|DON MATTINGLY No-win situation?|
NEW YORK - Ask anyone who watched Don Mattingly hit and they would probably say he could be great at anything.
Bat resting peacefully on his left shoulder, knees dropping him slowly into a comfortable crouch, his entire torso poised to uncoil like a hungry cobra.
He pounced on pitches. High heat, soft stuff, didn't matter. Donnie Baseball could turn on Roger Clemens's fastball, drive a sharp curve into either gap, or skillfully slap a single the other way.
And oh, that lefthanded swing. Sweet as a steamy cinnamon roll at 6 a.m. Sloping shoulders, strong wrists, quick hands, smacking line drives all over the field.
Mattingly didn't necessarily say much. He let his bat do most of the talking. But now, it might be his turn to try managing the New York Yankees.
The question is, would he be ready?
A leading candidate to succeed Joe Torre, Mattingly never has managed before. Not in the minors, not in college, probably not even in a Sunday evening beer league.
Imagine him being handed the reins to the most famous and successful franchise in sports, a pressure-cooker of a job that comes with more distractions than Times Square.
Mattingly spent this season as Torre's bench coach following three years as Yankees hitting coach, tutoring the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada.
Not that Mattingly didn't work hard or produce impressive results. Jason Giambi credited him repeatedly for helping the slugger break out of a prolonged slump and rediscover his power at the plate.
Also under Mattingly, the Yankees led all major league teams in 2006 with a .363 on-base percentage and 930 runs. Good line on the résumé.
But this team is usually stocked with plenty of offense. A $215 million payroll can fetch you more than a few hitters on the open market.
The bigger issue in the Bronx is pitching, and Mattingly has little experience in that department. Not to mention fending off fussy owner George Steinbrenner and keeping all those egos at ease in a clubhouse filled with multimillion-dollar superstars.
Plus, by the way, the only acceptable result around here is winning the World Series. Otherwise, you're a failure.
No wonder why, in the days immediately following New York's first-round elimination from the playoffs, Mattingly said replacing Torre might not be the most enticing task.
"It's like following John Wooden or something," Mattingly said. "This guy wins championship after championship and we're in the playoffs in every year.
"It's pretty much a no-win situation for someone coming in here to be able to live up to the expectations or live up to what he did. It's not going to happen. So as far as someone coming in and taking over this job, it's not necessarily a great situation."
Still, Mattingly, 46, is scheduled to interview for the job this week with team ownership in Tampa. Yankees first base coach and former Royals manager Tony Pena also was invited to interview, along with Joe Girardi.
Girardi, a Yankees broadcaster, is considered a top contender as well.
He was a catcher and bench coach with the Yankees before winning NL Manager of the Year in 2006 for keeping the rookie-laden Florida Marlins in playoff contention most of the season.
"Just be yourself," was Torre's advice to whoever follows him. "If either one of those are offered the job and they say yes, they're certainly going in with their eyes wide open.
"They're both very intelligent and they both certainly know their baseball."
The club plans to interview up to five or six candidates, according to Steinbrenner's son, Hank.
The past few years, Mattingly was thought to be the successor of choice for some high-ranking team officials whenever Torre's term ended. A manager-in-waiting, so to speak.
Fans would love that.
A humble, hardworking everyman from Evansville, Ind., Mattingly is among the most beloved players in Yankees history, and he always receives one of the loudest ovations on Old-Timers' Day.
But perhaps the Yankees' hierarchy isn't sure he's ready to take over.
Maybe that's one reason the club offered Torre a one-year contract with a hefty paycut to stay on next season. On the off chance he accepted it, at least he would be grooming Mattingly some more.
There's no doubt, when Torre walked away it left a huge void in the Yankees' dugout. Maybe Mattingly will get the first chance to fill it.
Ready or not.