Center of their universe
Introduced Monday as the new manager and face of the Dodgers, Joe Torre revealed that Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa would be on his coaching staff, and that he was “pretty upbeat and pretty positive” that second baseman Jeff Kent wanted to play another season.
Torre spoke of building a “strong foundation” and told several stories that drew laughs at a morning news conference, which was televised live by local stations and was held in center field at Dodger Stadium to accommodate a large press corps.
“Wow,” Torre said upon stepping to the microphone. “This has been wild here. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind.”
Torre, 67, parted ways with the New York Yankees on Oct. 18, when he turned down an incentive-laden one-year contract with a base salary of $5 million. Torre said he met with Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti in Las Vegas on Oct. 27 and flew to Los Angeles to dine at the house of team owners Frank and Jamie McCourt the next day.
Grady Little resigned as the Dodgers’ manager Oct. 30 and two days later Torre signed a three-year, $13-million contract to replace him.
Jamie McCourt said the Dodgers initially inquired about Torre’s interest in the position through a link she had with Torre’s agent, Maury Gostfrand: her mother and Gostfrand’s mother are friends.
Exactly when the Dodgers started moving to replace Little remained a mystery. Frank McCourt said the team asked about Torre after learning he wouldn’t be returning to the Yankees for a 13th season. And Colletti said Monday that he had discussed the “parameters” of a contract with another potential candidate, Joe Girardi, who was later named Torre’s replacement in New York.
Monday, Torre was handed a Dodgers cap by McCourt and a No. 6 jersey by Colletti. Torre wore the same number while leading the Yankees to 12 consecutive playoff appearances and four World Series titles.
“Today, we introduce a man who is a winner and a leader and no doubt a future Hall of Famer,” McCourt said.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, from where the Dodgers relocated 50 years ago, Torre called the day “surreal” and told of how his mother’s favorite player was Gil Hodges.
But he admitted that he grew up a New York Giants fan.
“I apologize for that,” he said.
Torre also admitted to knowing little about the Dodgers’ roster. He said he would probably contact players in the coming months “to get a feel for the people” and “figure out the ability” in spring training.
Torre said he already has had a phone conversation with Kent, who at the end of last season said he was considering retirement.
“I don’t know Jeff Kent, I don’t know a whole lot about him personally,” Torre said. “But I felt pretty upbeat and pretty positive that he was looking forward to coming back next season and I hope that’s the case.”
Torre has brought with him two men he knows very well in Mattingly and Bowa, who were on his staff in New York. Mattingly is slated to be the hitting coach, but could shift to bench coach -- his role with the Yankees last season -- depending on who else is hired. Bowa will be the third base coach.
Bowa and Mattingly signed two-year contracts that will pay them $400,000 a season, with Mattingly’s deal including a team option for 2010.
Mattingly has a son, Preston, who is a middle infielder in the Dodgers’ minor league system.
Colletti said last week that he wanted Torre to groom the next Dodgers manager, but refused to call Mattingly the manager-in-training Monday. Mattingly was one of three candidates for the Yankees job that was eventually given to Girardi.
Torre said he and his coaching staff would make every effort to communicate with players and “make sure there are no questions that have gone unanswered.”
Little took a different approach last season, as players didn’t know if they would be playing until the lineup was posted that day.
“The days are gone, in coaching a team or raising a child, that you say, ‘Do this because I said so,’ ” Torre said. “That doesn’t work anymore because they still won’t know why they should do it. To me, it’s all about trying to explain, trying to have them understand.”
Torre acknowledged that, given the possibility the Dodgers could spend spring training in several locations -- they could leave Vero Beach in mid-March to visit China and Taiwan, and spend the final weeks in Arizona -- he could be rushing to familiarize himself with his players.
Whether the Dodgers will make an effort to land free agent Alex Rodriguez remains uncertain. Torre managed Rodriguez the last four seasons and described their relationship as “fine.”
Frank McCourt was evasive when asked if he would be willing spend $30 million a year on a single player, but said, “If Ned and Joe were to come to me and they were to say, ‘This is what we think is smart, this is what we think is strategic, this is what we think is wise to win now and continue to build that foundation that is now in place,’ I’m going to be all ears.”
Marty Greenspun resigned as the Dodgers’ executive vice president and chief operating officer. A replacement wasn’t immediately named.
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Managing just fine
Joe Torre is eighth all-time in victories among managers and his four World Series titles put him in a tie for fourth with Walter Alston.
*--* Most victories Connie Mack 3,731 John McGraw 2,763 Tony La Russa 2,375 Bobby Cox 2,255 Sparky Anderson 2,194 Bucky Harris 2,157 Joe McCarthy 2,125 Joe Torre 2,067 Walter Alston 2,040 *--*
*--* World Series titles Joe McCarthy 7 Casey Stengel 7 Connie Mack 5 Walter Alston 4 Joe Torre 4 Sparky Anderson 3 Miller Huggins 3 John McGraw 3 *--*