LOS ANGELES – Don Mattingly typically wears his blue pullover when he meets the media in the dugout before Los Angeles Dodgers games and he keeps it on throughout the game, even during these warm, muggy late summer nights.
On Wednesday, Mattingly was displaying his blue mesh batting-practice jersey with the red No. 8 and said he would wear his jersey throughout the game, too.
He wears the number, after all, in honor of one of his mentors, Yogi Berra, who died Tuesday at age 90. When Mattingly became a Dodgers coach under former manager Joe Torre, he chose the No. 8 and stuck with it even after clubhouse manager Mitch Poole offered him his old No. 23 when pitcher Derek Lowe left for the Atlanta Braves. He kept it when he succeeded Joe Torre as Dodgers’ manager.
“Everything Yogi touches turns to gold and I was looking for gold,” Mattingly said. “There’s not a day I look at No. 8 and don’t think about him.”
Mattingly met Berra in 1981, when he was a 20-year old first baseman playing at Double-A Nashville and Berra was a roving instructor for the Yankees. He played for Berra in 1984 and 1985 with the Yankees before Berra was fired as manager by George Steinbrenner and replaced by Billy Martin. Mattingly said he patterns some of his behavior as manager on Berra’s player-friendly style.
“Yogi was the kind of guy that, if you went 4-for-4 or 0-for-4 during the game, if you’d see him somewhere afterward, it was going to all be the same,” Mattingly said. “It’s going to be, ‘How you doing, kid?’ The game’s over. I think that’s really important for a manager to be able to do that. I’ve played for guys who weren’t quite like that and it’s not near as much fun playing for them.”
The friendship continued when Mattingly’s career had long since ended and he was exploring getting into coaching. Torre asked Mattingly to shadow young first baseman Nick Johnson one spring and Berra was still working with Yankees’ players in Tampa. One day, Mattingly returned from a trip on the team bus to Bradenton, Florida. He walked into the clubhouse and found Berra sitting all by himself though the workouts had ended four hours earlier.
“I go, ‘Yogi, you been here all day? What are you doing here?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, it would have been all day at the hotel, too.’ “ Mattingly said. “I’m like, ‘Here we go. Yeah, you’re right, it would have been.”
Mattingly said he spent much of the day Tuesday watching remembrances of Berra on ESPN and other networks. He stopped to get gas on the way to Dodger Stadium and watched Berra on the small TV at the pumps.
“I think people had it right. The reason he was so beloved, it wasn’t really about his career even though he was a great, great player. It was about what a great person he was, the way he treated people, how humble, sincere, kind he was to people,” Mattingly said. “That’s really what defined him and I think it’s why he’s touched so many peoples’ lives.”