a work in progress and will evolve over time, added Atkins, but the Blue Jays believe Mattingly “can help us take another step from challenging one another to be the best we can be from a staff standpoint, from a player standpoint.”
Part of that is the way the longtime New York Yankees star and former Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins manager will help “with accountability, which will be huge for us,” said Atkins, a trait he mentioned a couple of times. “Coming from someone with his experiences to help players remember where to focus, where the important levers are to be pulling and how to give back to the process, he certainly has the credibility and experience to do that in a significant way.”
Mattingly – who will be reunited with five former Marlins in Yimi Garcia, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, Anthony Bass and Zach Pop and an ex-Dodger in Hyun Jin Ryu – said he didn’t plan on working so soon after parting with the Marlins, but was impressed by Atkins’ passion for the club.
He’d had interest from other teams, too, but didn’t pursue those and was convinced to join the Blue Jays after conversations with Schneider, who led a selection process with four candidates pared down from an initial list of 45.
Having seen the Blue Jays a handful of times in recent seasons, Mattingly was intrigued to join a team where “all the ingredients are there to win.”
A 19th-round pick in the 1979 draft who developed into a deeply admired and professional hitter who batted .307/.358/.471 over a 14-year career spent entirely with the Yankees, Mattingly should offer a needed and important dose of been-there, done-that.
“I feel like I’ve been through all phases of just getting to the league and trying to prove yourself and wanting to go show people that you can play, going through different stages, arbitration, contracts, struggles,” said Mattingly. “All those things are the same. We talk about how much the game keeps changing and evolving, but when a guy’s 0-for-15, he’s feeling just like I did when I was a player, so you draw upon that.
“Then as a coach, you’re drawing upon relationships that you have, experiences, interactions you’ve had with players, some of them that may not have gone right or the way you want them to go. You make changes. You go at it a different way. And so you use everything that comes across your plate, however that works, to get your message across.”