10/10/09 9:30 AM ET
Torre, the person, leads to success
Nobody does media sessions like Dodgers manager
The manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers has led teams to the postseason 14 consecutive years. This is a record matched only by Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves. And with all due respect, Torre has had four World Series championships during his run, while Cox, indisputably one of the greats of the game, has one.
For the people who attempted to diminish Torre's work by suggesting that anybody could win with the Yankees, the wealthiest team in all of baseball, the past two seasons should have been very instructive. Torre has won back-to-back National League West Division titles, nurturing a club with considerable young talent, turning it into a division winner.
The 2008 Dodgers swept the Cubs in a Division Series and advanced to the National League Championship Series before losing to the eventual World Series champion Phillies. This year, with their starting rotation off track in two cases, one by injury and one by ineffectiveness, the Dodgers have taken a 2-0 Division Series lead over the St. Louis Cardinals.
So Joe Torre's managerial credentials, regular and postseason, are completely in order. But this is more than paging through the standings and finding 14 years of unbroken success. The argument could be made -- probably should be made -- that Torre is successful as a manager because he is successful as a human being.
Testimonials from Torre's players are beyond numerous and have been for years. He treats baseball players like adult human beings. He knows there is no one-size-fits-all approach with 25 different people in the clubhouse. He knows that these are people, not merely a collection of physical attributes and statistical outcomes. He earns their respect by deserving their respect. His sincerity is pervasive and appreciated. You could not be a phony and have this kind of widespread regard.
But in this era, a manager's job goes well beyond dealing with his players. He becomes the public face of his club through his twice-daily appearances with the media, particularly the pregame sessions in which time is not a major issue. It is here in which Joe Torre's reputation is not only reinforced, but extended.
A story in the Wall Street Journal on Friday that focused on Torre's work with the media quoted one beat writer saying that a Torre pregame session is regarded as "baseball's version of the Sermon on the Mount." Many of us who have heard these sessions over a long period of years regard this as only a slight overstatement.
In good times and bad -- and the final season of his 12-year tenure as Yankees manager qualified in the latter category, even with the Yankees reaching the postseason -- Torre is almost invariably a picture of dignity and tolerance. Questions clearly intended to cause trouble are answered by him, repeatedly, routinely, with honesty and remarkable patience.
His answers are expansive. His comments are interspersed with baseball anecdotes, always entertaining, almost always topical. Other managers appear to want their media sessions to end as soon as they begin. Torre's sessions routinely last longer than any other manager's meetings with the press, because Torre seems to genuinely enjoy the give and take. His honestly is precisely what reporters want and need from a manager. In the vernacular of the baseball writer, "he fills up your notebook."
There are other managers who are funnier. Ron Gardenhire of the Twins is basically funnier than anybody this side of Robin Williams. There are managers who are even more earnest. Jim Tracy of the Rockies looks you squarely in the eye and lets you know that he is imparting a hard-earned truth. And there are managers, who, instead of producing the Sermon on the Mount, at least occasionally give you the impression of being Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets. Tony La Russa fits in that category. There are managers who will make more outrageous statements and more critical remarks about their own teams. Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox has that area covered.
There are managers who periodically come up with a bout of candor so direct, so comprehensive that it is stunning. Jim Leyland of the Tigers does that. And there are managers who will digress into political and social commentary, taking positions that reflect a wide body of knowledge, positions that might even be controversial. Phil Garner was a manager and a man like that, and this is one of the many reasons that the game misses him.
But nobody else does this part of the job as on a daily basis as well as Joe Torre. He does it as well as any manager could, as well as any human being could. In dugouts throughout North America he has conducted these sessions in a perpetually candid, genial way. The informality departs to some extent in the postseason with the increased numbers of reporters on hand and the need to regulate the managers' availabilities. So instead of getting perhaps an hour of Torre's pregame time, reporters will get perhaps 15 minutes. It is still good.
Joe Torre has made himself a constant in the postseason with his ability as a manager. He has made himself an extremely welcome part of the postseason, by being honest, cooperative, patient; in other words, by being Joe Torre.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.