Bridging the gap
Torre's clubhouse skills will be sorely tested in L.A.
Posted: Thursday February 28, 2008 1:07PM; Updated: Thursday March 13, 2008 5:21PM
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VERO BEACH, Fla. -- General manager Ned Colletti thought he had the perfect man to manage the Dodgers, the perfect man to grow with what should be a terrific young team (especially if the team either bridges a generational divide in the clubhouse or moves a couple more crusty veterans out of the way). But once the Yankees' job came open, Colletti became concerned he would be unable to hire Joe Girardi after all.
"What do you think?" Colletti asked Girardi after the Yankees' top baseball seat became vacant.
Colletti knew Girardi for 20 years, since Girardi was a young Cubs catcher and Colletti headed the Cubs' public relations department; Colletti figured he'd know from the way Girardi responded whether the Dodgers still had a shot at their first choice.
"Uh, I, I'm not sure," the normally supremely confident longtime Yankees player, coach and broadcaster said.
And that's when Colletti knew for sure the Dodgers were the second choice of Girardi, who at 43 seemed to fit perfectly with the Dodgers' young nucleus. So, shortly after Grady Little delayed his decision about whether to return as manager until exactly three weeks after the season -- thus sealing his own fate as an ex-Dodgers manager -- the storied L.A. franchise had to turn to its second choice.
Joe Torre is the very reason Girardi was no longer available to Colletti. Torre also became the most obvious answer to Colletti's managing conundrum; not often does a second choice tote four World Series rings.
Colletti and Torre didn't know each other when they found each other. But Colletti flew to New York to get to know Torre, and in Colletti's estimation, "We hit it off immediately." No surprise to folks who know both men.
In some ways, Torre, Girardi's mentor, was the best man for the job all along. He proved generally terrific as a clubhouse-calming influence in New York (except in a few cases, especially when it came to Alex Rodriguez in 2006).
Yet in other ways, it's an odd choice. The Dodgers are heading in a young direction, and while a few young stars, including Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, developed under Torre, and Colletti said, "[Torre's] personality is such that he relates to the potential All-Star as well as the All-Star," he has been universally and fairly viewed as predominantly a veterans' manager.
Torre is 67, and his team is built around talented players who are under 26. He's going to need to be at his best, as he walks into what is viewed as a split clubhouse that craves cohesion. Dodgers people will tell you the locker room's generational divide was overblown in the press late last year when a talented team fizzled -- however, the evidence of the division came directly via the public words of veteran Dodger Jeff Kent, whose complaint about a lack of "professionalism" among the star young players sparked more harsh volleys between the very young and very old.
Furthermore, according to club sources, some older Dodgers went to club higherups and privately griped about the mistakes of youth, particularly baserunning gaffes that afflicted Matt Kemp, who's seen as a potential superstar.
While some veteran Dodgers also saw the young kids as cocky and unwilling to show the proper respect to their elders, a big part of the problem, some club sources say, related to the reaction of the veteran players to long-warranted diminished playing time. Even if the benching was long overdue -- and, if anything, hindsight suggests the Dodgers were slow to provide playing time to top young stars, such as Kemp and James Loney, who easily outplayed the fading vets such as Luis Gonzalez and Nomar Garciaparra -- it didn't diminish the hard feelings of the vets.
Kemp is full of confidence, and while he's an enthusiastic kid, club officials concede he's a "young 24." But scouts also see him as "the next Dave Winfield," and he actually appears to have shown real, honest-to-goodness restraint since he never publicly spoke the obvious, which was that the Dodgers never should have signed Gonzalez, or played Gonzalez ahead of him.