Fear factor could be a can of worms for Torre


Joe Torre made a really ridiculous, if not telling, comment the other day.

He said, “I don’t think I have anything to prove.”

So why did the Dodgers hire him? Is this retirement? No more mountains to climb?

The Dodgers have proven to be a big disappointment the last 19 years, so how about for a change the players and the manager pool their efforts to prove themselves worthy of fan support?


At the very least, after failing to win a postseason game in 14 years with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals and then enjoying tremendous success with the Yankees, doesn’t Torre have to prove he can win with a team not packing the highest payroll?

Doesn’t he have to prove he still has something left in the tank, too, turning 68 this summer and winning his last World Series at 60?

If you make your living in a competitive field where results mean everything, isn’t every day about proving yourself the best? Over and over?

Ben Howland hasn’t been there yet, hasn’t won the ultimate titles that Torre has, or even his first, but he’s hungry, and driven, and always afraid, he says, “of losing my job.”

Interesting question: Do you want your coach or manager resting on his laurels and maybe holding up one of his World Series rings so the sunlight catches it just right?

Or do you want someone almost unable to contain himself while sitting on the couch in his office, practice for Sunday’s USC game 30 minutes away, and saying “we have to prove we can beat them”?


“I don’t know any other way,” Howland says. “It’s just not me, it’s trying to get my team to be that driven too. That’s always the challenge -- trying to get your team to feel the drive you have inside.”

If Torre has nothing to prove, what does his team feel?

THE LAST two years Howland has pushed his team into the Final Four, a monumental task in college basketball these days given the comings and goings to the pros and the parity throughout the game.

No reason to think now he can’t make it three years in a row -- beginning in Anaheim, and moving on to Phoenix before advancing to the Final Four in San Antonio.

“Winning the conference title is everything,” Howland says, and with intensity, as if he’s delivering a halftime speech. “That’s how you stay closer to home, which gives you the best chance to win in the tournament.”

And when it comes to winning, he’s done it with an emphasis on hard-nosed defense, by no coincidence a reflection on his own hard-headed insistence on controlling every game and winning every recruiting war.

“It’s always the fear of losing and how that makes you feel,” Howland says. “The expectation here is to win. Winning is relief. Losing is death. Slow death.

“Let me tell you this, I was really honestly worried about Cal State San Bernardino in November. I’m sick to my gut before whoever we play. Every game means everything.”

Just a hunch, but that probably rubs off on his players.

He’s been here four years, a Pete Carroll in the making -- only lacking the final validation with a national championship. And in college football, coaches are all but assured three years with a recruit, while it’s now one-and-gone in basketball. Then, start over.

He was offered big bucks by a big-time basketball school to leave UCLA after last season, but it was his dream to coach the Bruins, he says, and he still has things he wants to accomplish here.

He’s already put UCLA back on the basketball map, and when was the last time a Bruins player got in trouble? Another crop of the very best players in the land will be here next season, and he remains as driven as ever.

“It never ends,” he says, “and I like it like that.”

He’s lost 20 pounds so far this season, a bundle of energy and nerves, while hungry -- that word again -- to push everyone, including himself, to the limit.

OK, so in part, maybe he’s just hungry because he’s stopped eating ice cream until the end of the season, and “oh my gosh,” he says, “I love my ice cream.”

PHIL JACKSON still has the chance to prove himself the best all-time NBA coach with one more championship, as well as the motivation to hang in there as long as he can as Lakers coach and spend time with the owner’s daughter.

As for Torre, we really don’t know him yet, the pictures on TV from a Yankees dugout raising the question on occasion, “Is that man still awake?”

Maybe it’s just a difference in style or demeanor, or a 162-game marathon versus 25 or so basketball games and a mad dash to win top seeding in the postseason tournament.

But when a motivated Howland talks about his fear of being fired and says “it drives me all the time,” I just wonder what keeps Torre going -- if he has nothing more to prove.

And is that really a good thing for the Dodgers?

THE CHOKER’S people never got back to me about spending the week with Phil Mickelson at Riviera to see why most of the PGA Tour players dislike him.

It’s too bad. It would have been interesting to find out what he’s made of while getting ready to handle a final-round charge from someone named Jeff Quinney.

Without Tiger Woods, golf doesn’t get any more exciting than watching to see if Mickelson is going to gag again.

HERE’S A new one. Paul Lo Duca apologized in a statement after the Mitchell Report identified him as a drug user. He said he’d comment no further, “so that I can focus on making positive contributions . . .”

Lo Duca is the first player to suggest that by not commenting on his reported use of performance-enhancing drugs, it will enhance his performance.

TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Shane Harris:

“As an avid world soccer (real football) fan, and Galaxy season-ticket holder . . .

You can’t have anything of interest to say.

T.J. Simers can be reached at To read previous columns by Simers, go to