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McCourt and Colletti still have some work to do

Hiring Joe Torre to manage the Dodgers is like hanging a masterpiece in a tool shed, installing leather seats in a jalopy, buying designer shoes for a dog.

Joe Torre is a wonderful, dramatic, once-in-a-lifetime gem.

But if the Dodgers don’t significantly improve their roster, he’ll be little more than a gaudy trinket.

Those who need proof need only to look at the current plight of the other Hall of Fame coach in town.

Phil Jackson sitting on the Lakers’ bench these days is like Mt. Rushmore plopped in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Torre is Jackson without the smugness. He is Pete Carroll with a couple of more championships. He is Mike Scioscia with more seniority. He is Ben Howland with less rancor.

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Torre is lacking only one asset, and that is time. He is 67 years old. He has a career window no larger than his three-year contract.

The Dodgers wanted the younger guy, first chasing Joe Girardi in obvious hopes that he can grow with the kids.

They could have sold us on a long-term plan with Girardi. Life would have been cheaper and easier with Girardi.

But Girardi chose the Yankees, the Dodgers snapped up a guy with a much shorter shelf life, and now everything has changed.

No more slow growth. No more hand holding. Torre is not a nice lot in a burgeoning suburb, he’s a $13-million ocean-view, cliff-side property who needs to be enjoyed -- now -- before it erodes gently into the sea.

The Dodgers made a smart move in hiring him; they would be really dumb in trivializing him.

Not that they need to give him the talent of the New York Yankees. We’re talking about the National League here, remember?

They only need to give him enough talent to be the best of the mediocre, then allow him to guide them to October.

At the end of last season, even mediocre was a leap, with the Dodgers unable to cope with teams that were younger (Arizona), thinner (Colorado) and more unsettled (San Diego).

That leap is a new third baseman. It’s a veteran outfielder who is not 50 years old and who can actually throw the ball. It’s a starting pitcher. It’s a decent backup catcher.

Memo to owner Frank McCourt: When calculating team payroll, managers don’t count.

Memo to Ned Colletti: Your window is even smaller than Torre’s.

"[Torre] gave me no indication that he had any concerns as to the type of club that there is currently,” Colletti said.

Don’t bet your job on it, Ned.

Who do you think will have McCourt’s ear? It’s the guy with the rings.

Who do you think will take the fall if Torre fails, particularly after the ham-handed way in which Colletti forced out Grady Little? Not the guy with the rings.

Believe it or not, the national view of the Dodgers front office in the last few days could have been even worse.

The slam-dunk nature of Torre’s hiring overshadowed the odd fact that baseball officials gave the Dodgers an exemption from interviewing a minority candidate for the job.

Shouldn’t Jackie Robinson’s franchise always make it a priority to interview a minority?

This no longer seems to be his franchise. These are no longer the legendary Dodgers of Joe Torre’s youth.

Without a postseason series victory in 20 years, the Dodgers had become irrelevant on the national sports landscape. When folks talk about Southern California baseball, they are talking about the Angels.

Joe Torre makes the Dodgers relevant again. He gives them a national presence again.

He will do wonders for the career of Russell Martin, catcher taking care of catcher, the way Torre took care of Jorge Posada.

He could make a star out of James Loney, much the way his calm nature helped make a star out of Derek Jeter.

He will be great for the confused bullpen, every man given a single role, every single night, Beimel to Broxton to Saito in the manner of Stanton to Nelson to Rivera.

He will prop up Rafael Furcal, stare down Jeff Kent (if he returns), fill his bench with Torre-type veterans in the manner of Luis Sojo and Jim Leyritz.

Who knows what he will do with Matt Kemp? If he and his veteran coaching staff can reach this marvelously talented but tough-to-coach kid, maybe he can stay. But if Kemp is the one piece who can bring in the big hitter, he’s gone.

Whatever Torre’s task, Torre’s history is clear, his pedigree is established, his actions predictable.

It’s the McCourt Dodgers that should scare you.

What if Alex Rodriguez agrees to join Torre if the Dodgers can match his best offer, but McCourt can’t do it?

What if Colletti concocts a couple of expensive trades but McCourt, as he reportedly did last summer, kills the deals because he doesn’t want to give up the cheaper kids?

When exactly did Colletti first interview Torre?

“Two days ago . . . less than a week . . . four days,” Colletti said Thursday.

You see what I mean?

Joe Torre has spent a career giving straight answers.

The Dodgers haven’t given one in a week.

When Torre steps to the podium at Chavez Ravine on Monday for his formal introductions, a throwback professional appropriately joining the Dodgers for their 50th year Los Angeles anniversary, a thick, sweet sense of hope will fill the building.

Hope that Frank McCourt and Ned Colletti don’t blow it.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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