Mattingly's desire to become a big league manager outweighed his desire to remain in New York. So when Joe Girardi's appointment as Yankees manager stripped Mattingly of his dream job, he almost instantly decided to leave the only organization he's ever known. It's a risk, to be sure -- his future is now uncertain, and he doesn't know if he'll find a better job anywhere else.
But Mattingly knows he won't find it with the Yankees.
Mattingly would have earned that shot eventually -- and perhaps, he still will. But he said on Tuesday that he holds too much respect for Girardi to return as a bench coach. The speculation would have been too much to bear.
"I don't think it would be fair to anyone who got the job if I was still working on that coaching staff," Mattingly said. "It just wouldn't be fair, because there's going to be a streak this year where they'll lose a few games in a row, and then people will start talking. It's just not right."
Mattingly's reasons, of course, aren't all that selfless. He wants to be a manager, and by leaving, he remains a prime candidate to become one. Before, he was pining for one job, and one job alone. Now, any job will do.
"This decision really, for me, freed me up to feel like I should be able to have the freedom to go work in any situation that may come up," Mattingly said. "I feel that freedom to do it, and really not look back about it."
Mattingly spent much of this week looking back, and he wasn't shy about admitting how crushed he was to lose out on the chance. He understood the decision -- Girardi has managerial experience and success -- but he also felt that he was ready for the job.
And while he constantly reiterated that he holds no ill will -- "I'm not going to all of the sudden start rooting for the Red Sox," he joked -- Mattingly was just as open about his frustration.
"I was disappointed that I wasn't the choice," Mattingly said. "But you get off the table, man, and you get up, and you don't let anything deter you from what you want to do. It's sad, but it's an exciting time, also."
The disappointment lies in the expectation. Mattingly returned to New York four years ago on principal owner George Steinbrenner's recommendation, and immediately, the fans and media tagged him as the team's next manager.
Four years later, the job finally opened up, and the Yankees turned him away. Which, Mattingly admitted on Tuesday, was a distinct possibility from the start.
"I was never ever guaranteed anything," Mattingly said. "Mr. Steinbrenner never said, 'Hey Donnie, come back, you're going to be the next manager,' or anything like that. There have been no guarantees, and I wouldn't have wanted it like that. I really feel like you have to earn what you get."
Perhaps Mattingly earned a shot to manage the Yankees, perhaps he didn't. That was for the Yankees ownership to decide, and they opted for Girardi instead.
"It's no secret that Donnie is extremely important to the Steinbrenner family and to the Yankee organization, and always will be," Hank Steinbrenner said. "That's the bottom line. It's that simple. But as far as the process of choosing a new manager, I was completely in agreement with [general manager] Brian [Cashman] and the other baseball people. This is the situation we went with and we made."
Girardi had more experience and a different demeanor, both of which were factors in the decision. But Mattingly had the unparalleled weight of expectation. He came to the club with one eye on the job, and immediately assumed the role of favorite when Joe Torre declined the team's contract offer on Oct. 18. That all made this decision tougher for Mattingly to stomach, though even his own self-esteem couldn't stop him from respecting the choice.
"My ego doesn't work that way," Mattingly said. "I know with Tony [Pena] and with Joe [Girardi], these are two qualified big-time people for me. Good people, good baseball people. It's really hard for me to say I should have gotten that [job]. Could I have gotten it? Am I capable of it? In my mind, not a question. Not even a little bit of doubt."
The prospect of a Yankees team without Mattingly seems every bit as foreign as the prospect of one without Torre. And a week after choosing the latter situation, the Yankees, albeit indirectly, also chose the former.
Those two, meanwhile, may yet be reunited. Reports have flown across the nation that Torre will become the next manager of the Dodgers, and while Mattingly denied any specific knowledge of the situation, he didn't rule out following his mentor to the West Coast.
Mattingly didn't rule out much of anything, in fact -- managing, coaching or anything else. He said he would consider following Torre, but that's a door that may not open. So for now, he'll remain flexible and hope the right offer appears.
"I'm sure its going to be something different for me," Mattingly said. "The easiest thing is to stay in a comfort zone. The Yankees, I'm very comfortable there. It's always comfortable to be in a situation where you feel like you know almost everyone there and they know you. But, at some point, you move on."
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.