Friday, November 02, 2007

The Torre Aftermath: Notes from the "LA Times"

Whenever I look at the LA Times sports page, with its wafer-thin page depth (despite a banner headline-sized ad running across the bottom), morally unsound coverage of betting lines, and insipid rants from idiots like Bill Plaschke, it makes me long for the days when the LA Times was a quality newspaper. And then I read articles from LA Times alums who have gone on to greneer pastures, and it makes me weep.

First, Steve Henson (now of Yahoo Sports), who calls out the Dodgers' duplicity as ethically-questionable behavior not fit for Sunday school:

The ugly part is all but forgotten. They convinced Grady Little that it was his decision to remain in his North Carolina home hard against the 18th hole at Pinehurst Course No. 7 and relinquish the reins of the Dodgers.

Kids, cover your eyes and ears. This isn't what they teach in Sunday school. The Dodgers' duplicity was staggering. They were dishonest, deceitful, deceptive and … effective.


But in an upset, it all worked out the way McCourt dreamed it up. The plan didn't fall apart the way an even more complicated scheme did two years ago.

Remember? He had general manager Paul DePodesta fire Jim Tracy, then he fired DePodesta, then he tried to replace DePodesta with Pat Gillick, who was to hire Orel Hershiser as his assistant and Bobby Valentine as manager.

Problem was, Gillick wanted no part of being told who to hire, and he became GM of the Philadelphia Phillies instead. Valentine had won a championship in Japan weeks earlier and preferred his newfound status as a national icon. Hershiser kept waiting for his phone to ring and eventually settled in – quite convincingly – as a television analyst.

McCourt regrouped, was widely lauded for hiring Colletti, and, in a leap of faith, signed off on Little as the right choice for the dugout, even though as a Boston blueblood, the 2003 memory of Pedro Martinez rotting on the vine against the Yankees was indelible.

Little guided the Dodgers to a 17-victory improvement and playoff appearance in 2006, and preseason prognosticators had the team reaching the World Series in 2007. Then came the injuries to starters Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf, then came the losing, then came the dissension, there went Little, who in hindsight only had the backing of McCourt as long as his winning percentage remained well above .500.

In comes Torre, a .605 winning percentage in 12 seasons with the Yankees, a .476 mark in 15 National League seasons before that. He will be introduced at Dodger Stadium on Monday. It might be too soon to bring along Don Mattingly, but by spring training he will wear Dodgers blue as well, serving as bench coach or hitting coach and wearing the unofficial title of heir apparent.


Reeling in Alex Rodriguez makes sense for many reasons, foremost being that if the Dodgers are going to pay a manager $13 million, they might as well provide him with the players it will take to win a World Series. Colletti didn't exactly exude optimism, though.

"The free agent market is thin, and any team that is trying to build via free agency is bound to be disappointed," he said. "Our young players, we need to maximize their ability. It's also about the individual players we have here getting better. You're not always going to be able to call the cavalry."

McCourt and Colletti did, however, bring in the equivalent of Gen. Philip Sheridan, who any Civil War buff knows was assigned to duty in the West after distinguishing himself in the East by playing a large role in Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

Wow, minority-interviewing exemptions coupled with Civil War references. Ironic, isn't it?

Exhibit #2 of lost LA Times writers is JA Adande (now at, who writes that Torre alone will not cure the Dodgers' ills--only championships will.

It's not just about the flash, the star power and the almost daily dosage of drama the Lakers provide. Nothing short of a championship will satisfy this city's sports fans. And while the Lakers and the USC football team revived their glory days earlier this decade, we're almost to the point where a whole generation has grown up, left for college and come back while the Dodgers maintained the exact same status: without a playoff series victory since 1988.

And no manager, Joe Torre included, is good enough to transform the Dodgers into a championship team.

If adding A-Rod to the 2004 Yankees couldn't get them to the World Series, how would he single-handedly transform the 2007 Dodgers?

So Torre, in and of himself, doesn't change the L.A. sports landscape. The Dodgers already had a face in Tommy Lasorda. They already had a voice in Vin Scully. Torre won't take over either of those roles -- not that he would want to. He's not here to promote. He's here to maintain. Manage, you might say.

He's pretty good at it, even if the Dodgers aren't a good fit for his specialties. To use an example of another transplanted coach who arrived with a ring collection that wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment, it's like the Lakers hiring Phil Jackson in 2004, not the Lakers hiring Phil Jackson in 1999.

The first time around, Jackson was the right man at the right time, a guy who could meld the egos of a talented team and take it to the next step. The result: three championships for a group that had never been to the NBA Finals before. In Version 2.0, even Jackson has doubts that a coach at his salary level is a good value for a team that doesn't have championship talent.


So, no, Torre isn't a bad hire. It just seems a little extravagant for a team that wasn't supposed to be shopping in this neighborhood.

Frank McCourt made his money in real estate, and he seemed to be following the old adage that you should buy the worst house on the best block. They're in the two-bedroom bungalow down the street from the mansions. Except that doesn't work in baseball. The Dodgers had baseball's sixth-highest payroll, but were some $40 million behind the Boston Red Sox and $90 million behind the Yankees. He has overcome initial fears that he wouldn't spend money; now Dodgers fans are antsy that he and GM Ned Colletti won't spend it wisely following high-money, low-yield contracts for Jason Schmidt and Juan Pierre.

The actions of McCourt just reaffirm a little secret about Los Angeles: all of the behavior that gives this city a bad name comes from people who move here, not the folks who are from here. As soon as the plane lands, the new residents throw on the sunglasses, find a hairstylist and start trying to fit in. McCourt, a Bostonian, just bought the flashiest car on the lot and is ready to show off. He might even accessorize with A-Rod.

But over the long run, this city really does separate the talented from the hyped. In the movies, it's all about box office. In sports, it's about banners.

Want proof? When was the last time you read about that David Beckham guy?

I'm glad that collectively, Henson and Adande point out that the Dodgers' management is an absurd circus under McCourt's leadership, and what the Dodgers really need to do is earn some banners. I'll say this--Torre is a promising start toward a rebuilding plan. But I'm hoping that Frankie doesn't stop there, or at the concession stands--more work needs to be done.


Orel said...

Don't forget Tim Brown, who broke the (basically) accurate version of Ned and Grady's post-season interaction.

Steve Sax said...

Three for three, Orel. Nice.

And yet, we're still stuck with Plaschke.

WesParker in IA said...

Amen...The LA Times was a great paper...unfortunately, it's not the only paper that is losing it.

ajc said...

Joe Torre’s hiring, as you have put it, “seems a little extravagant for a team that wasn’t suppose to be shopping in this neighborhood”, and this is what worries me. The Dodger organization has brought in a great coach, do not get me wrong, but I am not sure he is the right fit. He was a perfect fit in New York were the egos seemed to be the only thing larger than the payroll at times, and he won in spite of it. However, the coach that was paid so much to keep things under the radar is going to become the biggest blip in the organization. As was said, he is not expected to replace or become a name added to the list of the most revered Dodger players and managers ever, but he will be compared. Writers at papers like the L.A. Times will have a field day with each Torre win or loss, especially if they come in bunches. The Dodgers do not need a manager to temper player outbursts (most of the time) or egos, but they do need to cultivate the young talent, which will lead to the wins. I believe Torre will point the team in the right direction and do his part, but his hiring may have been for a different reason, and a hiring for anything other than winning is for the wrong reason.

Steve Sax said...

Karl: It was promising though to see that the LA Times posted a gain in daily circulation, despite declines in almost all other major US newspapers. Think about how many more subscribers we'd have if we had some real writers on the Sports staff...

Steve Sax said...

ajc: Thanks, but I can't take credit for the "shopping" comment--that was all Mr. Adande. Thanks for the post, though--right on.