Don Mattingly was fired today. Well, that's not completely accurate. He and the Dodgers "mutually parted ways," a polite euphemism meaning that the Dodgers didn't really want him to work there anymore, and Mattingly could take a hint. Nevertheless, next year the Dodgers will have a new Stubing at the helm of their exceptionally expensive Love Boat (that reference isn't dated, it and Don Mattingly were both huge in 1984).
It's also a pretty good metaphor for being a modern manager, if you think about it. The course of the Pacific Princess (The Love Boat's actual name) wasn't really set by Stubing. He had ports he needed to be at on certain days, and really relatively few decisions to make within the confines of those restrictions. The vast majority of Stubing's job was to interact with the passengers, to resolve disputes, to help lonely widowers and bitter divorcees learn how to love again, and to keep his boat operating smoothly. Those things are important, but nothing short of a typhoon should keep the boat from its appointed rounds.
Being a manager today is similar. There are goals you have to meet: playing young guys, playing old guys, changing a clubhouse culture, improving on last year's record, making the playoffs. Mattingly was given a supremely talented but flawed team with a top heavy starting rotation, a marginal bullpen, and a ton of injury risks. But, then, almost every team is flawed in some way. He was asked to pull his $260 million team into port by November 4th with a World Championship. Flawed or not, given the payroll and the caliber of players at his disposal, it wasn't an unreasonable ask. He couldn't do it.
Moreover, even as Molly Knight's The Best Team Money Can Buy paints the mid-decade Dodgers as a club frustrated with the special deference paid to Yasiel Puig and attempting to smooth over chemistry problems with cash, there were few out and out controversies in 2015. But the smooth sailing doesn't matter when the ship doesn't reach its destination on time. As Knight wrote in her book about the club in 2014, "April didn't matter. October was all that did."
Could another manager have done better than Don Mattingly with this club? Perhaps not. Maybe the seas were choppy enough, with Puig hurt and Joc Pederson slumping and Yasmani Grandal playing through pain and Kenley Jansen the only reliable reliever, that Casey Stengel himself couldn't have gotten them further than the Division Series. But it was clear that Mattingly, for whatever virtues he brought to the endeavor, was not capable of elevating his club.
That doesn't make him a bad manager. His embarrassing first year at the helm, where he made rookie mistakes with his lineup card and bringing in relievers, are far in the past. He has a better sense of how to carry himself in the clubhouse and in the media than he did when he started this gig. He is a better manager today than he was in 2011. Indeed, chances are that Mattingly catches on with Miami or San Diego or Washington and does just fine with different expectations.
It does make him the wrong manager to keep leading the Dodgers, however, a team with too much money at stake to spend another year under a skipper who has already proven he can't bring them into port on time. It's time for somebody exciting and new to come aboard to try to meet those lofty expectations.