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10/06/09 8:07 PM ET

La Russa, Torre collide in postseason

Managerial greats meet in playoffs for first time in rich history

LOS ANGELES -- They have traveled long, accomplished but divergent paths, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, the two distinguished baseball gentlemen commanding the forces in this National League Division Series.

They have filled out more lineups, toasted more wins and rehashed more losses than just about any other managers in Major League history. But rarely from opposite dugouts.

The St. Louis Cardinals' La Russa has managed 4,772 regular-season games and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Torre 4,167, ranking them second and sixth, respectively, on the all-time list.

Only 19 of the games have come against each other -- 13 of those in the last two seasons, when the men found themselves managing for the first time in the same league.

La Russa holds a slight 11-8 edge.

Additionally, Torre, who has brought a team into the postseason for the 14th straight year in perpetuating his marvelous run with the Yankees, has managed 134 playoff games. La Russa, who enjoyed an earlier glory ride with the Oakland A's, has managed 104 postseason games.

None of those were against each other.

Now, finally, the twain shall meet.

It is an ironic gathering.

La Russa, four years younger, respects the 69-year-old Torre as a successful predecessor. In one sense, very literally: In 1996, La Russa immediately followed Torre as St. Louis' manager, except for Mike Jorgensen's 96-game interim stint following Torre's firing in mid-June 1995.

Torre's first memories of La Russa, conversely, are as a cooperative interview subject, having gotten to know him during his 1985-89 stint as a member of the Angels' broadcasting crew.

"That's when we forged a relationship, when he was managing Oakland," Torre recalled. "Thanks to him, I felt free to go down and talk to him, to ask him questions and exchange thoughts."

The two men are not tight, not in the sense La Russa was with his 2006 World Series opponent, the Tigers' Jim Leyland.

La Russa vs. Torre
Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, meeting as postseason managerial foes for the first time, bring a lot of exclusive history into the 2009 NL Division Series.
Games managed, all-time
  1. Connie Mack (1894-1950): 7,755
  2. La Russa (1979-2009): 4,772
  3. John McGraw (1899-1932): 4,769
  4. Bucky Harris (1924-1956): 4,408
  5. Bobby Cox (1978-2009): 4,346
  6. Torre (1977-2009): 4,167
Games won, all-time
  1. Mack: 3,731
  2. McGraw: 2,763
  3. La Russa: 2,552
  4. Cox: 2,413
  5. Torre: 2,246
World Series championships
  1. Torre: 4
  2. La Russa: 2
  1. Torre: 6
  2. La Russa: 5
Postseason appearances
  1. Torre: 15th
  2. La Russa: 13th
Postseason record
  1. Torre: 80-54 (.597)
  2. La Russa: 59-48 (.551)

"I don't sense we'll be having dinner anytime this week. That I can guarantee," Torre said.

But they do have a relationship, and esteem for each other.

"Joe is so solid," La Russa said, "you don't try to figure him out."

Countered Torre, "He's obviously a great baseball mind. He's had success everywhere he's been. And he continues to grind it out."

The fact that the two have spent their careers in parallel worlds is further dramatized by the oddity -- in this age of mobile ballplayers -- that only two of the principals in this Division Series have played for both managers.

Ronnie Belliard fortified the Dodgers as a midseason acquisition -- just as he had joined the Cardinals and La Russa in the summer of '06.

"The situation is the same," Belliard said, nodding. "But now I'm looking forward to winning this series and beating them.

"Both like to win," Belliard said of the managers, "both do everything to prepare to win, and do everything to get out of the players what they need to win."

Right-hander Jeff Weaver was an unlikely midseason savior for the Cardinals in 2006 -- between Torre stints, first with the Yankees and now with the Dodgers.

"Both are extremely well-prepared," Weaver said. "I'm sure both are trying to figure out how to put the kibosh on each other.

"Tony shows a little more emotion during the game. He wears it more on his sleeve. He'll pace up and down, get more agitated. Joe maintains an even keel."

Turning to a different comparison, Weaver zeroed in on the biggest change between Bronx Joe and Hollywood Joe.

"He's more hands-on here," the pitcher said. "He'll have more meetings, because there are more younger guys. Over there, of course, he had those rosters of veterans, and he pretty much just let them play."

Torre and La Russa may not do dinner this week, but they did indeed have a memorable private feast this summer on a night off during the Dodgers' visit to St. Louis in late July.

"We did break bread one night," Torre said. "So I guess we're close enough friends to feel comfortable having dinner, and you don't often have managers from different clubs doing that."

To La Russa, his Dinner With Joe had the feel of a passage.

"There were these two Italian restaurant owners, and we all got together at one's place. It was nice," La Russa said. "I came to St. Louis when Joe had left, and I kept hearing comments everybody with the Cardinals kept making, so it was obvious Joe still had a lot of friends there.

"When we parted, I rubbed my elbow on his shirt. Because he's got that success he carries. I tried to take some of that from him."

Before calling it a night, they "had a shot, because who knew how it was going to work out," La Russa said.

By that night, the teams of both men were entrenched in first place. They couldn't know that the feast would carry over into October.

But they could hope for that.

"I don't think either of us said, 'We'll see you later'," La Russa said. "We were just sharing a bunch of experiences."

Their shared experiences will have a new bunch in the coming days.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.