Donny

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This is Don Mattingly’s second season as the Dodgers’ manager, and they currently boast the best record in the National League along with the surprising Washington Nationals at 12-4.

This is startling given the Dodgers needed a closing kick to finish 82-79 a season ago.

Two good things came out of 2011: Center fielder Matt Kemp’s second-place finish in the Most Valuable Player voting after swatting 39 homers with 126 runs batted in and a .324 batting average, and pitcher Clayton Kershaw winning the Cy Young.

Kemp’s off to another impressive start. Through this past weekend, he’s ripped nine homers with 22 RBIs and has a .450 average.

Right fielder Andre Ethier had an off-year in 2011 in which he struck 11 home runs with 62 RBIs. Ethier has four homers and 21 RBIs.

If the Dodgers make the playoffs, Kemp and Ethier will need to play at a high level, and so far Mattingly’s calm demeanor has allowed them to flourish.

After Sunday’s 12-0 road setback to the Houston Astros, Mattingly, a six-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glover with a .307 career batting average, was upbeat.

“You just kind of chalk it up as one of those days,’’ he said. “These games don’t happen to us very often.”

Even though, some managers would have panicked. Not Mattingly, who is a player’s manager.

In this regard, Mattingly, who smashed a career-best 35 homers with 145 RBIs in 1985 and was named MVP, is similar to Joe Torre, who spent three seasons in Los Angeles, and a dozen more as the New York Yankees’ skipper where he directed the club to six World Series appearances and four titles.

Mattingly is a laid-back, straight-shooter from Evansville, Indiana, but during his 14-year career with the Yankees that began in 1982, he was intense, but always cool.

During the mid-1980’s, Mattingly was considered the best all-around player in baseball.

Mattingly won the batting crown in 1984 with a .343 average, and set the big league record since tied with six grand slams in 1987, and tied the mark with homers in eight straight games that same season.

Beginning in 1984 and running through 1986, Mattingly bagged 200 hits with a high of 238, smacked 40 doubles with a best of 53, and from 1984 through 1987 drove in 100 runs.

A left-handed power hitter who drove the ball into the gap with regularity, Mattingly finished with 442 doubles, 222 homers, 1,099 RBIs, and 2,153 hits, but sadly played in one postseason.

True to form, Mattingly hit .417 with six RBIs and four doubles in a five-game loss to the Seattle Mariners in 1995, but clouted the go-ahead homer in Game 2 of the Divisional Series at Yankee Stadium.

A bad back forced Mattingly to retire at 34, and it’s a shame because he was deprived the opportunity to be part of a team that won multiple World Series.

Mattingly was New York’s batting coach under Torre, held the same post with the Dodgers, but had his eye on the Yankees’ managerial job that went to Joe Girardi in 2008.

Mattingly was left out in the cold. That is until the Dodgers hired him.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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