LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' front office has been certain Don Mattingly should be the club's next manager since spring training, when they formalized his position as Joe Torre's heir apparent with a new contract.
Now Mattingly just has to convince everybody else in Los Angeles he deserves it.The former Yankees batting champion was publicly anointed Friday when Torre announced his pending retirement. The move sparked cautious optimism in his players, but widespread criticism in the media and among fans who think the Dodgers should have gone with an experienced bench boss.
"I feel like I've been working for it for a long time," said Mattingly, who took up full-time coaching in 2004. "In my heart, I know I can do this."
The Dodgers know Mattingly as their hitting coach and batting practice pitcher, a relentless worker who rarely shuts up and never stops encouraging everybody to improve.
Next year, they'll find out whether Donnie Baseball's energy and enthusiasm translates into success with the Dodgers, who have fallen into public disarray during the messy divorce of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt.
"It's nice that we're going to have a familiar face with Donnie instead of a new guy coming in," outfielder Andre Ethier said. "It's not going to be a guessing game coming into next year, not knowing what we're going to get. But at the same time, it's definitely going to be different because of what Donnie brings in here."
Mattingly earned six All-Star selections, nine Gold Gloves, an AL batting title and the 1985 AL MVP award during 14 seasons with the Yankees, who retired the first baseman's No. 23 jersey even though he never led them to a World Series.
His coaching record is alarmingly thin, however. He spent the past seven years as Torre's assistant, but has never managed a ballclub.
"I'm sure I'm going to make mistakes, and plenty of them," Mattingly said. "But I'm willing to learn and keep working and working. I'll try my best not to let you down."
The 49-year-old Mattingly already made one of those mistakes in July while serving as the Dodgers' acting manager after Torre and bench coach Bob Schaefer were ejected from a home game against San Francisco.
After visiting the mound to speak with closer Jonathan Broxton, Mattingly walked away before turning around and speaking to first baseman James Loney, which constitutes a second trip to the mound. The Dodgers were forced to remove Broxton from the game because of Mattingly's misstep, and the Giants rallied to win.
Mattingly also messed up the Dodgers' batting order on his lineup card while filling in for Torre during a spring training game this year. The players uniformly praised Mattingly's reasonable personality -- but they also know it might change when he's in charge.
"There's got to be some fire under there," Dodgers slugger Casey Blake said. "I mean, he's Donnie Baseball. He's a fierce competitor, and he succeeded in a pretty tough place to succeed, New York City. So maybe there is something under there that's going to be a rude awakening for some of us."
Mattingly got solid results from his hitters until this season, when Los Angeles dropped to last in the NL in runs and batting average since the All-Star break while plummeting out of playoff contention.
"I think I've sabotaged our second half with our offense since the break," Mattingly said sarcastically.
General manager Ned Colletti's choice doesn't sit well with many Dodgers fans who would have preferred Tim Wallach, the former third baseman who has managed Triple-A Albuquerque for the past two years.
Wallach is considered a top managerial prospect with a reputation similar to that of former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia, another former Albuquerque manager who became one of the majors' most successful bench bosses down the I-5 in Anaheim after the Dodgers passed over him.