Mike Berardino | Sports columnist
March 8, 2008
Some of his new players and even members of the office staff have already tried to call him "Mister," a la Derek Jeter, but Joe Torre is having none of that.
"I just tell them, 'Joe,' and that stops that," the new Dodgers manager says. "Just makes me feel old when they do that."
Torre turns 68 in July, but he isn't old and he definitely isn't ready for retirement. Not by a long shot.
He made that much clear by switching coasts, leagues and jobs last fall after the Yankees offered him a one-year deal with a pay cut he deemed insufficient to continue a 12-year relationship.
The easiest thing would have been for Torre to take it to the house, to spend time with his wife and young daughter, to rest on the laurels of those six pennants and four World Series titles he won in New York.
He could have done a little broadcasting, played a little golf and waited for the Veteran's Committee to call with the news of his seemingly certain Cooperstown enshrinement.
No one would have blamed him had he done just that after what Torre calls "the separation."
Instead, Torre listened hard when the Dodgers called a few days later. He liked the confidence in the voice of owner Frank McCourt, liked the idea of starting over with one of the sport's most talented young rosters and trying to revive a proud franchise that has gone two decades since its last postseason series victory.
All those factors, along with a three-year contract totaling $13 million, prompted Torre to roll the dice and try to climb the mountain again with a fresh set of guides.
"I was banking on the fact," Torre says, "it was going to be fun again."
Just as the Yankees saw 18 years pass between championships until Torre ended that drought in 1996, the Dodgers have waited 20 years for a suitable follow-up to Kirk Gibson's miracle against the A's.
"Joe is the perfect manager at the perfect time," former Dodgers great Steve Garvey says. "It's been a long time since we were successful."
Five men have managed the Dodgers since Tommy Lasorda stepped aside due to health issues in the middle of the last decade. Of those, only Davey Johnson had managed a team to a World Series title, and that was a single breakthrough with the '86 Mets.
Grady Little was the most recent skipper to try his hand in Southern California, and he nearly produced back-to-back playoff trips until clubhouse infighting derailed last year's club.
Now along comes Torre with his sterling reputation and his unflappable demeanor. For the first time in his career, he enters a new situation as a recognized champion.
"I certainly didn't go into New York that way," he says with a laugh. "The only thing here is after the first year if I get 'Clueless Joe' headlines, then it's a problem for me."
It's a double-edged sword being looked upon as Mr. Fix-It, Torre admits. While people may view him differently now than they did before he wore the Yankee pinstripes with such distinction, he never has changed his view of himself or a manager's role.
"I'm a little uncomfortable with the adulation I seem to be getting," Torre says. "What helps is when you go in the room and talk with the players, you're talking from experience. I've always respected experience when it came to wanting to learn something."
Commanding respect should be the least of Torre's worries with the Dodgers. Of far greater concern will be the health of Jason Schmidt's pitching shoulder, the troublesome conditioning of new center fielder Andruw Jones and the internal tug of war between the club's veteran and youthful wings.
That last part already may have been put to rest if some of the early returns are reliable.
"Everybody's real excited just to be part of it this year," All-Star catcher Russell Martin says. "There's a different atmosphere in the clubhouse. I don't know if it's because of Joe Torre, but I can feel it."
First baseman James Loney, another budding young star, supports that read.
"Obviously Joe Torre has a few World Series rings with the Yankees, so you think about that," Loney says. "You think about him being that presence, having a lot of knowledge. He's somebody you can trust, somebody you can talk to."
Just don't call him "Mister."