This is what I just filed for tomorrow. Not a lot of concrete facts here, just mostly a lot of speculation and rehashing what others have already reported. But IMHO, there is far too much smoke here for there to be no fire. The guess here is that Joe Torre is coming — and Grady Little, a good man who might not be a great manager but nevetheless deserves better treatment than this, is going.
By Tony Jackson
There were strong indications on Monday, including at least one published report out of New York, that the Dodgers are close to hiring Joe Torre as their next manager. This despite the fact their present manager, Grady Little, is under contract through next season, and the fact that both owner Frank McCourt and general manager Ned Colletti said last month that Little will return in 2008.
A story in Monday’s editions of the New York Post, citing two sources with “knowledge of the Dodgers’ universe,” said the club is talking with Little about possibly buying out his contract, which also carries an option for 2009.
Colletti didn’t respond to messages left both on his office and cell phones. Little didn’t respond to messages left on his office, cell and home phones.
“Grady Little is the manager of the Dodgers,” said Camille Johnston, the Dodgers’ senior vice president for communications. “Beyond that, there is no further comment.”
There also were reports the Dodgers might have offered a job last week to former Florida manager Joe Girardi, to be either their manager or bench coach, but were turned down. Girardi has been formally offered the job of manager of the New York Yankees, a job that became vacant last week when Torre rejected a one-year, $5 million offer with incentives.
That offer represented a 33-percent cut from Torre’s 2007 base salary of $7.5 million, but it still probably was far more lucrative than what the Dodgers would be willing to pay him. Little’s salary this season was believed to be between $600,000-$650,000.
The fact the Dodgers have been so conspicuously silent on the matter would seem to be an indication the story has legs. Colletti rarely fails to return calls from reporters, but he has been unreachable since the middle of last week.
Little returned home to Pinehurst, N.C., more than two weeks ago, and one of his first orders of offseason business was to decide what changes he wanted to make among his coaches, all of whom were given permission in the interim to seek employment elsewhere. But that decision has been curiously long in coming, which could be another indication something unexpected is afoot.
Torre, 67, managed the Yankees for 12 seasons, the longest uninterrupted tenure of any Yankees manager since Casey Stengel (1949-60). Torre guided the club to the playoffs every year and won 10 division titles, six American League pennants and four World Series. But the club hasn’t won a World Series since 2000 and was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round each of the past three seasons.
It also is worth noting that before he was hired to manage the Yankees, Torre had little success in managerial stops with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. He reached the playoffs just once, with Atlanta in 1982, and the Braves were promptly swept out the then-best-of-five National League Championship Series by St. Louis. Moreover, when the Yankees hired Torre after the 1995 season, they were widely criticized for the move because of the perception he was a subpar manager.
That perception quickly went away when Torre guided the club to a World Series title in 1996, its first since 1978. But there are whispers around baseball that Torre is still itching to prove he can be a successful manager without the benefit of the $150 million-$250 million payrolls the Yankees have every season.
The Dodgers had a player payroll this season of about $109 million.
One interesting subplot of the Dodgers possibly hiring Torre has to do with Don Mattingly, who was Torre’s bench coach this season and his hitting coach the previous three seasons. Mattingly was widely considered the favorite for the manager’s job until it ultimately went to Girardi, and Mattingly’s agent released a statement on Monday saying his client was “extremely disappointed” that he didn’t get the job.
The statement went on to say Mattingly had informed the Yankees he wouldn’t accept a position as a coach on Girardi’s staff. That would make Mattingly a natural fit for a potential Torre staff in Los Angeles, especially given that Mattingly’s son, Preston, is a highly regarded Dodgers prospect.
Preston Mattingly, a second baseman, batted .210 this season at Single-A Great Lakes.
Little, 57, just completed his second season as Dodgers manager. Although he led the club to the playoffs as a wild card in 2006 — the Dodgers were swept in the first round by the Mets — the team collapsed down the stretch this year and finished fourth in the National League West with an 82-80 mark after losing 11 of its final 14.
It was during that stretch, on Sept. 20, that a clubhouse rift between the veterans and young players became public when second baseman Jeff Kent told reporters that the young players “don’t get it.” That same week, a reporter for the Dodgers’ radio affiliate, KFWB, citing unnamed players as his source, said Little had lost the clubhouse.