If the sight of Joe Torre in Dodger blue for the first time was a little disconcerting, seeing him standing in center field at Chavez Ravine wearing Steve Garvey’s number, while hugging Tommy Lasorda and listening to Vin Scully rhapsodize about it all, seemed downright odd.
Nearly as odd as seeing Alex Rodriguez playing third base in Dodger Stadium, but that’s a sight that will have to wait for another day.
There was a time when the Dodgers hated the Yankees, the Yankees hated the Dodgers, and anyone with either organization would rather walk across the street than have to say hello to each other. But a half century on opposite coasts dampened the rivalry, especially in recent years as the Yankees enjoyed success and the Dodgers enjoyed taking October off.
Now the consummate Yankees manager will manage a team he grew up despising. Even more intriguing for long-suffering Dodgers fans is there might come a time in the near future when his former third baseman joins him.
All’s fair these days in the mercenary world of baseball, something Grady Little discovered about the same time he found out he wasn’t going to be managing the Dodgers any longer. The only positive thing about Little’s departure was teams can now fire their managers the same way businesses get rid of CEO’s, by having them resign to pursue other opportunities.
There probably won’t be many more opportunities for Little to manage on a major league level after failing to cash in with either the Dodgers or the Boston Red Sox. Still, nobody among the bubbly crowd at Dodger Stadium on Monday seemed all that sad to see him go.
How could they when a team desperate for credibility bought some, and more, with Torre, whose formal debut took place in the outfield because there were so many media coming they wouldn’t fit anywhere else.
There in centerfield, where Torre remembered flying out more than once to Willie Davis, East Coast charm met West Coast cool. It was a lovefest as sappy as those filmed just up the road in Hollywood.
Only in Tinseltown would the sun break out of the fog just as Torre was putting on his uniform for the first time, leading some to suggest Torre might have even more powers than the Dodgers thought he did.
The irony of a guy from Brooklyn leading the Dodgers as they celebrate their 50th anniversary in Los Angeles wasn’t lost on Torre, who grew up a fan of the New York Giants and ended up as manager of their two biggest rivals.
“You always measured yourself by the Dodgers because they did everything right,” Torre said. “They had a stature you looked up to.”
Not anymore they don’t.
Last season they collapsed toward the end with the veterans bickering with the rookies, and they have won only one postseason game since Lasorda and the Kirk Gibson Dodgers beat the Oakland A’s in the World Series 19 years ago.
It will be Torre’s task to fix that, and the Dodgers got a package deal for their money, with both heir apparent Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa following him to Los Angeles. And it’s not like he has a bare cupboard, with a potentially strong pitching staff and core of young hitters led by All-Star catcher Russell Martin.
The inevitable question, of course, is whether A-Rod follows him on his journey west. In between the hugs, a few jokes from Vinny, and more posing for cameras than a Beverly Hills fashion show, it was up to the manager who once batted him eighth to answer it.
“Alex Rodriguez and I have a good association. I think our relationship is fine,” Torre said. “We really haven’t talked about players yet, this has happened so quickly. I’m sure Alex is going to do what he feels is best for his family.”
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is going to do what is best for his family, too. While the value of his franchise has nearly doubled since McCourt bought the team in 2004, the Dodgers already have a payroll north of $100 million and might not be willing to mortgage their future on a player untested in the National League and playing in a pitcher’s ballpark.
Torre, who says he will have a say in personnel issues, came from a team with more money to spend than it could figure out what to do with. In recent years, though, the Yankees struggled in the postseason mostly because of pitching deficiencies, and Torre seemed to suggest any money might be best spent on arms, not bats.
Not that much was spent on him. The Dodgers picked Torre up for $13 million for three years, about what an average second baseman makes and less on average than the Yankees offered for one year.
That money didn’t get the Dodgers any home runs or shutout innings. It didn’t guarantee them a berth in the postseason.
It did get them a star, and in a town where stars matter most, perhaps that was the most important thing.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org