Bobby Mattick, the 64-year-old rookie manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, is a second-generation baseball man who has lived his life by his sport's six-month calendar. Compared to the rest of us, who must measure our time in years that are twice as long and, presumably, include about twice as much aggravation, Mattick has aged very little. He is "Bobby." with a full head of hair, a face free of wrinkles and an outlook that is decidedly positive. Fortunately for those around him, he has refused to let his personality be spoiled by bitterness or his perceptions dulled by reminiscence. So at an age when many men are looking for an easy chair, Mattick has found a challenge.
The Blue Jays, who have been in business only since 1977, are certainly that. They were the poorest team in baseball last season, and their three-year record is second only to the Mets' as the worst in the history of major league expansion. Nevertheless, this spring Mattick guided Toronto to its first winning exhibition season (10-7), and last week the Blue Jays opened their home schedule by beating the strong Milwaukee Brewers 11-2 and 1-0. Toronto's strategy may be the most unusual in baseball: pairing a team owning little talent with a manager who has even less experience.
Aside from his considerable charm and good humor, Mattick has two other distinctions: not only is he the oldest manager in baseball, suggesting years of testing strategies and manipulating lineups, but he is also the oldest rookie manager ever to start a season, suggesting years of struggling to get to the top. However, neither suggestion is true. Mattick's previous managerial experience consisted of two months as a fill-in at Ogden, Utah in the Pioneer League in 1948; his coaching experience came in 1944 and '45 with Birmingham of the Southern Association. Most of Mattick's baseball life has been as a successful seeker and developer of talent. He has worked in 10 different organizations, scouting or signing such luminaries as Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Rusty Staub, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Gorman Thomas, Darrell Porter and Gary Carter. Mattick also signed Tommy Harper, but he failed to realize the greater potential of Harper's skinny high school teammate, Willie Stargell.
Mattick would have been perfectly happy to remain Toronto's Director of Player Development, a job he had held since 1978. When Blue Jay President Peter Bavasi and Vice-President Pat Gillick decided to fire Manager Roy Harts-field, effective at the end of last season. Mattick recommended Whitey Herzog as Hartsfield's successor. When Gillick insisted Mattick take the job instead, Mattick twice turned it down. Then, when Mattick finally accepted, he asked if he could perform his duties without wearing a uniform. He cited Connie Mack and Burt Shotton as precedent, but to no avail. Mattick would be the manager; he would suit up in the hometown colors; and he would instill some life in a team that had lost 318 games in its three years.
April 27, 1980
"About the middle of last season we noticed that the spirit of the club had begun to deteriorate," says Bavasi. "The players were discouraged. Their confidence was shattered. We decided it would take a new man to improve the attitude, but we didn't think a successful manager like Whitey Herzog or Danny Ozark would be able to cope with the problems of an expansion club. Instead, we wanted someone who already knew our personnel and could be a teacher and a motivator. As we discussed the qualifications we were looking for, Bobby became the obvious choice. After we talked to him several times, he finally said, 'If you have the guts to offer it, I have the guts to take it.' "
Before announcing Mattick's appointment to the public, the Blue Jays took the precaution of giving their elderly rookie a thorough physical. He passed it with flying colors, which might have been expected of a man whose grandfather had lived to be 89 and whose father, a former player and minor league owner, had lived to be 83. The media introduction finally took place on Oct. 18. Mattick wore a hard hat and stood before an enlarged Blue Jays logo over which was stenciled UNDER CONSTRUCTION. Predictably, the next day's newspapers carried headlines that referred to the "No-name manager" and asked "Who's Mattick?" and "Bobby who?"
In the six months since then, Mattick has answered those questions with grace. This will no doubt come as a surprise to some of Mattick's previous employers, who found him difficult to deal with. "I've been in baseball 46 years, but I've never been in one place long enough to qualify for a pension," Mattick says. "It's my own fault, though. I had a chip on my shoulder and I kept moving around."
These days Mattick seems much harder on himself than he is on anyone else. He became so tense during the Jays' season-opening four-game series in Seattle that he apologized to his team for his irascibility. On the ensuing plane ride to Toronto, he joined in as the players played cards and drank a few beers. When Rick Bosetti came into Mattick's office last Thursday after having beaten Milwaukee with a ninth-inning homer, he sought and received permission to be late for the next day's workout. "That's the difference between the two managers right there," Bosetti says. "Hartsfield would have kicked me in the rear."
Mattick has eased relations with the Toronto media, not just by offering reporters bottles of Labatt's (the brewery is part owner of the team) from his post-game stock, but also with his cooperation and good cheer. In Seattle, he told a radio interviewer he had not gone to the pitching mound to make a change because "If I were a fan I wouldn't want to see an old man running out there." In Toronto, he good-naturedly explained the reason for the team's poor play against the Mariners as being the result of "horse——managing."
If Mattick is enjoying himself, it may be because he has accepted the advice of Paul Richards, the former Oriole and White Sox manager, who advised him not to lose his sense of humor, while overlooking the amused reaction of Minnesota's Gene Mauch, who said, "You've got to be the dumbest s.o.b. I've ever seen" for making the switch from desk to dugout. Mattick is still waiting to measure the counsel of Baltimore's Earl Weaver: "Don't worry. The fans don't start booing until July."
For Mattick, though, the worst may be over. "My first three days in the dugout in spring training I didn't even know where I was," he says. "I was afraid I'd mess up. It had been years since I'd even given a sign. I worked on it standing in front of a mirror before I even got to Florida, but the more I did it, the clumsier I got."
When Mattick finally gets the signs down, he'll keep busy by ordering up an aggressive attack—steal, hit-and-run, take the extra base, etc.—that he feels could snatch a few extra wins for his young team. He's also helping himself learn the opposition by filling a notebook page after every game. "I can see already that if you have a real good club, this can be a very satisfying job," he says. "If you lose 100, though, it can be frustrating. I'd take 70 wins right now."
That might seem a modest figure, except that the Blue Jays have never won more than 59 games and last year's team had but 53 wins; only three fourth-year expansion teams have ever won as many as 70. For an old scout, then, managing Toronto to 70 victories would be like signing Harper and Stargell.
"This team is still under construction and will be for some time," says Bavasi, continuing the theme of last October. "We're only looking for improvement. Bobby's role is to lay the foundation until the team finally becomes a pennant contender or winner."
Even with good young players like Shortstop Alfredo Griffin and pitchers Dave Stieb and Paul Mirabella, the Blue Jays are still several years away from that. But this time Mattick will be able to observe his youngsters try to get there, which he could never do before. "The problem with scouting was that once you signed a player he was gone and you could never watch him progress," says Mattick. This year he is seeing his players every day, not just the ones on Toronto but others on teams all over the league.