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Hollywood Beginning
LEE JENKINS
April 07, 2008
New league, new coast, New York reminders everywhere for new Dodgers manager Joe Torre, ranging from a historic exhibition against—who else?—the Red Sox to a young nucleus that recalls the early days of the Yankees' dynasty he helped build
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April 07, 2008

Hollywood Beginning

New league, new coast, New York reminders everywhere for new Dodgers manager Joe Torre, ranging from a historic exhibition against—who else?—the Red Sox to a young nucleus that recalls the early days of the Yankees' dynasty he helped build

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Only a few managers could bridge the generational divide in such a clubhouse, and Grady Little was apparently not one of them. When Torre declined a one-year extension with the Yankees in October, the Dodgers pounced. Little resigned. "Joe has seen almost everything and handled almost everything," says L.A. general manager Ned Colletti. "That's what makes him so special—he has succeeded with veteran players, and a lot of people forget, he has also succeeded with young players."

In 1996 Torre managed, among others, Wade Boggs, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines and Cecil Fielder, all veterans on the downside of their careers. He persuaded them to accept limited roles and defer to new stars. Now, Colletti has left Torre with Garciaparra and Juan Pierre. Torre will have to figure out how to use those spare parts, and if he cannot use them, how to keep them from disturbing the peace.

If history is any indication, he will apply the famous Torre touch, blending young with old. During a meeting in spring training, he told the players, "You don't have to be best friends. You don't have to go to dinner together. You don't even have to like each other. But when you're on the field, you have to unite." It was a variation of a speech he would give to any team, before any season. With the Dodgers, though, it took on greater significance. "He does well with young players because he makes them accountable," Kent says. "If you challenge young players, if you set expectations for them, they will respond. If you just allow them to move along, you will get no response."

Two days before the opener, the Dodgers played an exhibition game against the Red Sox at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before an announced crowd of 115,300, the largest ever to see a baseball game. Wherever Torre goes, the Big Top follows, and, it appears, the Red Sox too. The leftfield fence at the Coliseum was only 201 feet from home plate—24 feet shorter than the fence at Lamade Stadium, home of the Little League World Series. Ethier was the Dodgers' starting leftfielder, but he lined up in center, and Andruw Jones was the centerfielder, but he lined up behind second base.

The Dodgers had last played at the Coliseum in 1961, and in September of that year, Torre came through town as a rookie catcher with the Milwaukee Braves. In the series finale Don Drysdale started for the Dodgers. Koufax closed. In the 11th inning Torre hit a go-ahead single off Koufax to score Eddie Mathews. But in the bottom of the 11th, Snider came back with a bases-loaded, two-run single to win the game. "I got a hit off Sandy Koufax," Torre says. "That's what I remember about the Coliseum."

Being with these Dodgers can bring out the chest-thumping rookie in anyone.

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