LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers made it official on Thursday, hiring future Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre to replace Grady Little, who resigned on Tuesday.
Why Joe Torre?
"Why not Joe Torre?" replied general manager Ned Colletti. "Joe Torre comes with a great resume. What he's done the last 12 years is as powerful as any manager in recent memory. Not only the won-loss record, the championships, how his teams have played, his effect on a community the size of New York, the way he embraces the job, the way the players respond to him, the success they have. It's tough to find any cracks in the foundation with that."
OK, Colletti initially pursued Joe Girardi when he realized that a burned-out Little had doubts about returning for 2008. But when Girardi chose instead to replace Torre with the Yankees, it was no surprise that Colletti, a general manager who treasures the advice of baseball sage Don Zimmer, would wind up hiring the manager that Zimmer is most closely linked.
Torre, who left the Yankees earlier this month after a run of 12 consecutive years in the playoffs and four World Series titles, agreed to a three-year contract believed to be worth around $13 million. Torre was not on the conference call announcing the hiring and will be introduced at a Dodger Stadium press conference on Monday.
With a salary higher by multiples than any Dodgers manager in history, Torre will be charged with fulfilling owner Frank McCourt's promise to fans of championship baseball, which the franchise hasn't enjoyed since 1988.
"Having grown up in Brooklyn, I have a great understanding of the history of the Dodger organization and I am committed to bringing a world championship back to Los Angeles," Torre said in a release. "I consider it an honor to be a part of this organization, which is one of the most storied franchises in all of sports."
He is expected to bring former Yankees coaches Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa and possibly Lee Mazzilli with him. First-base coach Mariano Duncan and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, holdovers from Little's staff, might be retained. Colletti said the staff hasn't been finalized, but acknowledged that with Torre's age (67), the ideal situation would be to "groom somebody under Joe's direction, much like Tommy [Lasorda] was under Walter [Alston]. That was a key component to it." Presumably, that somebody is Mattingly, although Colletti said such a decision was premature.
Meanwhile, at a time when the Los Angeles sports scene is hungry for a superstar, Torre provides the Dodgers instant credibility that could facilitate the recruitment of better players, such as free agent and former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, who could fill holes at third base and in the middle of a power-starved batting order.
"We'll meet as a group and discuss not only Alex Rodriguez, but everybody out there who's a free agent as well as different trade scenarios we've got," said Colletti, who leaves next week for the General Manager Meetings.
Colletti said in the last week he met with Torre face to face, as did club owners Frank and Jamie McCourt. If Dodgers management had concerns whether the 67-year-old Torre had enough left in the tank after his departure from the Yankees (rejecting a one-year deal for $5 million plus incentives), Torre put them to rest.
"From the very get-go I looked at him and said, 'Do you really want to get back into something this?' and he looked back at me and said, 'There's no doubt in my mind what I want to do and where I want to do it,'" said Colletti. "He likes the challenge, the chance to take a club that hasn't been to the World Series since 1988 and to do something about that. I don't have any doubt about his appetite. He's up for the challenge He left me no doubt."
Colletti said he was not concerned about Torre returning to the fast pace of National League managing or his coming from a veteran club like the Yankees to a Dodgers team in the midst of a youth movement, citing Torre's early years in New York when Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams were part of a youth movement.
"He's managed young players before, no doubt he can and he has," he said. "He gave me no indication he has any concerns about the type of club this is currently, knowing it has not reached its full potential."
Colletti said Torre will have the same input in player personnel matters that Little had, something Torre apparently did not have in his final years with the Yankees. Little often said that Colletti consulted him on all player moves.
"No player decision will be made without me talking and discussing [it] with the manager," Colletti said. "I did it with Grady every step of the way and I'll do it with Joe."
Torre inherits an imperfect roster coming off a fourth-place finish and a clubhouse divided. Little was assessed much of the blame for the split between young and old players. While that situation could heal itself to a certain extent as some of the unhappy veterans have already declared for free agency, Torre has enjoyed widespread respect from his players over the years and Dodgers officials are confident his presence will preclude a repeat of last year's turmoil.
"He gets the most out of players and has them understand the value of the team and not the individual," said Colletti. "The manager has a lot to do with keeping that in tune. When you have the resume and you see how he's done it, with almost a calmness he's able to do it in difficult situations, the success, the response of the players and the comments you read, you know you're getting a quality human being and somebody that's there a tremendous amount of respect for.
"The success he's had, coupled with the demeanor he carries and the ability to relate to all of the players. You can tell the mind-set of a team by how it plays and a few years ago when the Yankees took the field to stretch, there was a certain air and professionalism that said, we're the Yankees. That starts with the manager and the players have to believe in it. It's the way players respond to him and the success and who he is."
Torre has managed 27 years for four Major League teams, the last dozen years with the Yankees. He didn't reach the World Series until he managed the Yankees and won four world championships there, but none since 2000. The Yankees finished second in the AL East in 2007 for the first time since 1997.
Torre was Manager of the Year in 1996 and 1998. He previously managed the Braves, Mets and Cardinals. His overall winning percentage is .539, but his win percentage excluding the Yankees years was .470 and those teams finished first once in 15 seasons.
Following Jim Tracy and Little, Torre will be the third manager for the Dodgers since McCourt purchased the club less than four years ago. He's the Dodgers' sixth manager in the last 10 years (Bill Russell, Glenn Hoffman and Davey Johnson are the others), eighth since the club came to Los Angeles and 26th in franchise history.
As a player, Torre was a nine-time All-Star, former Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner (1965) and National League Most Valuable Player (1971). He hit .297 with 252 career home runs and 1,185 RBIs in 2,209 games as a catcher, third baseman and first baseman for the Braves, Cardinals and Mets. His 1971 MVP campaign included a career-high .363 batting average, 230 hits, 137 RBIs and 352 total bases.
"Joe Torre is one of the most respected men in the game of baseball," said Frank McCourt in a release. "As a player, a broadcaster, a manager and in his life off the field, Joe is a winner through and through. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers moving to Los Angeles, we will again have a Hall of Fame caliber manager at the helm. Joe's dedication, desire and ability will help lead the Dodgers to our ultimate goal -- a world championship."