Another Cactus League game is set

Why the Dodgers are holding off announcing that they plan to spend the final two weeks of spring training in PHX is beyond me. Add the Colorado Rockies, who are scheduled to host the Dodgers on March 23 at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, to the growing list of Cactus League clubs that have finalized their spring schedules with the Dodgers listed as one of their opponents. The Dodgers also have games scheduled with the Chicago White Sox on March 20 and Kansas City on March 26. But when the Dodgers do finally announce this, just humor them and pretend to be surprised, OK?

Rested, refreshed and ready for action

After a glorious Thanksgiving week in Maui (with one-night stops in Denver on either end), your humble correspondent is back on the job and looking forward to the winter meetings next week in Nashville, Tenn. This blog was actually on the fritz for a week before I left, so that is why it has been so long since my last post. Looks like not much has happened since I left, other than a few things we all knew were coming were made official, like the Coliseum game on March 29. The team today did finalize the hiring of Charles Steinberg, ex of the Boston Red Sox, as the Dodgers’ new exec vp of marketing and communications. Other than that, not much going on. But at least the blog is back up. … By the way, how ’bout them Hawgs? And better yet, how about Coach Nutt? I say good for him, and Razorback fans are going to be very, very sorry one day for basically running him out of town.

Dodgers waste no time replacing Marty Greenspun

This would seem to suggest Marty’s departure wasn’t entirely voluntary, given that his replacement — a guy named Dennis Mannion, who is coming from outside the organization — was announced at 9:53 this morning, less than 48 hours after Marty “resigned” as the Dodgers’ chief operating officer. Mannion has served as senior VP for business ventures for the Baltimore Ravens for the past eight years and also worked for Denver-based Ascent Sports and as a marketing executive for the Philadelphia Phillies. Still waiting for that stability Frank McCourt keeps talking about.

Tomorrow’s story

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
Dodger Stadium was all dressed up on Monday, the grass having been perfectly groomed, the infield having been dragged and the bases having been put in place as if it were mid-July. Joe Torre, making his first public appearance as manager of the Dodgers, was all dressed up, too, as he addressed a bicoastal media contingent while standing on a platform that had been constructed in center field.
“This is where Willie Davis used to run down everything I hit,” said Torre, whose 18-year playing career included a National League Most Valuable Player award in 1971. “The opportunity to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers, this is one of a handful of organizations that you automatically say yes to. When I think of the Dodgers, I think of efficiency, I think of pride, and I think of a measuring stick. You were always measuring yourself against the Dodgers, because they did everything right and had a lot of class.”
After a couple of hours, that large media gathering was whittled to a handful of print reporters and moved to a board room up in the Dodgers’ corporate offices, for a less formal session with the man who had guided the New York Yankees to playoff appearances in each of the past dozen seasons.
It was there that pomp and circumstance officially gave way to nuts and bolts.
Torre’s first order of business will be to complete his coaching staff. To the surprise of no one, Torre announced that Larry Bowa and Don Mattingly, two key members of his Yankees staff, will be joining him in Los Angeles and that Bowa will be the Dodgers’ third-base coach. To the surprise of many, though, Torre said Mattingly won’t be his bench coach as he was in New York this season, but instead will be his hitting coach, as he was from 2004-06.
“Right now, unless something (else) happens when we’re hiring appropriate people to fill roles, Donnie will be my hitting coach,” Torre said. “We will hire a bench coach.”
That person is likely to be Lee Mazzilli, the former Baltimore manager who served as Torre’s bench coach in 2006 before being fired and replaced by Mattingly — a decision made primarily by the Yankees front office, not by Torre — a year ago. Mazzilli also was the Yankees’ first-base coach from 2000-03 before being hired to manage the Orioles in 2004.
Reached Monday on his cell phone, Mazzilli wouldn’t confirm that he’ll be a part of the Dodgers staff. But it was clear from what little he did say that he has a strong chance.
“Joe and I are talking, and we’re having some dialogue,” Mazzilli said. “We’re talking, but I think it’s unfair right now for me to discuss anything beyond that.”
Another former Yankees coach rumored to be joining Torre with the Dodgers was Jose Cardenal, but that is looking less likely now, especially if the club retains current first-base coach Mariano Duncan. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said no members of former manager Grady Little’s coaching staff have been given a definite answer as to whether they will be brought back.
Despite the fact he won’t be the bench coach, Mattingly remains the heir apparent to Torre, whose three-year contract for just more than $13 million will take him past his 70th birthday in 2010. Colletti said last week in announcing Torre’s hiring that the decision was based largely on establishing continuity, and without mentioning Mattingly by name, Colletti acknowledged that he hopes Torre can groom one of his coaches to eventually succeed him.
For his part, Torre has no problem with that.
“I feel like I have been doing it all the time,” Torre said. “I did it when (current New York Mets manager) Willie Randolph was my bench coach and even my third-base coach. If you do something in a game, you tell them your reasons for doing it. When (new Yankees manager) Joe Girardi sat next to me, when (Mazzilli) sat next to me and when Donnie sat next to me as bench coaches, I was grooming all of them, and I am very comfortable doing that.
“How can you be involved in the game as long as I have been and not share what you know?”
Torre admitted that after having been in the American League for the past 12 years, he knows little to nothing about most of the Dodgers players.
“Most of that work will be done in spring training,” he said. “There may be a time or two, and I have already talked to Jeff Kent, where I’ll try to reach out, maybe drop a note or call somebody just to get more of a feel.”
Torre returned a phone message from Kent over the weekend and said he came away from the conversation with a strong sense that Kent will return for the final season of his contract and probably of his career — not that anyone ever seriously doubted that, given that Kent has a guaranteed salary of $9 million if he plays in 2008.
Torre’s effort to familiarize himself with the players during spring training will be made more urgent by the strong likelihood that half the team will travel to Beijing for a March 14-15 exhibition series with San Diego, and the fact that anyone making that trip is expected to then spend the final two weeks of camp at a yet-to-be-determined site in Arizona rather than flying all the way back to Vero Beach, Fla.
Torre takes the job knowing that the Dodgers aren’t likely to ever approach the estimated $234 million player payroll the Yankees had this season. But he also takes it believing strongly that Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt will provide him with whatever resources he needs to build a winner.
Eventually, anyway.
“I am convinced the McCourts are determined to bring a championship here,” Torre said. “Does that mean we have to (win) it right now? What it takes to build a foundation is to put all the blocks in place to move in that direction. Does that mean we’re not going to win (in 2008)? No, it means we can win (in 2008). But their commitment is to bringing the Dodgers name and the Dodgers franchise back to that stable organization and back to being a team that people expect to win every year.”

Mattingly to be hitting coach, not bench coach

Although Joe Torre was quick to say that could change if the Dodgers don’t find a suitable bench coach. But I’m going to go way out on a limb and guess — based on reading between the lines of something else Joe said today — that he already has someone in mind for the bench coach’s job, and that someone is Lee Mazzilli. I asked Joe if he was looking for anything specific in a bench coach, such as someone who had managed in the National League more recently, and he shot down the N.L. notion. Joe then went on to speak glowingly of all the coaches he had with the Yankees. That would seem to point to one of those coaches being his bench coach with the Dodgers. Other than Mattingly, Torre had four bench coaches with the Yankees. Two of them. Willie Randolph and Joe Girardi, are managing other clubs now. Another one, Don Zimmer, is 76 years old. That leaves Mazzilli, who was fired by the Yankees a year ago, but that decisoin reportedly was made by the front office, not by Torre. By the way, Mattingly being the hitting coach does NOT mean he isn’t the heir apparent to Torre as manager. Without mentioning Mattingly by name, Ned Colletti said last week that it was important to groom someone under Torre to eventually take over the job, just as Tommy Lasorda was groomed under Walter Alston. That still points straight to Mattingly.

All’s quiet … for now

No news on the coaching staff, no one filed for free agency, and, for all practical purposes, no one said a word. Biggest news of the day was that Josh Rawitch, the Dodgers’ top-notch PR man, tells me that he is expecting so much media for Monday’s presser from both Los Angeles and New York that he had to move the whole thing outdoors. “Just pray it doesn’t rain,” he said. As I understand it, this is how it will look: the ink-stained wretches will sit in chairs with their backs to the centerfield wall. Torre, Colletti, McCourt and whoever else wants to stand up there and talk will stand in front of us, facing the centerfield wall, so that the five-level grandstand behind home plate will serve as the backdrop for all the still photos and video shots. Sounds pretty cool if you ask me. Torre has been the manager for 24 hours, and already, he has dramatically classed up the place. I just assumed they would have this thing in the dugout club, which takes on this dungeon-like feel, with this depressing dim lighting, whenever you go there in the wintertime for a press conference. … By the way, I’m about three weeks late with this, but congratulations to Josh on becoming a father for the first time. He is truly a good dude, and one of the best in the business at what he does. Once, a couple of years ago when the Dodgers were playing in Denver, I was sitting with Josh in the Coors Field dining room before a game and watched him consume a dinner consisting almost entirely of chocolate (Cocoa Puffs, chocolate milk, some cookies, etc.) Worst part of it is, the guy NEVER GAINS AN OUNCE. Here’s hoping his newborn daughter grows up with a much more sophisticated palate than her old man.

Tomorrow’s story: Mattingly to take over in 2011?

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
The Dodgers hired the 26th manager in their storied history on Thursday, naming the already-legendary Joe Torre to fill the job left open by Grady Little’s resignation earlier this week and finally making official what anyone who has been paying attention has known for days.
The club might be on the verge now of hiring its 27th manager.
Although there was no official word on Torre’s coaching staff, there is little doubt he will be joined by at least two of his New York Yankees lieutenants in bench coach Don Mattingly and third-base coach Larry Bowa. Mattingly, who came tantalizingly close to being named Torre’s successor with the Yankees this week before that job ultimately went to Joe Girardi, would instantly become Torre’s heir apparent in Los Angeles.
Torre, 67, signed a three-contract reportedly worth just more than $13 million. The deal will take him beyond his 70th birthday in 2010.
Without officially acknowledging that Mattingly will even be a part of Torre’s staff, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti did make a cryptic comment during a conference call with reporters to announce Torre’s hiring that clearly suggested Mattingly’s role will be something of an apprenticeship. That would be similar to what Mattingly had in New York this season when he moved into the bench coach’s role after three years as the Yankees’ hitting coach.
“I think there is value to (continuity), and that is the goal,” Colletti said. “Joe is 67 years old, and we don’t expect Joe to manage a very, very long time. If we can groom somebody under Joe’s direction, we look forward to doing that, much like Tommy (Lasorda) was groomed under the direction of Walter (Alston). In my conversations with (Dodgers owners) Frank and Jamie McCourt about where we are going, the ideas we want to put in place and the things we want to build on, that was certainly one of the key components.”
Colletti’s comment came in response to a question about the need to re-establish the managerial continuity that once defined the Dodgers. Alston managed the club for 23 seasons from 1954-76. Lasorda became Alston’s third-base coach in 1973, then took over the club upon Alston’s retirement and remained in charge until he himself retired after suffering a heart attack midway through the 1996 season.
All six of the Dodgers’ World Series titles came with either Alston or Lasorda at the helm, and both managers are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
If Torre were to retire at the end of his current contract, that would put Mattingly, now 46, on track to take over in 2011 — right about the time his son, Dodgers infield prospect and former first-round draft choice Preston Mattingly, figures to be reaching the majors.
For now, though, the corner of the dugout belongs to Torre, who brings with him the cachet of having guided the Yankees, baseball’s most storied franchise, to the playoffs in each of his 12 seasons there. That included 10 division titles, six American League pennants and the four most recent of the Yankees’ record 26 World Series crowns.
In a city where star power is everything, Torre will be the biggest star to manage the Dodgers since Lasorda. But when it comes to personality, he is the polar opposite of the charismatic, sometimes-bombastic Lasorda. Instead, Torre is renowned for his low-key personality and calming presence.
Mostly, though, he is known for an ability to get the most out of his players.
“When you have the resume that he has and you see how he has done it, with a calmness that he has been able to display in many difficult situations, and the respect he has, and the comments (from players) you would read from time to time while he was managing (the Yankees) and certainly after he left, you know you are getting a quality human being,” Colletti said. “I remember watching the Yankees players when they would take the field, even to get ready for the start of batting practice, there was a certain air of professionalism about them that told you they were the Yankees.
“I think that starts with the manager, and the players have to believe in it.”
And that is where Colletti and the McCourts are hoping Torre’s presence will be felt, far more than when it comes time to make in-game strategic decisions. The Dodgers are coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the National League West that saw them collapse at the end, losing 11 of their final 15 games, while their clubhouse dissolved into well-chronicled acrimony between the veterans and young players.
Thus, Torre’s first order of business is to unite a team that has become starkly divided.
“That is certainly one of the characteristics Joe Torre brings with him,” Colletti said. “It is certainly a positive and certainly something every clubhouse needs.”
Torre didn’t participate in Thursday’s conference call because he was attending a family function, and the Dodgers let it be known that he won’t be available to reporters before he is formally introduced at a Monday morning press conference at Dodger Stadium.
Torre was 1,173-767 with the Yankees, but before that was just 894-1,003 in three National League stops spanning 15 seasons with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, reaching the playoffs only once. None of those clubs had anything close to the payroll budgets the Yankees would have every year during Torre’s tenure.
Colletti addressed that concern by essentially saying it isn’t a concern at all.
“I think as people work more and manage more, they learn,” Colletti said. “Many times, it’s the composition of the club, although I’m not speaking toward the Mets, Braves or Cardinals when Joe was there. … A lot of teams that have had high payrolls … never won. I think what is indicative of who (Torre) is, is how it has turned out. The pressure of managing in New York and the pressure of having the payroll the Yankees were afforded is another dynamic that can’t always be looked upon as favorable.”
It is unclear whether any of Little’s coaching staff will be retained. Along with Mattingly and Bowa, Torre might be bringing former Yankees coaches Lee Mazzilli and Jose Cardenal. Another possibility is former Cincinnati manager Dave Miley, who has ties to Torre after managing the Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate the past two seasons and also has ties to Dodgers assistant general manager DeJon Watson dating to Watson’s stint as the Reds’ scouting director.

And, of course, the obligatory procedural roster move du jour

By Tony Jackson
Staff Writer
The Dodgers on Thursday officially declined next year’s $9 million contract option on left-hander Randy Wolf, choosing instead to pay the $500,000 buyout. While that means Wolf likely will file for free agency in the coming days, it doesn’t necessarily mean Wolf won’t be back with the Dodgers in 2008.
Wolf made his 18th and final start of the season on July 3, lasting just three innings Atlanta and giving up six runs. That left him 9-6 with a 4.73 ERA. Shortly thereafter, he went onto the disabled list with a shoulder injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.
Given that there are questions about Wolf’s health, there doesn’t figure to be much interest in him on the free-agent market. That means the Dodgers stand a decent chance of re-signing Wolf — a former El Camino Real High and Pepperdine standout — at a much lower salary for next season.