Mattingly's option should be picked up now

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers will not make any decision on Don Mattingly's future until after this season.

Team president Stan Kasten and owner Mark Walter have made that abundantly clear every time they have been asked.

Mattingly is working in the final year of his contract with a team option in 2014 looming this fall. His request to get the option picked up before the season was declined, and the team has chosen to wait until the season is over to decide his future with the team.

It's a decision that will continuously and needlessly loom over the Dodgers until they make a choice that should be crystal clear to them by now.

Mattingly should be the manager of the Dodgers next season and deserves to have his option picked up now, not two months from now.

Before Friday's game, the Dodgers announced Vin Scully would be returning to the broadcast booth next season. When Scully was asked why he decided to make the announcement now rather than after the season, he said it wasn't his idea.

"The Dodgers were the ones who felt it was the right time," Scully said. "They didn't want to wait until the last two weeks where we're facing the playoffs and all that stuff. I appreciated getting it out of the way."

The decision to announce Scully's return and Mattingly's potential return might seem like an apples-and-oranges comparison, but the motivation behind making the announcement on Scully now still applies.

Why wait on a making a no-brainer decision that would be in the best interest of the team and in the process avoid any potential distractions later?

Mattingly has avoided talking about his contract. It's one of the few questions the normally affable Mattingly hates discussing, preferring to keep the focus on the team and on the field. The problem is the longer this drags on, and the longer the Dodgers potentially play into the postseason, the bigger this story becomes when it could easily be nipped in the bud today with one meeting and one handshake.

"I'm not worried about any of that right now," Mattingly said. "I'm just worried about winning games. That's not even an issue."

It's not an issue for the Dodgers right now as they power through their schedule this summer, winning 46 of 57 games even after Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox, but it will certainly become an issue. Anytime the future of a manager is in limbo, it's an issue regardless of what anyone says.

The Dodgers' unwillingness to simply pick up the option on Mattingly's contract and commit to him for next season is almost laughable when you consider the amount of money the ownership group has thrown around since buying the team for a record $2 billion. Just last year, they made a blockbuster trade that returned them more than a quarter of a billion dollars in salary over the next five years.

Picking up Mattingly's option is the right thing to do. It's not a long-term commitment, but a good faith gesture for manager who has guided the Dodgers from the fourth-worst record in baseball on June 22 to a game out of the best record in baseball two months later.

Mattingly simply smiled when he was reminded how close he came to losing his job before the Dodgers' turnaround when Kasten came into his office and essentially told him he'd be forced to make a move if the team didn't improve. Mattingly would like to say he was out to prove people wrong like he did during his 14-year career with the New York Yankees, when the Evansville, Ind., native was simply known as "Donnie Baseball" and won nine Gold Glove awards.

"I'm competitive, but as a manager I just want to get my team to play their best baseball," Mattingly said. "That's my job and the coaches' jobs. It's to prepare these guys. It's a lot different as a player where you can actually do something about it. You can actually play. As a manager, you're trying to put them in the right position and get them to play their best baseball."

While Mattingly has often been the target of critics for his decision-making, his greatest trait as a manager is his ability to connect with his players and get them to play for one another. There are plenty of inflated egos and inflated salaries in the Dodgers' clubhouse, but Mattingly has found a way to connect the players and keep them connected even when the team was 12 games under .500 and in last place in the NL West.

"He's been there and done that," Nick Punto said. "He's 'Donnie Baseball.' He's seen a lot. He was in the Yankees' system, and that gives you a lot of credibility because the Yankees notoriously do everything right. He's just an intelligent guy who knows what he's doing. He brought us together when we were struggling and he pumped us up. He's very motivational. He definitely knows how to relate to players. He's in good standing with every single player. He knows how to handle personalities."

Players who leave Mattingly's office after being sent down or benched or reprimanded never seem to leave upset. There's always a sense that Mattingly still believes in them even while he's delivering bad news. It might seem trivial, but when you have the highest payroll in baseball with the resources to increase that payroll, sometimes it's just as important to have someone able to manage egos as it is someone able to manage the game.

"The one thing I've always promised them from the very beginning was I would never forget how hard the game is," Mattingly said. "I know sometimes they make it look really easy, but I'm not going to forget how hard it is. So I'm never going to come down on guys when they're struggling as long as they're working. I ask them to work and I'm not going to give up on them. I'm just not. I know they're going to go through slumps, they're going to give up hits, they're going to have bad outings, stuff like that happens in the game."

Mattingly's managerial philosophy and approach to dealing with players has not only been cultivated over his 35 years in baseball, but also by the teachings of John Wooden, a fellow Indiana native who came to Los Angeles to take on his first big coaching job. He has read "Wooden" -- John Wooden's book of observations and reflections on and off the court -- countless times and seemingly has most of the 201 pages memorized by now.

"John Wooden was the master," Mattingly said. "His stuff is so simple for me. It seems so simple. The simplicity of it works. And all the guys I played for. I coached under Joe [Torre], but I played for Billy [Martin] and I played for Lou Piniella and Dallas Green, all these guys you take something from. You also learn watching Tony LaRussa's teams and Jim Leyland's team and Mike Scioscia's teams. You take from everybody."

Mattingly has the ability to fall in line with some of the great managers he learned from and has a team that is doing its best to make sure he's here long term. The only thing left is for the front office to realize the Dodgers are more than just a hot team. They're a great team, and Mattingly has had plenty to do with their turnaround this season.

"At some point you got to quit calling it a hot streak," Mattingly said. "I think these guys believe that they're good now. I think they're really confident and I think they're together. I think all those factors tell you we have a group of guys that are playing together and having fun. They believe it and that's all that matters. These guys believe that we're going to win every day. That's pretty important if you got a team that believes they're going to win every day. It puts you in the advantage to start the day."

And the way the Dodgers are playing should put Mattingly in the advantage to keep his job at the end of the season.