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Don Mattingly won't be your traditional bench coach with Blue Jays

Yahoo Sports Canada logo Yahoo Sports Canada 2022-12-01 Ethan Diamandas
Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and new bench coach Don Mattingly spoke to the media on Wednesday. (Getty) Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins and new bench coach Don Mattingly spoke to the media on Wednesday. (Getty)

Toronto was never on Don Mattingly’s radar.

The 61-year-old baseball lifer had just parted ways with the Miami Marlins, where he served as manager for seven years, and didn’t have any plans for the upcoming season. When his phone rang and Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins was on the line, it caught Mattingly off guard.

“[I was] pretty surprised, honestly,” Mattingly said in a Zoom press conference with Toronto reporters Wednesday. “I didn't really think about Toronto at all. I'd seen their club; I knew they had a good club. But when Ross called, in just the first conversation, it felt great.”

Mattingly said he spoke to other teams but wasn’t enthused by what they offered. At this point, he had no interest in a traditional bench coach role, which would’ve involved sitting next to the manager and making in-game decisions. 

Instead, the Blue Jays came to him with something unique.

His official title will say bench coach and the finer details of Mattingly’s role are still being ironed out, but a few things are clear: he’ll work heavily in collaboration with sophomore manager John Schneider; he’ll be leaned on for leadership and discipline inside the clubhouse, and he is expected to be a massive crutch for players, especially on the psychological side of things.

“I'm not much on the ego side at all,” Mattingly said. “I feel like I'm here to help, here to help [Schneider]. I don't want any trouble. I don't want to cause any friction at all within this staff. I want to be part of it and just humble myself and do the work and help players. It's what I love doing.”

On the surface, this hire indicates a culture shift of some sorts, with Mattingly presumably adding an “old school” voice to a young team and young coaching staff. There’s a long list of reasons why Mattingly is a great fit in Toronto. His clubhouse influence is one of them.

“Most importantly, [Mattingly] will help the group and the staff from a leadership and accountability standpoint,” Atkins said. “Not that that was an area of need, but I think it helps us take another step."

Perhaps Mattingly will add the right dose of gruff, no-nonsense baseball leadership that was once much more common in baseball. We’ll never know for sure until the season starts. But when Mattingly spoke Wednesday, a teacher archetype bled through. This is a man who, after 26 years in the league split between playing and coaching, still has plenty to give.

“I felt like I've been kind of through all stages,” he said. “Just getting to the league and trying to prove yourself and wanting to go show people that you can play. Going through different stages, arbitration contracts, struggles. All those things are the same.

“We talk about how much the game keeps changing and evolving, but when a guy's 0-for-15, he's feeling just like I did when I was 0-for-15. So, you draw upon that.”

As Mattingly explained, certain aspects of baseball remain unchanged. But in coaching, flexibility is key.

“As a coach, you draw upon relationships that you have, experiences, interactions you have with players,” he said. “Some of them may not have went right, or the way you wanted them to go. You make changes; you go at it a different way … However that works to get your message across.”

When the Blue Jays transitioned from Charlie Montoyo to Schneider in July of this past season, players spoke on the record about how impressed they were with Schneider’s ability to handle key figures, like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and hold them accountable for their mistakes.

Mattingly’s relationship with the Blue Jays’ star players is off to a good start. The new Jays coach has already heard from Bo Bichette (Mattingly found a bit of humour in the fact that his five-month-old goldendoodle is also named Bo). Mattingly, who won nine Gold Gloves at first base, is also ready to help Guerrero with any tweaks he needs or conversations he wants to have regarding defense, hitting, or anything else.

By default, the Blue Jays are already in a better position to win with Mattingly on the staff. With his baseball brain, followed by a dash of spending in free agency and a healthy offseason for the players, Toronto should be set for another competitive season in 2023.

“There's passion around the club,” Mattingly said. “I think all the ingredients are there to win.”

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