Torre getting in a groove as owners meet
New MLB head of baseball operations has much on his plate
NEW YORK -- As Joe Torre attends his first Owners Meetings in his new role as Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, his uniform of 47 years as a player and manager is replaced with a blue pinstripe suit. It's a little out of character for a man who is used to being responsible for only one team at a time.
"I belong to everybody now," Torre said during a break between committee meetings on Wednesday. "Really, our job in this office is to provide service to the teams. When I had an off-day as a manager, you had an off-day. Now there's no such thing.
"There's always a game going on. What I try to keep in mind is what it was like to be a player or manager. I never want to lose sight of that as I make decisions, and that's my goal."
In January, when the owners met in Paradise Valley, Ariz., Torre was still deciding how he'd fit into his new position. His appointment was announced by Commissioner Bud Selig in nearby Scottsdale as the Cactus League season began a little more than six weeks later. On Thursday, he'll be in the room as the 30 owners and/or their representatives meet in a joint session.
On the agenda is Nolan Ryan replacing Chuck Greenberg as the new designated point man for the Texas Rangers. There will also be presentations from officials of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Stand Up 2 Cancer, an organization MLB supports.
What won't formally be under discussion are the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros. Under the guidance of its own trustee, MLB is investigating the finances of the Dodgers and their owner, Frank McCourt. McCourt was in the building on Wednesday and said that he met with Selig for the first time since MLB announced on April 20 that it would monitor the club. McCourt said that the meeting was short and to the point.
"I wanted to convey to him the timing of the situation in regard to the deal we have pending," said McCourt, referring to a $3 billion TV rights extension contract with Fox that he says would give him enough upfront money to meet the Dodgers' payroll. The contract requires approval by MLB.
Asked how the Commissioner responded, McCourt said: "You have to ask him."
The Astros are being sold by owner Drayton McLane to Houston businessman Jim Crane. McLane said on Wednesday that he's in the process of finalizing the deal, "which is still about a week away."
Approval of that sale and further delineation of the Dodgers' situation could be formal agenda items when the owners meet again Aug. 17-18 in Cooperstown, N.Y., in the shadow of the famous Hall of Fame museum.
By then, Torre will have been on the job for nearly six months. For now, he's visiting teams from coast to coast, determining the course of his new office. Joe Garagiola Jr. is in charge of umpiring, discipline and ballpark matters. Kim Ng, recently of the Dodgers, focuses on baseball's international plans and Peter Woodfork, recently with the D-backs, is aiding Torre on rules decisions. There is a lot on Ng's plate, including a possible tour of MLB All-Stars to Taiwan and Korea this coming offseason and the expansion of the World Baseball Classic from 16 to 24 teams.
The next Classic is slated for Spring 2013, but next year could offer a qualifying round. The eight teams that went to the second round in '09 are already in, while the eight that didn't must qualify this time around by defeating eight countries joining the tournament for first time. That qualifying round will be played around the world next year.
Torre said he really appreciates the help of all three.
"They do what I like to call the heavy lifting," he said. "I make decisions, but they sort of simplify things for me. They call my attention to things. They highlight stuff that needs to get immediate attention. So that makes my job a whole lot easier. These are very young, very bright people."
Torre, 70, said he's enjoying the new role. In his final year managing the Dodgers in 2010, Torre found that he could no longer handle the losing.
"It wasn't balanced out by the winning anymore. I hated it," Torre said. "I was more ready not to do what I've been doing for years. When the Commissioner made this job offer to me, I asked him a few times if he thought I could do it. It was the insecurity of not knowing what the job entailed, even though it's baseball-related. But it has been fun and very energizing for me."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.