The Miami Marlins went into this offseason probably unnecessarily needing a new manager after Mike Redmond was unduly fired at midseason for...I don't know, reasons. Still, the team was not going to continue with former assistant general manager-turned-manager Dan Jennings, who not surprisingly fell out of favor after taking over as manager despite having spent several years in a loyal front office role. The Fish wanted a well-known name with experience, and Jeffrey Loria could not resist finding another former Yankees organizational man when former Los Angeles Dodgers manager and Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly became available.
Back when he was first hired, there was healthy skepticism about a four-year contract, as no Marlins team under Jeffrey Loria's ownership has made it through to the even the final season of a contract. Since Jack McKeon left the team's bench in 2005, the Marlins have gone through five managers on a "permanent" contractual basis over 10 years, with Fredi Gonzalez lasting the longest and still getting fired inappropriately. Loria has no patience under his expectations, but the Marlins definitely need more managerial and organizational stability around the players.
It sounds like the early returns, at least according to this article by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, seem to be pretty good on what Mattingly brings to the table.
"He doesn't panic," [Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich] said. "He's even-keeled every day, and we all feed off that. It's nice to have stability around here for once, because that's something we haven't really had here in a while. "
What we knew about Mattingly as a middle ground between an experienced, veteran coach like Ozzie Guillen and a quieter, less belligerent leader like Mike Redmond seems to fit exactly what the players see in Mattingly. They seem to be appreciative of his leadership abilities, especially in the wake of something potentially destabilizing like Dee Gordon's 80-game suspension for PED use. Mattingly, who managed Gordon in Los Angeles and considered him like one of his children, got the club to accept the difficulties of that situation and move on to the things that they could control.
This is an interesting quote discussing how Mattingly tried to bring a winning attitude to the Marlins after years of development discussion following the post-2012 fire sale. The Fish were not expected to compete in 2014, but they did play better, but expectations in 2015 for contention were not met. Martin Prado notes here that the mentality to win is something this team has needed. Later in the article, Yelich mentions the same thing.
Do any of these individual things make a significant difference? I don't know that instilling a winning mentality and being a stabilizing presence in and of themselves are helpful, but it does seem that the Marlins are responding positively to it. Everyone was in support of all of the moves, there has not been dissidence and discussion of poor results so far, even as the team struggled out of the gates. It seems the clubhouse is a stable environment. Mattingly even introduced some fun into the surroundings.
With input from the players, Mattingly has helped lighten the mood by bringing a touch of Joe Maddon to the proceedings. The Marlins added a Ping-Pong table to the clubhouse in spring training, and they broke up the boredom by staging a Clubbie Olympics in Jupiter, Florida, with clubhouse attendants taking part in events ranging from towel-folding to building a "human cheeseburger." The Marlins held a family day in spring training, complete with burgers on the grill and bounce-houses for the little ones, and they've taken to pranking each other with masks during postgame TV interviews.
This is the kind of thing that helps to build camaraderie and chemistry, and it may be among the most important things a manager can do. Mattingly was well known in Los Angeles for questionable in-game decision-making, but a good chunk of in-game moves are either low-impact or unlikely to be much different than what any other manager might do. Where managers may better differentiate themselves is the environment they foster in the clubhouse and the way they keep morale among difficult times. Early on, it seems Mattingly is doing this part well.
As for stability, he may be providing it now, but it is always going to be in question as to how long that will last. Loria is a notoriously fickle manager, and while Mattingly may be a former Yankee and thus a favored Loria target, but rest assured if he fails to meet any expectations, unrealistic or otherwise, he is just as vulnerable to the axe as any other Marlins manager. Loria fired Redmond months into an extension. He fired Girardi after a Manager of the Year win. If Mattingly wants to see the end of his four-year deal and help provide the Marlins a stable clubhouse environment, he needs to help the team win when its expected to and not cross the boss.