Dodgers may get more than manager
In the Los Angeles Dodgers’ most recent glory days, Tom Lasorda was the face of the team, the manager as celebrity. After a decade of entrusting their team to men without star quality, the Dodgers hope to revive the glory days of manager as celebrity.
The Dodgers announced the resignation of Manager Grady Little on Tuesday, and by the end of the week they are expected to replace him with Joe Torre, the former manager of the New York Yankees.
Torre garnered national acclaim by leading the Yankees to four World Series championships, extending his fame beyond sports by building friendships with public figures as diverse as Rudy Giuliani, Billy Crystal and David Letterman.
“He would give the Dodgers the brand Tommy Lasorda had,” veteran Hollywood publicist Hanna Pantle said. “Nobody’s had that brand there since Tommy’s been gone.”
Torre walked away from the Yankees two weeks ago, refusing a pay cut after 12 years on the job. The Yankees won the last of their four championships under Torre in 2000.
The Dodgers won their last championship under Lasorda in 1988, and they have employed five managers in the 12 years since he retired. Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are expected to make Torre the highest-paid manager in baseball, and the biggest star in Dodger blue.
“His brand is bigger than the McCourts,” Pantle said. “There are certain people within sports that are that sport. Joe Torre is baseball.”
According to baseball sources, the Dodgers have negotiated a three-year contract with Torre, worth about $4 million a year, contingent on the Dodgers reaching agreement with the coaches Torre would like to assist him, including Don Mattingly.
With the Yankees, Torre managed Alex Rodriguez, perhaps baseball’s best player. Rodriguez can sign with any team as a free agent and could follow Torre to Los Angeles, but his agent downplayed that possibility.
“Alex enjoyed playing for Joe,” Scott Boras said. “He knows him very well. That’s all I can say.”
In New York, Torre exuded calm above all, a trait that could endear him to Southland sports fans at a time when Kobe Bryant wants a divorce from the Lakers and USC and UCLA football fans are stunned by the fall of their teams.
Baseball fans do not buy tickets to see managers, and the presence of Torre alone cannot transform a fourth-place team into a championship one. Still, sports analysts said Tuesday, the decision to hire Torre could pay off -- literally and figuratively.
“I think there’s a clear honeymoon effect, given his success in New York,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “His sustained value will come with victories. But there’s absolutely a short-term upside that any team could take advantage of financially.”
In the next few months, the Dodgers -- and every other baseball team -- will ask fans to pay thousands of dollars to renew season tickets and will ask corporations to pay hundreds of thousands, even millions, to renew sponsorships. The Dodgers have yet to acquire new players, but those fans and corporations could interpret the arrival of Torre as a commitment to improve.
“It can allay fear and build confidence that the organization is in good hands,” said Larry Baer, executive vice president of the San Francisco Giants. “In the end, that does translate into revenue. It won’t have the spike that signing a glamorous free agent might have, but it will have a subtle and real effect.”
Said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute: “I won’t buy a ticket because of it. But if I think the Dodgers are doing everything they can to improve, I’m more inclined to listen. If they had replaced Little with a triple-A manager no one had ever heard of, people would be scratching their heads.”
The Dodgers set an attendance record last season and, according to Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell, made the maximum number of appearances on Fox national broadcasts. But with Torre in tow, Pantle said media coverage on opening day could broaden beyond sports outlets to the likes of Us magazine and “Entertainment Tonight.”
“Joe Torre is one of those figures that baseball fans and viewers know, but also casual fans and viewers will know,” Bell said, “because of his success with the Yankees.”
If the Dodgers build a marketing campaign around their manager, they would not be the first team in town to do so. The Angels’ best player is outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, but their biggest name is Manager Mike Scioscia.
“Mike is the face of this organization,” Angels spokesman Tim Mead said.
Without success on the field, however, Scioscia would be just another face in the crowd in this major media market.
The Angels have appeared in the playoffs four times in his eight seasons as manager, with one World Series championship parade.
“It’s really been a renaissance period for the Angels,” Mead said. “In reality, we’re marketing the team and the team concept.”
The Yankees were not greeted with applause when they hired Torre in 1995. He had been fired three times previously, and he had not won a playoff game in his 14 years with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Dodgers are on the verge of hiring a star. They need a winner. In Torre, they hope they can get both.
“What the Dodgers have to demonstrate is they can win and close the revolving door,” Carter said. “The fans want to see continuity, and they want to see it leading to a great fan experience, as evidenced by a championship parade.”
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* Walter Alston (1958-1976)
(in Brooklyn since 1954)
* Tom Lasorda (1976-1996)
* Bill Russell (1996-1998)
* Glenn Hoffman (1998)
* Davey Johnson (1999-2000)
* Jim Tracy (2001-2005)
* Grady Little (2006-2007)