T.J. SIMERS

Nice guy Don Mattingly is still looking for answers

The Dodgers manager takes breakfast with a Times columnist to discuss his second year on the job.

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SAN DIEGO — The other night after the Dodgers lost to the Padres, while the media met with Manager Don Mattingly, screaming could be heard from the nearby coaches' dressing room.

"Passionate" screaming? General Manager Ned Colletti says with a smirk when asked if it was he.

"Yes, I had a passionate discussion with the staff, and then I had another one with a [softer] voice with Donnie. I think every once in a while you just need to recalibrate."

Colletti wouldn't say what rankles him — a good bet: a lack of true grit down the stretch is on the list — while Mattingly says the blame is his for allowing "little things" to go unattended.

So Mattingly met with his team Wednesday to remind everyone how he expects them to compete as Dodgers.

"There's a difference between being a nice guy," Mattingly says, "and making sure you get what you want from your team."

And that's where we begin with Mattingly, consistently friendly and accommodating. Or, as George Steinbrenner put it when Mattingly retired with the Yankees: "I don't believe any player on the New York Yankees was ever as great as Don Mattingly in every way during my years as an owner. He was a great athlete and a great player. Some great athletes are not great human beings and vice versa. This man combined all of that."

Poke and prod, win or lose and Mattingly is just a good guy.

But can a nice guy get his team to finish first?

"That's part of something I have to deal with now," says Mattingly over breakfast to discuss his second year on the job.

"I want to be a nice guy; I want to be a good guy; and a fair guy. But I also want my players to know I'm in charge. I want them to know this is the way I want it; this is the way it's going to be.

"The last few weeks, some things had gotten out of hand. And that's my fault. There were just some things that needed to be said, not only about this year but about next as well."

So does he have control of his team?

"It's not so much about control, because I don't want to control these guys," he says. "I know I can't. I can't control veteran guys who make tons of money."

That's understood, but few admit as much, Mattingly's honesty another engaging quality.

"They have to have respect for what we're trying to do," Mattingly says, "And I believe they do."

The Dodgers won both Wednesday and Thursday and Mattingly is still talking about winning them all.

Who knows where the nice guy will ultimately finish, but it won't be first again.

"If he was only a nice guy he wouldn't have played in the major leagues and he wouldn't have had the career he's had," says Colletti. "He is a nice guy, but he's also a great competitor."

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