My favorite Don Mattingly story is one he probably wouldn't remember, and maybe that fact itself says plenty about the guy.

During a game in the late 1980s at Yankee Stadium, the Baltimore Orioles had a runner on second base and a certain hitter at the plate. I will not name this certain hitter because the story doesn't reflect well on him. 

With a runner on second base in a close game, this certain hitter -- a left-handed hitter, by the way -- hit a towering home run to left field. Sometime later, he crossed paths with Mattingly.

Mattingly brought up the home run.

"I gotta ask," he said. "Were you trying to pull that ball?"

This certain hitter shrugged.

"Ah, you know, I gave up on that stuff," he said.

This certain hitter meant that the Orioles were having a bad season, that he was playing for himself and advancing the runner from second base to third never crossed his mind. To Mattingly, it was inconceivable that someone would be at home plate and not try to get the runner to third. He thought the guy would naturally attempt to pull the ball to the right side of the field to advance the runner.

That little story, as insignificant as it might seem, reveals something of Don Mattingly's core belief about baseball. That is, the team is the thing.

At one point, Mattingly looked like he was on a Hall of Fame track, and for about six seasons, he was a great player, averaging 203 hits, 27 home runs and a .902 OPS. But he also believed that a player's responsibility was, first, to the team.

If you don't know one other thing about Donnie Baseball, know that. Plenty of people who've played with or worked with Mattingly through the years will tell you similar things.

One of those is Orioles manager Buck Showalter. He managed Mattingly for one season, 1995, Mattingly's last. Mattingly struggled for long stretches of that 1995 season, a victim of a bad back and other physical ailments.

Showalter was getting it big-time from the New York media -- and perhaps Yankees owner George Steinbrenner -- to drop Mattingly in the order or perhaps bench him altogether. (Sound familiar, Derek Jeter?)

One day, Showalter looks up from his desk to see Mattingly standing in his doorway.

"Buck, I know what's going on," Mattingly told him. "You shouldn't be taking all this heat because I'm not getting the job done. I just want you to know that you should do what's best for the team. I'll understand."

Showalter's temper flared.

"Listen," he said. "You don't come in here and tell my how to fill out my lineup card. You're my three-hole hitter today, and you're going to be my three-hole hitter tomorrow. Got that?"

Showalter retells the story with a mixture of respect and admiration for the kind of player Mattingly was, and more important, for the kind of man Mattingly is.

"That's just who he is," Showalter said. "Things aren't real complicated for him. And remember, he got hot after we had that talk."

The Yankees made the playoffs that season and were eliminated by the Seattle Mariners in a thrilling American League Division Series Game 5 in the Kingdome. It was the first and last time that Mattingly would play in the postseason.

On the plane ride home, Mattingly approached Showalter and Yankees executive Gene Michael.

"I'm not going to play next season," he said.


"I can't do the things I need to do," he told them.

Mattingly had hit .288 in 1995. He was 34 years old. Showalter and Michael were convinced he could still play. Mattingly wanted to do more than that. He wanted to be Donnie Baseball. If he didn't think he could help the Yankees in a significant way, he wasn't going to hang around to collect a paycheck.

Mattingly didn't announce his retirement for more than a year after that conversation. But because he'd given the Yankees a heads up that he wouldn't be playing in 1996, Michael pulled off the trade to put Tino Martinez in pinstripes.

So there you go, Dodgers fans. That's your manager in a nutshell. 

Don Mattingly won the AL MVP Award in 1985, but a back injury derailed his career. (Getty Images)

Building belief

Mattingly's hiring had been a controversial thing. After the 2010 season, Joe Torre retired and strongly urged the club to give Mattingly a shot.

That he'd never managed at any level didn't matter. Torre believed Mattingly's strengths -- intellect, people skills, patience -- far outweighed his lack of experience. He figured he could learn the rest.

Which Mattingly has done, having just led the Dodgers to a second straight postseason appearance. He's an example of how managing has changed in the last decade. These days, progressive front offices -- and the Dodgers have one -- furnish their managers with data to assist with lineups, matchups, etc.

What will never change is the human touch. Managers must convince players to buy into the team concept, to see every decision in terms of what's best for the whole. Torre knew that players would like Mattingly and that they'd respect him. He also knew he could learn all that other stuff.

And that's almost certainly the secret to Don Mattingly's success.

Unafraid of egos

Mattingly manages a difficult team. The Dodgers have big-money guys and big-ego guys. They have guys who came to Los Angeles with something less than the best reputations as team players. But Mattingly has made it work. Not that it has been easy. He has had dustups with an assortment of players when they did not do the basic things Mattingly believes a player should do.

Yasiel Puig clearly drives him crazy at times with his tendency to show up late, throw to the wrong base, show up the opposition, etc. He has also made it work, focusing on Puig's positive and his breathtaking talent.

Mattingly has had disagreements with others, and at times, he has called out the entire group. Through it all, he has never lost his team, either individually or as a whole. That's because players believe Mattingly is a fair man and that he will ask only that they play hard and put winning first.

For instance, when the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez during the 2012 season, Mattingly was peppered with questions. Ramirez had tested managers at times during his career. He didn't always seem like the best teammate.

So, Donnie, how are you going to deal with Hanley?

"I'm not going to prejudge him," Mattingly said. "I'm going to treat him with respect. I'm sure he'll do the same to me."

Ramirez has had trouble staying on the field, and that seems to frustrate Mattingly at times. Yet Mattingly has continued to nurture the relationship and to focus on Ramirez's strengths instead of his weaknesses.

Earlier this year, Mattingly moved Matt Kemp from center field to left because his defense was suffering, and he even benched him for a few games. While Kemp couldn't have been thrilled with that, he took to left field and recaptured his MVP form in the second half, posting a .309/.365/.606 line after the All-Star break.

Mattingly's strength as a manager was his strength as a player: stay consistent, do the right thing, outwork everyone else.

He has been second-guessed at times about his lineups, bullpen roles and the like. That's all part of the game. What that criticism sometimes overlooks is that if Mattingly can't make the clubhouse work, if the Dodgers don't have the right environment and attitude, then none of that other stuff matters.

Every strategic move is debatable, never as simple as fans and reporters would like to make it. But effort and team work are constants, and not having them will tear a club apart.

Mattingly waited a long time getting a public endorsement from the Dodgers' new owners, and he finally made his frustration public after last season. He essentially said that managing a big league team was difficult enough without having the uncertainty of his job security hanging over every decision.

He was rewarded with a new deal, and even though the Dodgers have spent virtually the entire second half of this season atop the National League West, Mattingly acknowledges the difficulties of running a club with big names, big money and very big expectations.

"We've had a little more turmoil back and forth," he told reporters recently. "A lot of things that happened behind closed doors and stuff that's going on that has just been tedious this year."

In June, Mattingly snapped after one tough loss.

"Basically, we're just not that good," he said.

Mattingly mentioned teamwork.

"That's the one thing you don't measure with numbers and that's the power you talk about with a group," he said. "We haven't felt that as a team."

In the end, the Dodgers won the NL West easily. They rolled behind Clayton Kershaw's brilliance and a string of guys carrying the offense. Now, they take those high expectations into a NL Division Series against the Cardinals. Game 1 is Friday night at Dodger Stadium, and the man who retired from the Yankees just before they started winning titles will try to bring the first World Series crown to Chavez Ravine since 1988.

Through it all, Mattingly's mantra to the club is fairly basic, and it's pretty much the same one he had in 1987 when he talked to that guy who didn't care about moving a baserunner from second base to third.

"I go back to respect," Mattingly said. "There were a lot of guys who went before us, and we honor the game by playing the game right. The fans are there. Doesn't matter if you're 10 up or 10 back, they're showing up. Out of respect for the fans, they deserve your best every day, to the organization itself and then to each other. That's all you ask."

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Richard Justice is a Sports on Earth contributor who joined as an executive correspondent in 2011. He has covered Major League Baseball for more than three decades.