Dodgers' success points to Torre
Good times follow skipper from Big Apple to Hollywood
CHICAGO -- The postseason has not yet started, but manager Joe Torre has already won.
Torre is entering his 13th straight year as a postseason manager, just one October away from the all-time record held by Atlanta's Bobby Cox.
Meanwhile, back at his previous post, the place where he recorded the first 12 successive postseason appearances, the New York Yankees had their string of 13 consecutive playoff appearances snapped. With Torre, the Yankees never missed the postseason, and four times won the whole thing. Without Torre, the Yankees finished a distant third in the American League East in 2008. Down the stretch, typically their time of the season, the only real question for them was when they would be officially eliminated from the race for the playoffs.
This, of course, is not what is foremost now for Torre, as his Los Angeles Dodgers prepare to take on the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series that begins on Wednesday at Wrigley Field at 3:30 p.m. PT on TBS. But for the rest of us, it is just one more piece of evidence reinforcing Torre's managerial worth.
All of the people who said that the Yankees, without Torre, would be more physically fit, rejuvenated and "hungrier," whatever that meant, were somewhat less than correct. The Yankees had significant injuries this season, but they also had those when Torre was managing them. It turns out that he was an even larger factor in the Yankees' success than was previously thought possible, that there literally was no replacing his calm, sensible leadership style, which combined high expectations for his players with human compassion for those same players.
And he obviously did something right this season with the Dodgers. No question, he was aided greatly by general manager Ned Colletti's acquisition of Manny Ramirez, not to mention Casey Blake. But Torre typically stayed the course through difficult times earlier in the season, when injuries, truly disappointing performances from veterans and inconsistent returns from young players made the Dodgers' offense an exercise in frustration.
If the Dodgers had the worst record of any postseason qualifier, their 17-8 September clearly indicated that they were heading in the right direction. They may be underdogs against the Cubs, but they have the best team ERA in the NL. That kind of pitching strength always provides a chance in the postseason.
On Tuesday, before the Dodgers' workout at Wrigley Field, Torre appeared relaxed and refreshed. Managing in Los Angeles has been indisputably less traumatic than managing in New York.
"The last couple years in New York were not very comfortable," Torre said. "I certainly treasure my time there, had a great relationship with a lot of the players, made a lot of friends. We had success, obviously.
"But I thought it was just time for me to leave. And I have a feeling they felt the same way."
Getting his new club into the postseason has been satisfying for Torre, but his goals go well beyond merely appearing in the postseason.
"As far as the satisfaction, you never really know when you go someplace new, especially when you've been in one place for 12 years, how you're going to be received," Torre said. "I know I've had success, but that doesn't mean that the players should believe what you're telling them, because you haven't proven anything yet as far as what you can do with this new ballclub.
"I think the players, over the course of time, learned to trust what we were doing. So the satisfaction of going somewhere else and having us get to the postseason has certainly been rewarding for me and has given me that feeling of excitement again in the postseason. And hopefully we can make this thing last for a while."
The Torre sense of humor -- sometimes droll, sometimes pointed, never far away -- is also intact. At one point on Tuesday, Torre was asked if he believed that the Cubs were cursed.
"Cursed?" Torre said with a smile. "I don't believe that stuff. You're dealing with a former Yankee manger who had a 3-0 lead against the Boston Red Sox, who went on to win the World Series. Sorry. Wrong stop."
The Dodgers appreciate what Torre has meant to them. Los Angeles' Game 1 starter, Derek Lowe, for instance, gave Torre considerable credit for the team's accomplishments.
"We have a lot of young guys, and we continue to look to him," Lowe said. "When you see your leader continually being positive, continually being calm, believing in us, telling us that we're going to win the division, it had a lot to do with our success."
Torre has had a lot to do with a lot of success for a lot of years. If his exit from New York was painful, his initial work on the other side of the continent has been successful. With the Dodgers' core of substantial young talent, the future seems particularly bright. But as we speak, Torre is standing in the postseason, while the Yankees are thinking about how to rebuild.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.