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Opinion | Blue Jays’ offer — and their potential — brings Don Mattingly back to the game sooner than expected

Don Mattingly spent the last 12 years as a manager in the National League. One might have assumed after such a long stretch the six-time all-star would need a break.

Mattingly initially thought that, too. When he mutually parted ways with the Miami Marlins in October following a seven-season stint, the 61-year-old thought it would be the perfect opportunity to spend more time with his family before embarking on the next chapter of his career.

Then, once the off-season began, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins called with a unique offer. The Jays were looking for a bench coach, but not one that came with a traditional job description. They wanted a jack of all trades, someone who would become a trusted confidant of rookie manager John Schneider while also lending a hand in multitude of other ways.

Mattingly, a former NL manager of the year, was intrigued. He saw a chance to combine an array of skills picked up over a 40-year career and put them to good use. He could become a sounding board for Schneider, another set of expert eyes for the hitters and a personal tutor for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base.

There was a lot to like about the surprise proposal and suddenly that year of rest and relaxation wasn’t as appealing. Neither was a reported opportunity to become a broadcaster for the YES Network in New York. Mattingly was ready to get back to work.

“Coming into a bench role that was basically just sitting with the manager and going along those routes was not a lot of interest,” said Mattingly, who admitted he was approached by a couple other teams. “But from the standpoint of having an interest in those other things, collaborating with the rest of the staff …

“Ross seemed to believe I brought something to the table — and that was really interesting — in more than a strict bench coach role.”

The other part that interested Mattingly was the Jays’ ability to contend. Despite an illustrious 14-year career with the Yankees, Mattingly doesn’t have much experience in the post-season. He played for New York during a dry period when the club was never quite good enough. The only time he made the playoffs was in 1995 and he retired following a first-round loss.

As manager, Mattingly led the Los Angeles Dodgers to the post-season from 2013 to 2015, but he never advanced beyond the NL Championship Series. In Miami, Mattingly’s low-budget team only made the playoffs once and it came during the 2020 COVID-abbreviated season. The Jays, meanwhile, made the post-season this year and expect to be back again in 2023.

“Experience, credibility are words that get used a lot in professional sport, in life and in corporate worlds, it’s hard to quantify exactly how valuable that is,” Atkins said when asked what Mattingly brings to the coaching staff. “But I think it’s something that will create that calming influence, and help not only with performance and lack thereof, but also with accountability.

“Coming from someone with his experiences, (he can) help players remember where to focus, where the important levers are to be pulling and how to get back to the process. He certainly has the credibility and experience to do that in a significant way.”

The Jays wouldn’t have been able to make a move like this a year ago, when Charlie Montoyo was still around and facing an uncertain future. Bringing in an accomplished coach like Mattingly back then would have become an unnecessary distraction because of Montoyo’s lack of job security.

That shouldn’t be an issue here. Atkins fired his manager in July, and he can’t pull that card again any time soon. Schneider also has the security of a three-year deal while Mattingly almost certainly will become a managerial candidate for another team next off-season.

Despite those assurances, Mattingly’s top priority was making sure Schneider was on board. Once the two talked, he realized his presence wasn’t going to be an issue.

“I’m here to support John in anything he wants me to do,” Mattingly said. “I’m sure he’ll define the role as it goes, but that was the most important thing to me. Getting comfortable with John, and more than anything, John getting comfortable with me.

“I’m not much on the ego side. I’m here to help him. I don’t want any trouble, I don’t want to cause any friction at all within this staff. I want to be a part of it. Just humble myself and do the work.”

Mattingly’s arrival has jettisoned Casey Candaele back to his previous role as manager of Triple-A Buffalo, while the rest of the Jays’ staff is set to return. That’s one off-season priority taken care of, but the much bigger goal of upgrading the roster remains a work in progress. Mattingly should help; a new outfielder and starting pitcher would help even more.


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