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High hopes

Torborg expects great things from Marlins in '02

Posted: Thursday February 14, 2002 4:55 PM
Updated: Saturday February 16, 2002 9:07 PM
  Jeff Torborg Jeff Torborg should be a good fit for Florida because of his reputation for handling young players well. AP

MIAMI (AP) -- As Jeff Torborg tried on his new Florida Marlins jersey Thursday, he looked out at a room filled with reporters and cameramen for his introductory news conference.

"This is larger than the crowds we had in Montreal last year," Torborg joked.

Small crowds will likely continue to be the norm in Florida, too -- at least until the Marlins start winning, which their new manager expects to happen soon.

"I come into this job feeling this ballclub has a chance to be a very good team," Torborg said. "I think it will be an interesting race in this division."

Torborg believes the Marlins can contend with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets in the NL East, even though both teams were active during the offseason while the Marlins stood pat, awaiting the sale of the franchise to Expos owner Jeffrey Loria.

Major league owners approved the deal Tuesday, and one of Loria's first moves was to make official the long-anticipated hiring of Torborg. The new manager and a new coaching staff will be in Melbourne on Friday when pitchers and catchers begin to report for spring training. The first workout is Sunday.

"We're going to be on the field in three days, which gives us plenty of time to get ready," new general manager Larry Beinfest joked, stressing the word "plenty."

When workouts begin, Beinfest and Torborg expect to like what they see. Torborg managed the Expos the final four months of last season and regarded the Marlins even then as potential playoff contenders. They finished a disappointing 76-86, 12 games behind the first-place Braves.

But the more Torborg learns, the more he likes the young team he inherited.

"This was a fun team to watch. I'm not saying it was a fun team to play against," Torborg said. "When I started doing a little research about the club, I got so many nice comments about what great chemistry this team has. Everybody I spoke to -- major league scouts and people in all parts of this game -- said this is a special group of kids."

Torborg, 60, has a losing record (539-613) in nine seasons with four teams, but he could be a good fit for Florida because of his reputation for handling young players well. The Chicago White Sox were baseball's youngest team when he led them to a 94-win season in 1990.

After being fired by the Mets 38 games into the 1993 season, Torborg became a TV broadcaster. He returned to the dugout last May 31 when Loria hired him to replace Felipe Alou as the Expos' manager.

Loria and Torborg met in 1982, when a mutual acquaintance -- Yankees owner George Steinbrenner -- asked Torborg to help Loria's nephew, a teenage pitcher. With Torborg's tutoring, the youngster threw three no-hitters in high school, and Loria and Torborg have been friends since.

"We've know each other for a long time, and we just shoot the breeze about baseball," Torborg said. "He's got a passion for the game. He loves the players."

The same goes for Torborg. He has been tinkering with potential batting orders -- including one that has cleanup hitter Preston Wilson batting No. 2 -- but said the Marlins' lineup and rotation are virtually set.

"The only thing we've got to do is tweak the bench and bullpen a little bit," Torborg said.

That's barring any trades to reduce the payroll. Beinfest, heading into his first season as a general manager, declined to discuss the projected payroll but said he'll be in the market to make deals that improve the team.

"No one is untouchable," Beinfest said. "Some guys are less likely to be traded than others."

When that comment was relayed to Torborg, he feigned displeasure.

"Larry, we've got to talk," Torborg joked. "They're all untouchable to me."


 
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