Friday, September 17, 2010

Torre's Resignation--or is Anybody Really Surprised?

     By Ross Newhan

     First of all, how could anybody be surprised by Joe Torre's decision to step down as Dodger manager?

     Why would Torre, at 70, financially secure, with a daughter still in high school, want to spend five more minutes managing the Dodgers amid the ownership turmoil and the resulting financial restraint it has put on the roster?

     Why would he even contemplate spending another year or possibly several, pending appeals in Frank and Jamie McCourt's divorce trial?

     Even the always reticent and circumspect Peter O'Malley spoke out in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, saying the McCourts have lost all credibility in Los Angeles and need to sell.

     Secondly, for Don Mattingly, eager to get his first managerial opportunity and angered when he wasn't selected as Torre''s successor with the New York Yankees, it's worth the risk of managing amid the ownership uncertainty and it's worth ownership's risk of giving the unproven hitting coach known as Donnie Baseball a chance rather than go through a prolonged search.

     Mattingly has a three year contract and that internal and contractural grooming by Torre and the Dodgers allowed the club to avoid a long search generally required by MLB, which approved of the Dodgers handling.

     Still, it's not going to be easy for him assuming the McCourts remain as owners while their divorce trial lingers. He watched Torre, the strain deeping in his eyes and on his face, attempt to keep the Dodgers in the division race with gaps in the lineup and pitching staff and getting viturally no front office help from his handcuffed general manager.

   It's not going to be easy for Mattingly to reinvigorate his key young players like Matt Kemp, Andre Eithier and James Loney, all of whom in certain ways went backwards this year as Manny Ramirez disappeared on them and they knew ownership wasn't going to spend big on a key addition or two, and may not again in 2011.

    Nor will it be easy on Mattingly simply to prove he can step into a big city job and win the same respect as a manager that he always carried as a player. Perhaps Torre will stay around as a managerial advisor and perhaps Mattingly has learned enough during his several seasons next to Torre on the Yankee and Dodger bench that it won't be an issue.

   Yes, Mattingly made a key mistake while replacing Torre in a mid summer game, turning one trip to the mound into two when he momentarily stepped off the mound headed back to the dugout and then back on it to answer a question, automatically forcing the need for a pitching change. Call it a learning experience, but a mistake like that as the manager and he will be dogged by whispers of uncertainly in the clubhouse and press box.

   For now, the Dodgers have kept to the plan they put in place when Torre was hired:

  Mattignly will succeed him and Tim Wallach will have to wait his chance at triple A unless he takes this as a slap in the face of the kind Mike Scioscia once received from the Dodgers and, like Scioscia, leaves on his own or is hired for another big league opening, of which there are expected to be several.

  Might Torre fill one?

  The New York Mets, if Jerry Manuel is fired as expected? The St. Louis Cardinals, if Tony LaRussa retires? The Chicago Cubs as Lou Piniella's successor or the Atlanta Braves as successor to Bobby Cox?

   Thank about it. Would any of those clubs really hire a 70 year old manager who would have to receive a multi year contract and be paid $5 million or more a year?

    Does Torre really want to take on another challenge at 70?

    He is already headed to the Hall of Fame.

    He is a former winner of the Most Valuable Player Award and he has already managed successfully for the bombastic George Steinbrenner and the dysfunctional McCourts, making the post-season playoffs for 14 straight seasons prior to this one.

   Who needs more? He has fulfilled his three year contract with the Dodgers and said it was time for the players to hear a new voice. Any slim possibility of an extension or talks regarding a new role stopped when the McCourts went to court.

    Torre will remain in baseball, but the bet here is that he is through with managing and headed to a front office role somewhere or back to the announcer's booth on a parttime basis, keeping an eye in the meantime on Mattingly should he ask for advice.

    Of course, it is a risky business making predictions.

    As anyone who has followed the Dodgers knows, there has been one tumultuous event after another since O'Malley sold the team in 1998.

    In the context of all that, Friday was fairly ho-hum.



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