Mattick has turned the Blue Jays into songbirds on the diamond
New York's Eve is a lot more fun if you don't try to throw a party every night of the remaining 364 days. I think this might be the philosophy of Bobby Mattick, the 64-year-old rookie manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, a fourth-year American League expansion team that is suddently playing super baseball.
Mattick is a gentleman who comes on as softly as carpet slippers; who deals with problems one at a time; and who gets my vote as Manager of the Year even if Toronto doesn't win another game all season. The club is second in the AL East, a half game behind the Yankees with an 18-13 record.
No doubt you remember how the Blue Jays got reamed, steamed, and dry cleaned in 1977, '78, and '79, while losing a total of 318 games. Last year they finished 50 1/2 lengths behind the Baltimore Orioles in the division with a pitching staff that would have been better off throwing from bombproof shelters.
To give you an idea of how smart Mattick is, he twice refused invitations to manage Toronto after the Blue Jays front office fired Roy Hartsfield. Bobby wanted nothing more, he said, than to remain as the team's director of player development.
But when the Toronto owners finally ordered Mattick to take the job, there wasn't much he could do short of resigning. His big plus was the fact that he was already familiar with most of the team's major and minor league personnel.
What the Blue Jays got was a man with a wide range of experience that included employment with 10 different big league organizations. Bobby, who has a flair for knowing a player when he sees one, was instrumental in the signing of such people as Frank Robinson, Rusty Staub, Curt Flood, Gorman Thomas, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Darrell Porter, and Gary Carter.
"Whenever you're involved with an expansion team, I think the only way you can handle things and not go crazy is on a day-to-day basis," Mattick told me. "Otherwise you have a tendency to look too far ahead.
"I know we had an attitude problem going into training camp and I also knew we had to make some changes," he continued. "But changes never mean much unless you are replacing poor people with better ones, and that is what we have tried to do."
Mattick thinks that the team's strength might be its pitching staff, which has been getting quality performances from Dave Stieb, Paul Mirabella, Jim Clancy, and Dave Lemanczyk. Stieb, in particular, has been little short of amazing with a sinkerball that looks as though it is falling off a table.
Mattick has also upgraded baseball's worst bullpen (only 11 saves last year) by getting more consistency from Tom buskey and acquiring Joey McLaughlin from the Atlanta Braves.
So far Toronto has been going mostly with an infield of John Mayberry at first; Damaso Garcia at second; Roy Howell at third; and speedy Alfredo Griffin at shortstop.
Although Mayberry doesn't have much range in the field, his power bat (74 RBIs and 21 home runs last season) makes up for a lot of things. Garcia, who was up with the Yankees in both '78 and '79, is a solid fielder whose hitting has shown signs of improvement.
Howell, who achieved personal highs last year in RBIs and home runs, is a tough out with men on base, but often suspect in the field. Griffin, who shared AL Rookie of the Year honors in '79 with Minnesota's John Castino, is jsut beginning to reach his potential.
Barry Bonnell (obtained from Atlanta) has joined Al Woods adn Rick Bosetti in the outfield to give the Blue Jays the kind of defensive range generally found only on pennant contenders.
Currently Mattick is alternating two rookie catchers -- Ernie Whitt and Bob Davis, who was drafted out of the San Diego Padres minor league farm system.
But from a public relations standpoint, the biggest story on Toronto is designated hitter Otto Velez, whose eight home runs, including four during a recent doubleheader, tie him with Reggie Jackson for AL slugging honors.
What fans see now when they watch the Blue Jays is an aggressive brand of baseball that includes full use of the stolen base, hit and run, sacrifice, and going for the extra base whenever an opposing outfielder gets careless.
Although most of the credit for Toronto's turnaround belongs to Mattick, don't expect him to accept it. Originally he tried to get permission from his employers to manage in street clothes.