Dodgers prove chemistry means more than payroll
The irony was striking. With the Dodgers evolving into the latest Major League Baseball team to prove that dollars spent before a season doesn't always translate into championships, Don Mattingly was the guy this week putting the whole thing into perspective.
You remember Mattingly, otherwise known as Donnie Baseball, the Yankees' most beloved player after the days of Reggie, Thurman and Catfish until Derek Jeter came along. The bulk of Mattingly's 14 Major League seasons occurred in the 1980s, when the Yanks famously used George Steinbrenner's checkbook to purchase more players than anybody by a bunch.
The Yankees won zero World Series titles that decade.
Simply put, chemistry trumps cash. And don't even try to go there with those victorious Marlins teams out of nowhere.
They were a fluke -- twice.
The Dodgers are more the reality for teams trying to buy their way to the top, and except for that view of the mountains beyond the outfield fences of Dodger Stadium, it isn't pretty these days around Chavez Ravine.
"It may be a day here or a day there, but it hasn't felt like a true team at this point where we're all on that Tommy Lasorda end of the rope and worried about the Dodgers and, 'This is where we're going, and I don't care what happens today, and we're going to get there,' " Mattingly told reporters, giving his managerial perspective of what his Dodgers have gotten for their baseball-high payroll of $239 million after two months of the season.
Added Mattingly: "We talk about this all the time within the staff and with different guys. It's really not that hard to see that it's not happening."
No, it isn't. The Dodgers are hovering around .500, while sinking farther behind the surging Giants in the National League West. This makes no sense, at least not on paper. With much help from their wide-open vault for more than a year, they began the season with four noted outfielders -- Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Either and Carl Crawford. Three were previous All-Stars, and the other was Puig, who ranks among the most exciting second-year players ever. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez have solid resumes, and so do many on the pitching staff, ranging from Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to Josh Beckett and Brian Wilson.
"It seems like we're talking so much about one guy or another guy or this or that instead of us being focused on winning a game and how we can win a game and what can we do to win a game," Mattingly said, alluding to the grumbling regarding his outfielders in particular.
No matter how you try, it's impossible to squeeze four players into three spots, and one of those players is Kemp, a near NL MVP Award winner a couple of years ago. Since Kemp isn't pleased with his rotation these days between the bench and left field after a career in center, he has said so often and clearly.
Puig plays regularly as a five-tool wonder, but he has issues with fundamentals and timeliness. Ramirez has struggled in the field. The offense frequently vanishes, which was exemplified by the Dodgers managing just a bunt single through seven innings earlier this week against the White Sox. Only the last-place D-backs of the NL West have a worst home record in the Major Leagues than the Dodgers' 13-19. The bullpen is shaky.
But Mattingly knows about dysfunctional teams.
Listen to these names ... Dave Winfield, Ken Griffey Sr., Don Baylor, Phil Niekro, Rickey Henderson. Those are just some of the All-Stars and future Hall of Famers in the same Yankeess clubhouse with Mattingly during the 1980s. They won more games during that decade than anybody, but that was about it.
Once, I asked Winfield to describe his Yankees of that era, and he paused, before after a sigh, "We were a significant team."
That's opposed to a championship team, which the Yanks became on a consistent basis in 1996 -- the year after Mattingly retired.
Those post-Mattingly Yankees continued to spend money like crazy, but they also discovered the truth: Division titles along the way to pennants and World Series championships mostly come with home-grown talent as your foundation. Such talent has more of a tendency to grow cohesively through the years on and off the diamond. So it isn't coincidental that, beginning with that 1996 team, the Yanks captured four titles in five years.
Jeter was the leader back then of those Yankees players born and bred in the organization, and others included Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. Still, even with parts of that old gang around, the Yanks managed just one World Series championship (2009) from 2000 through last year while owning baseball's highest payroll each of those years.
In contrast, the lighter-spending Cardinals and Giants captured two World Series titles apiece during that 14-season stretch. They both preferred standouts from their farm system instead of from other teams. And if one of their home-grown guys got too expensive (such as Albert Pujols for the Cards), they weren't afraid to let them go for an in-house replacement (such as Allen Craig, who quickly became a cheaper star around St. Louis).
Are you listening, Dodgers?
Well, now they are.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.