Torre takes his place in Dodgers history
New skipper extends a chain begun in LA with Alston, Lasorda
The move of Joe Torre from the New York Yankees to the Los Angeles Dodgers has left the baseball world spinning. And spinning is the appropriate term, as in the way the story unfolded and was told.
There even was a "spin" to the press release announcing Torre as the new manager of the Dodgers, declaring at one point, "Torre becomes just the eighth manager in Los Angeles Dodger history ..."
And there's a lot of history to the franchise, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Los Angeles next season.
The release could have stated that Torre becomes the sixth Dodgers manager in the last 10 years and been just as accurate.
It seems clear that the Dodgers had a manager under contract when discussions for a new skipper were taking place, but that issue was resolved earlier this week, when Grady Little either stepped down or was shown the door at Dodger Stadium.
Little, in my view, is one of the most honest guys you will ever meet, and he always seemed to get the facts in the mix when he had a message to deliver about his team or one of its players.
Little termed his departure from the Dodgers "a mutual resignation ... just something that mutually happened, just something better for the organization."
I'm just not familiar with the phrase "mutual resignation." I know that when I left the Dodgers as general manager 10 seasons ago, I was fired.
That made it clear and simple, and I preferred it that way, because I didn't want the words quit or resigned connected to my name.
In any case, with a few mixed messages along the way, one thing seems certain, even though it isn't being said by the Dodgers executives at this point -- the team intends to do whatever it can to reach postseason play next season and in the immediate future.
That means acquiring veteran players to go with a good group of young players. If not, why would a team want to invest in Torre, and why would the veteran manager want to go with a team that wasn't willing to go all out to win?
After all, Torre, 67, comes to the Dodgers with a streak of 12 consecutive postseason appearances.
One thing not in dispute is that Torre brings tremendous qualities to the Dodgers organization. He has shown a great way with his players and with all of those he works with on a daily basis, from clubhouse attendants to superstars to media members armed with tough questions.
Another thing that can't be disputed is that the Dodgers organization has totally changed its procedure over the past decade when it comes to hiring managers.
There was a day when the Dodgers hired managers from within the organization and without Major League managerial experience. A rather amazing streak started when the Dodgers hired Walter Alston from their farm system in 1954; he led the team through the 1976 season.
At that point the Dodgers hired another manager from within their organization, Tommy Lasorda, and he held the reins until 1996.
Both Alston and Lasorda compiled remarkable records and ended up as Hall of Fame managers.
When Lasorda stepped down in July 1996 -- and he did make that decision -- Bill Russell, a lifelong Dodger as a player, coach and Minor League manager with 30 years of experience in the organization, was named the manager.
When FOX purchased the Dodgers prior to the 1998 season, major changes in the team's culture swept in like a tidal wave.
First, star catcher Mike Piazza was traded to the Florida Marlins in May a deal engineered by a FOX executive, a deal that had more to do with regional television than baseball.
FOX then expressed an interest in making a change in managers, and team president Bob Graziano asked me, as the team's general manager, whom to recommend to replace Russell.
I was opposed to making a change in managers in view of all the turmoil caused by the Piazza trade, and wanted the team to settle in, but I told Graziano that if FOX was demanding that a change be made, my recommendation would be Reggie Smith.
Smith had played in six seasons for the Dodgers and had been a member of our Minor League staff for six years before becoming a coach with the Major League team in 1995.
Smith hadn't expressed a strong desire to manage, but he was well respected by the players, and I felt he could step into a tough situation and put the team on track. Besides, I told Graziano, the Dodgers had another young man serving in his second season as a coach who had aspirations to manage and was definitely on a track to become a Major League manager -- Mike Scioscia.
The managerial link from Alston to Lasorda to Russell -- all great Dodgers -- changed forever on June 21, 1998, when Russell and I both were fired.
The Dodgers selected Glenn Hoffman as an interim manager and then turned to Davey Johnson in 1999, Jim Tracy in 2001 and, finally, to Little in 2006. Johnson, Tracy and Little had no background in the organization before being hired as managers.
The page now turns to Torre, a good man and a good manager.
Torre doesn't have a history in the Dodgers organization, but he does have a great history of being a successful manager with the Yankees.
Torre eventually is headed to the Hall of Fame, and he likely will be enshrined at Cooperstown in a Yankees cap, but it really won't matter to Dodgers fans if he can put Los Angeles in the postseason picture for the next few years.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue" was published by SportsPublishing LLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.