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Torre recalls Dodgers the way they were

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – On his first day in the uniform, Joe Torre stood atop a platform in center field, Dodger Stadium rising behind him in the morning fog, and gestured to the place where Willie Davis used to play.

Juan Pierre is there now.

He posed for a photo on the pitchers' mound, which he recalled as Sandy Koufax's mound.

The organization is crossing its fingers for Jason Schmidt.

He smiled and told of a home run he once hit off Don Sutton, pointing to its course in the general direction of the San Gabriel Mountains.

One of his returning players – Jeff Kent – hit 20 home runs last season, and he'll be 40 in March.

He said his mother's favorite was Gil Hodges, not as a manager, but as a first baseman, in both occupations exhibiting elegance and professionalism.

His new first baseman, James Loney, stood at the core of a broken clubhouse, the line pettily etched along service times.

He cupped his hands around the red No. 6 on his new jersey, and spoke dreamily not of Steve Garvey, but of Carl Furillo.

And on this gray morning when Torre was recognized as the eighth manager in Los Angeles Dodgers history, it became ever clearer that the nearest these Dodgers are to those Dodgers is that Torre manages these Dodgers, and batted against a few of those Dodgers.

On the 50th anniversary of the winter in which Walter O'Malley moved the franchise from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, the Dodgers presented Torre, who in 1957 was the third baseman for Brooklyn's St. Francis Prep.

"The Terriers," Torre pointed out.

He remembers when the Dodgers played there, remembers when they departed (leaving behind, for the moment, his New York Giants), even remembers when they put the red numbers on the fronts of the jerseys, how odd it seemed.

So when he climbed the stairs to sit alongside the club's current caretakers, and alongside Vin Scully and Tommy Lasorda, and when he gazed across a row of franchise luminaries – Newk, Sweet Lou, The Penguin, Garv – and heard Scully point out the manager and the team both had hailed from "the borough of churches, the borough of Brooklyn," he grinned.

"This," Torre said, "is surreal for me."

It had been 18 days from the New York Yankees to Los Angeles Dodgers, from 12 postseason appearances in 12 years to one playoff game win in 19 years, from the tyranny of The Steinbrenner III to the whimsy of The McCourt II.

When he paraded across the stage, posing for the cameras, photographers shouted his name. When he politely requested patience, one of them explained, "Hollywood, Joe."

And so it is.

Joe Torre, of the streets of Brooklyn, of the hard-edged Yankees, and once a regular on the Canyon of Heroes, on Monday morning took on the Dodgers, grown soft with time and neglect.

At the 25-minute mark of the press conference, he referred to the Dodgers for the first time as "we."

They'd been "them" for so long. And they'd been inconsequential to the Yankees and Torre.

The Dodgers will celebrate their 50 years in L.A. this season, and play another season away from their last championship, 20 years running.

They aren't the Dodgers Torre remembers. Those Dodgers move slowly on rickety parts and wave from their seats in the front row. Come to think of it, just like these Dodgers do every October.

Pitcher Brad Penny met Torre in the dugout before the ceremony. He came to the ballpark, he said, smiling, "Because I didn't have anything else to do."

"He's not going to come in here and win the World Series," Penny said. "The players are going to have to do it. And we're going to need some help."

To that end, general manager Ned Colletti left a few minutes later for the GM's meetings in Florida.

And everybody batted around the notion of Alex Rodriguez at third base, assuming McCourt could pay him and Torre would have him.

Asked specifically about that, Torre said he had "a good association" with his former player, which sounds more like what you have with your gardener than your cleanup hitter and league MVP.

"I think our relationship is fine," he said. "I think he's comfortable, I'm comfortable."

New York sometimes does that to people.

Torre spoke less of winning championships than of building a foundation, the first clue he knows the Dodgers better than he let on.

Colletti, who has two years left on his contract (or one fewer than Torre), might have a more urgent schedule. If there's one thing that's carried the conversations at Dodger Stadium for the past two decades – other than, lately, when the GM or manager would get canned – it's foundation building. They've built enough foundations to repopulate downtown.

"We didn't hire Joe Torre to help us finish .500," Colletti said.

No, they've got kids to turn into players, and veterans to turn into winners, and an organization to turn into something other than a big, shiny shell of the organization Torre so fondly recalled.

It's not Koufax's mound anymore. It's not Hodges' clubhouse. And it's not Furillo's 6.

Torre once made the Yankees the Yankees again. This might be the tougher job.

"When I think of the Dodgers, I think of efficiency, I think of pride, I think of measuring stick," Torre said. "It was just ingrained, what the Los Angeles Dodgers – previously the Brooklyn Dodgers – meant to the game of baseball. You always measured yourself against the Dodgers, because they always did things right."

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