Mattingly wants purpose for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Monday was either the last time Don Mattingly will appear publicly as the Los Angeles Dodgers' manager, or the first day of his new long-term contract.

Any plans the Dodgers might have entertained about simply picking up the final year of his contract for next season -- which became assured when his option vested after the Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves to advance to the National League Championship Series -- are over.

He's either their guy going forward or he's out. The Dodgers might not be done evaluating him, but he's done with the evaluation period.

"I'm basically trying out or auditioning," Mattingly said. "To me we've reached that point. Three years in you either know or you don't."

Mattingly knew exactly what he was doing in forcing the issue Monday. So did the man sitting right next to him as he went out on that very thin limb.

"I hired Donnie," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "I've been supportive of Donnie all the way through. I have a lot of respect for this guy. He kept it steady through a tough period of time. He kept our team together. I've been a supporter of his since the day he walked in as a hitting coach six years ago."

In other words, it's not up to Colletti. If it was, this would've been settled a long time ago.

No, this is the call of team president Stan Kasten and the rest of the Dodgers' still-new owners from Guggenheim Baseball Management. In the year and a half since they bought the team from Frank McCourt for a record $2.15 billion, the new owners have been diligent and deliberate in evaluating the staff they inherited.

By all accounts, they have been remarkably fair. Most of the top-level executives have kept their jobs, even if there have been others hired to fill out what had become a Spartan operation under McCourt. Colletti even signed an extension last winter.

Mattingly and his staff are the last group to learn their fates. Their evaluation period has been the longest of all, perhaps because it is the most important decision of all.

It is absolutely Kasten and Guggenheim's right to do so. When you buy a team, you get to hire your own people. It's no different than a new creative director at an advertising agency cleaning house and hiring familiar people.

Everyone associated with the Dodgers knew that was a possibility from the moment McCourt decided to sell the team. All they could ask for was a fair chance to prove themselves.

But uncertainty weighs on even the stoutest character eventually. You can only twist in the wind for so long.

Trust erodes. Confidence wanes. Insecurity breeds resentment.

That's what you saw on display Monday as Mattingly outed all the internal issues that have been bubbling beneath the surface of the organization since the new guys came to town.

The push to reshape and remake has been so strong these past two years, it's left everyone involved a bit dizzy.

Now, the Dodgers made the National League Championship Series this season and were a few clutch hits away from a trip to the World Series, so that dizziness hasn't been a wholly destructive force.

But what Mattingly means is that it's time to move forward. With a philosophy, with a purpose and with a manager and a staff that have been fully empowered to enforce all of it.

It's why he was so blunt when asked about Yasiel Puig on Monday.

"There's got to be a developmental system we adhere to with Yasiel, as well as all of the other guys," Mattingly said. "Kids that come up [to the majors] have to know the game and play -- the Dodger Way, or the Cardinal Way or whatever organization's way.

"That comes from learning the game and being developed and understanding, 'This is what we believe in. This is what we do as an organization.'

"We have to do a better job of helping these guys understand that. Because when you make mistakes against teams that are just as good as you are, then you lose. And when you get to the playoffs, you're playing teams that are just as good as you are. When you make mistakes, you lose."

The organization's plan out of spring training was to leave Puig in Double-A for most of this season, if not all of it. They even promoted less-talented but further-developed outfield prospects such as Scott Van Slyke ahead of him, to get his attention.

But when the club sputtered out of the gates, there wasn't time for any more lessons or development. They needed his talent.

It saved their season and ultimately defined it. These Dodgers, the ones who lost to the less talented but far more ideologically connected St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, lived off their talent but never their "teamness."

They bonded, all right. Well, in fact. Mattingly, his staff and the team's leaders did an excellent job of molding this collection of supremely talented, exceptionally well-paid players together into a historically good team.

But you never got the sense they all believed in the same things. They won so many games after the All-Star break because they were flat-out better than everyone and finally started walking around with some swagger.

It's time now for the Dodgers to believe in more than talent. The new ownership group has proven it is serious about winning 10 times over since buying the franchise. The fan base is back. The Dodgers are back. It was a remarkably successful season, and a hell of a lot of fun.

To build off it, though, the transitional period has to end.

Commitments must be made -- to a set of philosophies, to players and to the people entrusted with creating the new "Dodger Way."

It starts with deciding whom and what you believe in.

Whether Don Mattingly is a part of that future or not, he did what was best for the organization Monday by pointing that out.