By Tony Jackson
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.
By Tony Jackson