It’s official: Grady is out

The Dodgers have scheduled a conference call for 4 p.m., at which time they are expected to announce the firing of manager Grady Little after two seasons at the helm. Little guided the club to an 88-74 mark and the National League wild card in 2006, after which the Dodgers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Mets, but the Dodgers fell off to 82-80 this season and finished fourth in the National League West. Both owner Frank McCourt and general manager Ned Colletti said on the final day of the regular season that Little would return in 2008. It isn’t clear what happened in the interim to change their minds. The Dodgers are believed to have actually offered Little’s job last week to former Florida manager Joe Girardi and at one point even believed Girardi was on the verge of accepting the position. But Girardi was formally introduced earlier today as the new manager of the New York Yankees, replacing Joe Torre, who turned down a one-year, $5 million offer earlier this month to remain with the club. Torre now becomes the leading candidate to replace Little with the Dodgers. Numerous media reports over the past 24 hours have indicated the Dodgers might already have a deal in place with Torre, but that has yet to be confirmed.

The latest … which is coming out only in tiny trickles

What we have learned today is that this is NOT being done at the ownership level, that baseball operations has a major hand in it and appears to even be driving it. So I was wrong on that count. Frank McCourt is NOT usurping Ned Colletti’s authority, despite what I implied on this blog last night. The other thing that I have been able to pin down is that one way or another Grady appears to be out. No way you can bring him back now, not after all this. What I can’t figure out is why it’s taking them so long to announce that.

Here’s the latest

This is a (very) revised version of what I wrote earlier. It’s anybody’s guess what is going here, but it SOUNDS like this is being done at the ownership level, not at the baseball ops level

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
Although there were multiple reports out of New York on Monday that the Dodgers were close to hiring, or had already hired, Joe Torre as their manager, what little word there was coming from the organization clearly indicated otherwise. That did not mean, however, that the Dodgers aren’t exploring the possibility of replacing their current manager, Grady Little, with Torre, whose 12-year tenure at the helm of the New York Yankees ended last week when Torre rejected a one-year, $5 million contract with incentives.
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.
Another story that hit the wires on Monday night, from the Journal News of Westchester (N.Y.) County, which also cited two sources “close to the situation,” said Torre could be named the Dodgers’ manager in the next 24 hours.
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. But one Dodgers source with knowledge of the situation said “there is no truth to the story as it presently stands,” which is a long way from saying there is no truth to the story at all.
Another source within the organization, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “I don’t know where any of this is coming from, but if you write it, you’ll look like an idiot.”
Meanwhile, Torre himself made a guest appearance Monday night on the Late Show with David Letterman in which Letterman asked Torre about rumors involving him and the Dodgers.
“There has been a time or two that something has been in the newspaper that hasn’t been true,” Torre said. “There is nothing to any of it, so far.”
The key words to that statement might be “so far.”
Although nothing appears imminent, there are indications that the Dodgers are at least exploring the possibility of replacing Little with Torre — and it is possible that exploration is going on at a level higher than Colletti. Both Colletti and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said at the end of the season that Little will return in 2008. But that was before it became clear that Torre wouldn’t be returning to the Yankees.
Meanwhile, Dodgers officials have been conspicuously silent in recent days, to the point that few in the organization are even returning calls from reporters. The only official comment to come out of Chavez Ravine on Monday was a vague dismissal of the matter by the club’s chief spokesperson.
“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.”
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 Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2000 and were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round each of the past three seasons.
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 to succeed Torre until that job ultimately went to Joe Girardi on Monday, and Mattingly’s agent released a statement later in the day 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 games.
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 complained to reporters after a loss at Colorado that several of the team’s promising 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.

Offseason? What offseason?

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
Staff Writer
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.

That’s the way it was, and weeee LIKED it

OK, after scouring YouTube, this was the only clip I could find of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man character, and it’s cleverly superimposed over CNN’s Jack Cafferty, but I wanted to use it to make a point (so just ignore Jack and focus on Dana).

Anyway, the point is that this character is what I’m reminded of whenever I hear National League fans trashing the designated hitter and trying to make a case for why their league has the “purer game” because the pitcher bats, and they make this claim even as the N.L. continues to go down in flames every October because not having the DH puts them at such a huge disadvantage in the World Series (refer back to my David Ortiz vs. Ryan Spilborghs point from a couple of posts ago). If the Red Sox win tonight, it will be the third time in four years that the A.L. champ has swept the N.L. champ. If the N.L. ever does wise up and adopt the DH, I can envision some old baseball purist like Carvey’s character, 20 years down the road, lamenting about how much better the N.L. was back when the pitcher would bat. “We used to get humiliated in every World Series, and that’s the way it was, and weeee LIKED it.” Hey, I’m a lifelong N.L. fan and a lifelong baseball purist. But there is nothing pure about one league routinely getting steamrolled every year. The DH is an idea whose time has come. For one league, it was an idea whose time came 35 years ago.

Girardi update

Everybody is REALLY tightlipped on this thing, but this is what I was able to gather today, and what I just filed for tomorrow’s paper

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
It now appears that there was at least some truth to an internet report earlier this week that the Dodgers are talking to former Florida manager Joe Girardi about a position with the club. But it doesn’t look like the Dodgers are trying to make Girardi their next manager.
Not yet, anyway.
According to multiple sources, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has been in contact with Girardi about what is expected to be an opening on the coaching staff. More specifically, Girardi potentially would become manager Grady Little’s bench coach if Girardi isn’t named manager of the New York Yankees. That would position Girardi as Little’s eventual successor, and the fact discussions with Girardi reportedly are taking place without Little’s involvement would seem to put Little in an awkward position if Girardi joins his staff.
For the second day in a row, Colletti didn’t respond to multiple phone messages left at his office. Steve Mandel, Girardi’s Chicago-based agent, also didn’t respond to a message left on his cell phone.
“The Dodgers won’t be making any news until after the World Series,” said Camille Johnston, the club’s senior vice president for communications, in adherence with commissioner Bud Selig’s edict that teams avoid upstaging the game’s premier event.
Girardi is one of three candidates, along with Don Mattingly and Tony Pena, to replace Joe Torre as Yankees manager. While Mattingly is the favorite because he is believed to be the top choice of owner George Steinbrenner and Steinbrenner’s sons, Hank and Hal, others in the Yankees front office are said to strongly prefer Girardi.
It isn’t clear whether the position with the Dodgers has reached the point of being a guaranteed fallback for Girardi if he doesn’t get the Yankees job.
On the surface, adding Girardi to the Dodgers staff would appear to instantly put Little on the hot seat next spring as he enters his third season at the helm. The Dodgers are coming off a disappointing 82-80 season and fourth-place finish in the National League West. Girardi and Colletti have known each other since at least 1989, when Girardi made his major-league debut as a catcher for Chicago while Colletti was the Cubs’ media-relations director.
Girardi was the N.L. Manager of the Year with the Marlins in 2006, his only previous season as a big-league manager, but he nevertheless was fired after that season because of a rift with owner Jeffrey Loria. Girardi, 43, is fiery and energetic. That is in stark contrast to the reserved Little, who didn’t seem to have a remedy for the clubhouse disharmony that bubbled to the surface late in the season and might have contributed to the team’s downfall.
Little, who is signed through next season with an option for 2009, went home to Pinehurst, N.C., shortly after the season to decide what changes he wanted to make on his staff. But almost a month into the offseason, there has been no word on those changes. Every member of the staff, whose contracts all expire on Dec. 31, was given permission after the season to seek jobs elsewhere, but that didn’t necessarily mean Colletti or Little wanted them to leave.
The Dodgers need a hitting coach to replace Bill Mueller, who is returning to the front office. Little also was believed to be strongly considering replacing bench coach Dave Jauss. Multiple sources said last week that Jauss was close to accepting a position with Pittsburgh, a claim Jauss later denied.

Roster moves: The Dodgers made a series of procedural moves on Friday that reduced their 40-man roster to 34 players. Right-hander Zach Hammes and catcher Chad Moeller cleared waivers and were outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas. Lefty Tim Hamulack, who started the season at Las Vegas but made just seven appearances before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery, also was outrighted, but he refused the assignment and became a free agent.
Moeller, a six-year major-league veteran, also has the option of becoming a free agent.

Pardon my brief sojourn into sacrilege …

… but the time has come for the National League to adopt the designated hitter. There. I said it. May burning sulfur rain down on me from Heaven. And yes, being a lifelong N.L. fan, the whole notion does turn my stomach a bit. But if the N.L. remains true to tradition and continues to play “real” baseball, it is also going to continue to get its derriere handed to it on the second Tuesday of every July and at least four times over a five- to nine-day period every October. (Yes, I know, the Cardinals won the World Series last year, but if the Tigers hadn’t had a six-day layoff, and if the Tigers pitchers hadn’t forgotten how to throw a ball from the mound to third base, the result would have been different). The fact is, there are several reasons why the A.L. is so far ahead of the N.L., but every one of them stems either directly or indirectly from the presence of the DH. From the moment it was introduced some 35 years ago, this was always bound to eventually happen. Take this World Series, for instance. The Red Sox have Big Papi, who has become one of the game’s most feared hitters while playing almost exclusively as a DH. In Games 1 and 2, he is 3 for 8 with two doubles, two RBI and three runs scored while hitting in the three hole, ahead of Manny. The Rockies have countered with Ryan Spilborghs, a part-time center fielder who is batting in their lineup and is 0 for 5 with a walk, five strikeouts, no runs and no RBI. Hmmm. David Ortiz? Or Ryan Spilborghs? Yeah, that’s a pretty even matchup. The key to all this was that a few years into the DH, teams started recognizing the value of having a full-time DH (Ortiz, Frank Thomas, etc). There was a time when there was a stigma attached to that, when a guy who did nothing but DH was viewed as half a player who could only play half the game, and most players wanted nothing to do with such a role. But that has changed dramatically. Now, that role is filled by some of the most feared hitters around, and the result is that a lot of A.L. lineups (like Boston’s) are almost impossible to pitch to because there isn’t a weak spot anywhere, even at the bottom. As a result, the pitching in the A.L. has had to improve — to the point that it, too, is far superior to N.L. pitching — just because pitchers have to elevate their games just to survive in that league. And PLEASE don’t tell me this A.L. dominance is cyclical, because it isn’t. Look it up. It began a quarter of a century ago, and since then, has gotten steadily more pronounced. The N.L. went into the 1983 season on an unprecedented run of success, having won the previous 11 All-Star Games and the previous four World Series. Since then, the A.L. is 18-6-1 in the All-Star Game, with none of those losses having come since 1996, and 15-8 (soon to be 16-8) in the World Series. That sound cyclical to you?
Of course, simply adopting the DH isn’t going to instantly bring the N.L. back to respectability. That’s just the first, and most vital, step. After that, N.L. managers have to completely overhaul the way they do things, and that will take time (at least a year or two). They will have to overcome their addiction to that ridiculous sacrifice bunt, the most counterproductive tactic the game has ever known, and for many of them, that could require a 30-day stint in rehab. And then, they will have to get over the notion of manufacturing runs and playing for a run here and a run there. N.L. managers go to sleep at night dreaming of their leadoff man drawing a walk, stealing second, taking third on a sac bunt and scoring on a sac fly, all without benefit of a hit. A.L. managers go to sleep at night dreaming about the inning Terry Francona got to watch his team have on Wed. night, a seven-run outburst in which 13 men go to the plate and nine in a row reach base. Hmmm. A one-run inning? Or a seven-run inning? Which do YOU think is better.
Finally, there is one other adjustment that will have to be made, and this one will come on the part of the players — and it can be argued that this has NOTHING to do with the DH. N.L. players HAVE to learn to work counts the way A.L. clubs do. Ask two or three of the veterans in the Dodgers clubhouse about working counts, and they look at your like you’re nuts. The idea of taking two strikes and falling into an 0-2 hole is mortifying to them. But watch what the top A.L. clubs, like the Red Sox, do. They grind away relentlessly at the other team’s starting pitcher, making him sweat for every out he records. It amazes me every year, when the World Series rolls around, that N.L. pitchers are completely baffled by this, that the whole concept is something that never occurred to them. And they can’t understand why they get ahead of a guy 0-2, then he takes a couple of pitches, fouls off a couple of pitches, takes ball three, fouls off three or four more, then finally gets a hit on the eighth or ninth pitch of the at-bat, and this pitcher has just wasted all those pitches for an out he couldn’t get and a hitter he couldn’t put away. Jeff Francis threw 103 pitches in four innings in Game 1. That’s 103 pitches to record 12 outs. And then he was gone. And Hurdle had to go to his middle relief, in this cas a rookie (Franklin Morales) who had never made a relief appearance in the majors, and the Sox scored seven runs off him the next inning.
That, my friends, is how you win a World Series. That, my friends, is how it is done in the vastly superior American League — and how it will have to be done in the sad-sack National League if the so-called Senior Circuit has any hope of EVER closing the gap.
Long live the DH. I still don’t like it. But it’s time has come.

Mark it down: Boston will win

The Rockies are a great story, but the nine-day layoff, the fact the Red Sox have Beckett and Schilling ready for the first two games on regular rest and, of course, the whole A.L.-N.L. thing, and there isn’t much reason to think Colorado has a chance. I read where Ryan Spilborghs is their likely DH for the Fenway Park games. Boston’s DH will be David Ortiz. Hmmmm, what a matchup that is. The point is, A.L. teams ALWAYS have a huge advantage over N.L. teams in A.L. parks because A.L. teams have a full-time DH who plays every day, where N.L. teams usually have to insert somebody off their bench (read: somebody who isn’t good enough to play every day). The irony is that after all those years of being built around the long ball in their longball-happy ballpark, the Rockies are now built around pitching and defense — just in time to play in a World Series in a ballpark similar to Coors Field, another yard that seems perfectly tailored to having a bunch of bashers in your lineup. Problem is, the Rockies don’t really have that anymore.

Nothing like a Game 7 …

And tonight is the first one since, well, last year, when the Cardinals and Mets went the distance in the NLCS. The tension, the pressure, the drama. I have to say going in that I can’t imagine the Red Sox losing this one. They are almost impossible to beat at home, and they have dealt with this pressure before. The Indians simply didn’t get the performances they were expecting this postseason from C.C. Sabathia or Fausto Carmona. … It’s also hard for me to imagine the Rockies continuing their historic surge and winning the World Series after this nine-day layoff. Major League Baseball had its heart in the right place when it added all these extra off-days into the playoff schedule. The thought was to reduce taxing on the players’ bodies and to have built-in fallbacks in the event of rainouts. But this is a little ridiculous. No other team in the history of baseball has had more than a six-day layoff during the postseason. I agree with the addition of a travel day between Games 4 and 5 of the division series — last year, if the Dodgers and Mets had split the first four games of their division series, they would have had to fly back to New York after a Sunday game at Dodger Stadium and played on Monday at Shea, which would have been a little ridiculous. But an off-day between Games 4 and 5 of the League Championship Series, when the series isn’t even changing cities? Not sure I understand that one. And why do they need TWO off-days between Game 7 of the ALCS tonight and Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday? The most ridiculous result of all this isn’t that Game 7 of the World Series would happen in November. It’s that one World Series team will be coming off a two-day break, while the other will be coming off a nine-day break. … Was driving on the 10 Freeway a couple of weeks ago and had one of the early playoff games on the radio. Joe Morgan made a good point during that broadcast. One of the teams had runners on the corners with nobody out, and Morgan mentioned Reggie Smith, the former Dodgers RF. Reggie once told Joe that in that situation, if the infield was playing back, he always tried to hit the ball on the ground. As wrong as that sounds, it actually makes sense. Reggie’s thinking was that if he GIDP’d, it meant the run would score, and he figured his job in that at-bat was to get the run home any way he possibly could. To me, this is the ultimate in being a team player. Try to hit a sac fly, which would give you an RBI and save you an at-bat if you succeed, and you might pop up instead. But in a GIDP, the batter gets nothing — no RBI, no sacrifice, nothing, he just gets charged with an at-bat and a GIDP. But HE GETS THE RUN HOME AND HELPS THE TEAM. Now, contrast that against the thinking of many (most) modern players, who would look at you like you had a second head if you suggested something like this to them. Reggie Smith was no Hall of Famer, to be sure. But there is no denying that he represents an era in Dodgers history that was considerably more successful than the present one.

Random playoff thoughts

Took in bits and pieces of Game 2 of the ALCS tonight. It was American League baseball at its finest. I realize the A.L. is the superior league — and yes, there is an unmistakable “junior varsity” feel to the N.L. playoffs, right down to the fact they have been relegated to TBS while the A.L. is on Fox (by the way, that Frank TV show looks like it’s going to be pretty good, but I refuse to watch a single episode, ever, just because I am so sick of those incessant promos, but I digress). Anyway, this game tonight between the Indians and the Red Sox made me wonder how anybody can stand to watch A.L. ball on a regular basis. It took them 4 1/2 hours to play nine innings, and then they had to play extra innings on top of that. They went to the 10th inning at just before 1 a.m. Boston time. With the winning run on second base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Kevin Youkilis fell into a two-strike count, then proceeded to foul off pitch after pitch after pitch until he finally flied out to send the game to extra innings on something like the 13th pitch of the at-bat. This is like watching paint dry. Gives me a new respect for my colleague Doug Padilla, who covers the Angels for us, because he has to watch this stuff on a nightly basis. … One storyline from the N.L. playoffs that keeps striking a chord with me is Troy Tulowitzki and the leadership role he has taken on in the Rockies clubhouse — and the fact the Rockies’ veterans have fallen in line behind him. Contrast that against Jeff Kent’s rant back on Sept. 20 about how the Dodgers’ young players “don’t get it.” I have to wonder what would have happened if Tulo played for the Dodgers, and if he tried to take on a similar leadership role with them — and how it would have been received by Kent/Gonzo/Nomar et al. Would it have been effective? Would others have fallen in line? Or would Tulo have been shamed into submission by the ages-old clubhouse heirarchy that at times this season seemed to be more important in the Dodgers clubhouse than winning was on the field. All I know is this: with the exception of a few pitchers, the Rockies are basically the same bunch of guys who never came close to contention in the NL West in recent seasons. The only thing that has changed is the addition of Tulo, the former Long Beach State standout who singlehanded — and as a rookie, no less — has transformed the culture on a team that gave no hint that it was capable of this until he got there. Wonder if the Dodgers’ veterans — the ones who are coming back, anyway — are paying attention?