LOS ANGELES – Joe Torre agreed Thursday to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers, an organization that has underachieved for two decades and, in four seasons under Frank McCourt's "stewardship" (his preferred word) and "clumsiness" (our preferred word), is on its third field manager and third general manager.
However the process, the Dodgers have an iconic leader back, and an authentic Italian one at that, more than 11 years after Tommy Lasorda's heart shuddered.
They lucked into this.
They should know that, and make something of it.
It is time for them to become the Dodgers again, symbols of stability and character, and of the kind of baseball you could rely on, the kind of consistent game you wouldn't recognize from the Dodgers unless you are seven or eight years out of college.
It is time for the Dodgers to begin living to the standard of their new manager, who didn't win all those championships by selling out to selfish insecurities, or playing to ownership, or this morning's back page.
The chat rooms can start their threads now on Torre's strategic leanings, on his National League failures, on his reluctance to place trust in young players and his reputation for riding a hot reliever into the ground.
He is not known for being a great tactician. He might not ever manage Tony La Russa into an uncomfortable corner.
But, Torre will lead an organization, if it lets him. And he will lead players, whether they like it or not.
Players will play for him, because of what he has done, and because of who he is.
"What he's done in last 12 years, it's as powerful as any manager in recent memory," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "The championships and how the team played, the effect on the community, and in a city the size of New York. The way players respond to him. It's tough to find any cracks in that foundation."
Assessing his relationship with Torre 20 minutes after the Yankees' season ended, Alex Rodriguez, aware that neither might return to that clubhouse, said, "It's definitely come full circle. I have the utmost respect for that man. I love Joe. He's a great man. This year, we really got to understand each other."
Matt Kemp, then, ought to be a snap.
In his farewell to New York and the Yankees two weeks ago, Torre promised he would take on his next job just as he had the last one. He had become bulletproof in New York, right up until the last bullet. And, even then, he was only grazed. At 67, he has won more than 2,000 games as a manager, nearly 1,500 of those in New York, where the intrigue doesn't sleep, and neither do the tabloids.
He reminded an audience in Rye, N.Y. that he'd been fired three times before the Yankees, and that these things happen. He wouldn't know it, but a three-year, $13-million contract was developing in Los Angeles. Grady Little, who had had trouble settling clubhouse dissention in L.A., was being indecisive about returning. Joe Girardi, who would eventually get an offer from the Dodgers, could not take his eyes from the Yankees. Torre was home with his wife and daughter, watching, if not exactly waiting.
"I still go into my next job and hang pictures," Torre said, "which is basically the way I look at the fact I'm going to be there forever. … And I have to have the players feel that from me."
The circumstances would lead the Dodgers to Torre, and he to them. The Dodgers, whether they knew it or not, were in search of credibility. Torre, feeling abandoned by the franchise he helped return to the center of the baseball universe, was searching for something to believe in. The Dodgers, he learned, would do.
"That would depend on sitting with someone and discussing what the job is, what it would be all about," Torre said two weeks ago. "It certainly would be different, especially being here the last 12 years … But I still feel the energy level and the feeling the players listen and respect what you have to say."
Through mutual acquaintances, McCourt led the early communication with Torre. Last weekend, McCourt, Colletti and Torre met in Las Vegas. By Tuesday night, after Little resigned, as Colletti suspected he might, negotiations began in earnest with Torre.
And a couple days after his old job went to his former catcher and bench coach, the day Girardi wore the number – 27, as in the World Series title that never came – that got him dismissed, Torre, born in Brooklyn, raised on the Giants, became manager of the Dodgers.
"I asked him from the very get-go," Colletti said, "'Do you want to get back into this?' He said, 'There is no doubt in my mind what I want to do and where I want to do it.' He likes the idea that the Dodgers are a franchise that is one of icons in American sports. He wants to take a club that hasn't gone to the World Series since 1988 and do something about that.
"There is no doubt that the appetite is there and he's up to the challenge. He's looking forward to the opportunity."
They'll find Torre brings class and decorum, along with the wisdom and hardened edges of time served under George Steinbrenner.
He doesn't, however, bring a third baseman or a starting pitcher or a middle-of-the-order bat. That's on the Dodgers, who just got very lucky.
- Joe Torre
- the Dodgers