LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. – About 15 minutes into Joe Torre's nearly hour-long State of the Joe Torre address, the room of onlookers almost emptied. Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and Torre's coaching staff had played interested as Torre talked about pretty much everything except the Dodgers. Finally they were excused, a quarter-hour of bloviation plenty penance for the rest of the month.
"Have a nice day, Joe," Colletti said.
Torre bowed his head and shook it. As much as he wanted it to be a nice day – the one before the Dodgers opened spring training at their opulent new Camelback Ranch complex down the street in Glendale – Torre remembered that with gravitas comes responsibility for that which is no longer yours. So he pontificated on wayward subjects, from a(nother) shot at Alex Rodriguez to the revelation that Derek Jeter joked about steroids to his preference that the Dodgers sign Manny Ramirez ahead of a group of players who aren't Manny Ramirez.
And then he answered a single question about the (snooze) Dodgers' (yawn) pitching (borrrr-ing) staff.
OK, so there are plenty of folks who want to know how the rotation stacks up. The answer: Jason Schmidt has six weeks to figure out how he's going to injure himself, and the rest will hash itself out. Friday was for Torre's opinions on the baseball world, and it's a shame no one asked his thought on the stimulus package, because surely he has one he'd like to share.
Give Torre this much: He does not take any Pepto for his diarrhea of the mouth. While the schadenfreude didn't exactly seep from Torre's pores, he spared no words in calling A-Rod's accomplishments "tainted." Jeter, who was born with the gift of avoiding controversy, used to come back after hitting a ball to the warning track, Torre said, and yelp, "Yeah, I'm on steroids." And without saying as much, Torre intimated that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt ought to stop this chicken stuff, offer Manny his money – one year at $28 million, the highest single-season paycheck in baseball history, should do it – and let the team go on with its hitting savant.
Torre wore jeans and a striped shirt with the collar wide open, a fitting image for the man who unbuttoned his 12 years with the New York Yankees and offered it to the public for $26.95. "The Yankee Years" wasn't a breezy read. It was a deep account of a decade of change across Major League Baseball, steroids and money pumping up the game in concert. Torre had a front-row seat, and with the book he and co-author Tom Verducci revealed, as Torre said, "a piece of history."
Of course, the Yankees' four championships between 1996 and 2000 intersected with the other subject du jour: performance-enhancing drugs. More than a dozen players from those teams have been exposed as juicers, and A-Rod is the latest from the post-dynasty era to dabble. The names of ex-Yankees are damning – Roger Clemens, Kevin Brown, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, David Justice and Gary Sheffield, to name a few – and all Torre could say is that he was "naïve" and guilty of "trusting people."
Which was the case with A-Rod, too. Torre wasn't Helen Keller, per se, but he wasn't Jeff Novitzky, either. His clubhouse was loaded with drugs and drug users. He didn't blow the whistle. He swallowed it like a bad referee. And even if Rodriguez never used steroids while with the Yankees, no one will bother differentiating.
"He's a young man and has a chance to do a lot of special things numbers-wise," Torre said. "But now they're tainted because they don't forget. People don't forget. …
"It's stuck with you. Every time you hit a home run, it's going to be connected to, 'I wonder why?' "
Torre kept talking about Rodriguez, saying he felt sorry for him, and that this spring with the Yankees will be "very difficult," and even that he'd call if Rodriguez struggles. And then came the first question about Manny, and a smile returned to Torre's face.
They chatted Tuesday. Torre called. Ramirez's wife, Juliana, picked up. Ramirez was working out. He called back a half hour later, and Torre reiterated his position.
"We're all in agreement that we want him here," Torre said. "It's just a matter of, hopefully, satisfying something we can live with and something he can live with."
Torre believes Ramirez will return. There aren't many other options – for either side. It makes sense. The Dodgers need a little spark of excitement in their new home. Because from here on, with all the A-Rod and steroid questions out of the way, Torre – who's so at home answering them – will go back to talking utility infielders and non-roster invitees and pitching rotations.
Now, where's that Ambien again?