Manager Don Mattingly is in his fourth season with the Miami Marlins. The former New York Yankees star has a good relationship with his young players, thanks to his patience and ability to relate. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, April 22 (UPI) -- Journey's Don't Stop Believin' screams out of the Miami Marlins clubhouse speakers and despite the MLB's worst record, belief remains for the guys gilled in fish threads this season.
One of the main reasons for that belief is the skipper sailing the ship, Don Mattingly.
The former hard-nosed Minor Leaguer admits that he didn't have the most talent as a young player, but his Big League resume includes an MVP award, nine Gold Gloves, six All-Star selections and a batting title.
Mattingly -- who celebrated his 58th birthday Saturday -- was a 19th round pick in the 1979 MLB Draft. He spent the majority of his first four seasons in the Yankees' farm system before breaking into the bigs full time in 1983.
You won't find a manager to actually say he would rather coach a squad full of projects than be handed the keys to a Ferrari-like machine of superstars and veterans built to make a postseason run. But you get the feeling that Mattingly just might chose the former.
"I like seeing guys get better," Mattingly told UPI. "I feel like I have a decent understanding of what guys go through and I kind of came through the Minor Leagues and had to make my way through."
"I wasn't a can't-miss guy or anything like that. I had to work to get somewhere and I know what they've been through. You know they are going to get better and there are ways to treat guys with respect that know they are trying to get better -- even know we haven't played well and haven't been winning.
"Still, when you get ready to play, it doesn't change things from that perspective. You gotta get ready and you gotta get better. I feel like I have an understanding of what they go through."
The Marlins have one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball and are loaded with players who once were prized prospects at other clubs. Part of the reason for that was the departures of stars like Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.
Mattingly watched those MVPs leave, only to be replaced by inconsistent, young talent in need of a mentor like himself. The manager also remained in his position, despite a team ownership change.
"He definitely seems excited from the get go from last year with the new ownership and everything that happened he was definitely excited to start something from the ground up and be a big part of that," said Lewis Brinson, one of the players the Marlins received from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Yelich trade. "So we are definitely excited from him to be around for a good little bit."
The 2019 campaign has started off historically bad for the Marlins, who were swept three times in the first six series to open the season. The 50 percent sweep rate is twice that of what the team endured last season, when the Marlins lost 98 games.
Since Mattingly took over in 2016, the Marlins have lost an average of 88 games per season. The team went 79-82 in his first season before posting a 77-85 mark in 2017. The Marlins have opened the season with 11 different managers in 27 seasons. Mattingly is in the fourth year of his tenure. No Marlins manager has ever made it into his fourth season without being fired.
Mattingly came to town after Mike Redmond was fired during his third season. Ozzie Guillen lasted just one season before Redmond. Four different managers led the team between the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Marlins third base coach Fredi Gonzalez was fired during his fourth season. Joe Girardi was fired after one season. Jack McKeon retired after the 2005 season, only to return to the role later. McKeon later was fired during his tenure as an assistant with the Marlins.
The Marlins manager is in the final season of his contract with the franchise. His fate is partially placed in the hands of Marlins part owner Derek Jeter, a former Yankees teammate.
When Jeter was asked about Mattingly's fate at the end of the 2018 season, he didn't offer much about his long-term plans.
"He's under contract, right?" Jeter asked rhetorically.
Martin Prado is one of oldest players on the Marlins' active roster. The 35-year-old said Mattingly uses his experience to set an example for the team's young core.
And Prado has a good eye for experienced managers. The veteran infielder played for Hall of Fame skipper Bobby Cox and the World Series-winning Girardi before joining the Marlins in 2015.
Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly is on the final year of his contract with the franchise after agreeing to the four-year pact in 2015. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
"He's really understandable," Prado said. "He communicates with players. It doesn't matter if you're a rookie or veteran, he will always tell you his perspective and point of view or anything to talk about baseball. Sometimes it's good when you have a guy with experience who can share information about baseball with you."
Joe Maddon managed the Chicago Cubs to the latest sweep of Mattingly's Marlins. But it wasn't always smooth sailing for the World Series-winning skipper.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays posted a 61-101 record in Maddon's first season managing that franchise. Three seasons later, Maddon had the team lifting an American League pennant after posting a 97-65 record. Maddon's Cubs won at least 92 games in each of his last four seasons with the team.
Maddon said that although the Marlins are "rebuilding," they have a "lot to look forward to" when it comes to the pitching staff. He said the Marlins' arms are the best the Cubs have seen in 2019.
"There are a lot of guys I like on this team," Maddon said. "... I think their pitching is outstanding. We saw three really good starters and I've seen nothing but great arms out of the bullpen. They are legit on the mound. Among the position players, they are still working through some things there."
Brinson said that Mattingly "just gets it" and can relate to the younger players on the roster. The Marlins manager knows a language young players understand.
Teammate Curtis Granderson is one of the most positive players in the locker room. Granderson, 38, had a smile on his face when he addressed reporters Friday. Part of that aura seeps from Mattingly, who didn't see as many wins as some people think when he was with the Yankees.
The "Bronx Bombers" won back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978, before losing the World Series in 1981. Mattingly made his debut in 1982, when the Yankees went 79-83. New York made the postseason just once during his 14 year tenure with the franchise.
"He has seen highs and lows," Granderson said. "He has played through highs and lows. People forget that although he was a Yankee, a lot of teams he played for weren't very good. He has had a chance to battle through it and find a way to do the things he could day in and day out to do the things to give his team an opportunity to win."
"Now, he is doing the same things from a managerial side by letting the coaching staff and each individual position go out there and do what they are capable of ... and just reminding all the guys, whether you are a first year guy up here or a guy like myself, go out there believe in yourself, trust yourself and go out and go ahead and do it.
"I think it's a constant state of just reminding, and sometimes you need that a little bit."