Don Mattingly, the Tigers and connected dots

Eric Stephen / TBLA

Does the drama in LA provide an answer in Detroit?

Monday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sitting arms crossed, torso pointed away. GM Ned Colletti, sitting on the dais a few feet to his right, looking the other direction. Mattingly speaking, "My option vested once we beat Atlanta, but that doesn't mean I'll be back." The Dodgers firing Mattingly allies Trey Hillman and Wade Taylor a day later.

"I love it here, I've always said it," Mattingly said. "I like being here but I don't want to be anywhere that you're not wanted."

Discord in LA mere hours after Jim Leyland steps down as manager of the Detroit Tigers. Dots, just begging to be connected.

The World Series opens tonight at Fenway Park, the 2012 American League champion Tigers watching a Red Sox club that played just a bit better than them host the St. Louis Cardinals. That Tigers team brings back the entire rotation that was the best in the game this year and that took no-hitters deep into three straight playoff games, as well as most components of a lineup that scored the second-most runs in the league. Dots.

The leading candidates so far: Lloyd McClendon, one of many to manage the pitiful Pirates during their decades of incompetence, who has spent the last eight years on Leyland's staff in Detroit. Tom Brookens, the onetime heir apparent, who managed his way up through the Tigers system. Brad Ausmus, who has managed only in the World Baseball Classic, and only Team Israel at that. Manny Acta. Charlie Manuel. Dusty Baker. Tony Pena. Torey Lovullo. Underwhelming, underachieving, underexperienced, retreads and more. Dots.

It's easy to say the manager doesn't matter much, that his decisions affect the outcome of only a small number of games when the mistakes and smart choices are balanced out. It's harder to hand the keys to just anybody when only a World Series will do. With Tony La Russa declining to write a number on a blank check, the Tigers are put in the position of finding a manager who'll have enormous expectations attached to his name the moment it is first whispered. Ausmus? He hasn't run a club. McClendon? How's he proven himself? Manuel? Look at how how little he had to show the last few years for the roster he had in Philadelphia.

So: Mattingly. Dots. Managed a superstar roster in LA, came within two wins of reaching the World Series, has a winning record every season he has managed, wants the security of a multiyear deal.

"When you're put in this position, the organization basically says we don't know if you can manage or not," Mattingly said. "That's not a great position to be in as manager. That's the way it is, and that's they way the organization wanted it last year, so at this point it is what it is."

Colletti, for his part, says the right things. He hired Mattingly. He stuck with Mattingly through the Dodgers' awful start to 2013. Mattingly was nearly fired this summer after a disastrous start to a season with high expectations. On June 21 they were 9.5 games out, 12 games under .500 at 30-42.

There's Colletti, trying to bridge the distance. "I've been supportive of Donnie all the way through," he said. "I have a lot of respect for this guy. He kept it steady through a tough period of time. He kept our team together. I've been a supporter of his since the day he walked in as a hitting coach six years ago. We're going to discuss everything internally before we discuss it externally."

As for the Tigers, they can't discuss it at all. What goes on between Mattingly and the Dodgers is Mattingly and the Dodgers' business. Other teams can't interfere with it. And maybe they wouldn't want to, anyway. What do we really know about Mattingly? His job may have been saved by a Puig, and second-guessers could have a field day in the postseason.

There are dots. The Tigers need a manager -- dot. The Tigers need a certain type of manager with a certain type of experience -- dot. Mattingly needs a team that wants him and respects him -- dot. But are there enough dots to draw a complete picture? Not yet. Fortunately, being the franchise that should be the destination of choice this offseason for any manager who'd like a chance at a ring, the Tigers can afford to wait a while longer to let the picture develop further.

Mattingly could be the manager the Tigers want, he could be the manager the Tigers need, but that possibility remains far off in the distance.

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