Seasoned Torre has seen highs and lows

Posted: October 09, 2008

Sometimes it seems as if Joe Torre has had two managerial careers.

He had stints with the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, and St. Louis Cardinals. He got to the postseason just once (with Atlanta) and was gone faster than a New York tabloid can scream "Clueless Joe."

That's what they called Torre when he took over as Yankees manager before the 1996 season.

Enter Torre's second managerial career.

The guy who had become synonymous with mediocrity in his previous managerial stops suddenly found himself with a boatload of talent and a deep-pocketed owner willing to do whatever it took to win.

Torre led the Yankees for 12 seasons, taking them to the postseason every time. His teams made six World Series and won four of them.

Now the man who once needed to buy a ticket to get to the World Series is four wins away from getting back there with his new team, in his new life.

"I never envisioned myself in another uniform," said Torre, looking down at the blue script Los Angeles on his uniform top one recent day.

"I didn't know if I ever wanted to start over again. When you have some success with one organization, it doesn't guarantee you'll have success wherever you go."

Funny how things work out. Torre, 68, was essentially pushed out of the Yankees' organization after failing to get by the first round of the playoffs the last three seasons. He was quickly pursued and hired by the Dodgers, who are in the National League Championship Series after their first postseason series win in 20 years.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are learning that the foliage is nice at this time of year.

"I'm tickled that we're still playing in October," Torre said. "But it doesn't make me happy to see what [the Yankees] went through. There are too many people I like over there to feel that way."

He mentioned Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and manager Joe Girardi.

Torre worked in the final year of a contract last season and did not like the constant speculation about his job status. Had the Yanks offered a two-year extension after the season, he would have returned for 2008. They offered only one year, with the chance to come back and make more money if the team won in the postseason.

Torre was insulted by the offer.

"It had nothing to do with money," he said. "I was insulted that they thought money motivated me to win."

The lyrics to the REM song go like this: "Leaving New York, never easy."

For Torre, it was.

"I needed to get away," he said.

He says the situation in New York became uncomfortable. Every time the Yanks had a three-game losing streak, there was a new round of questions about his future, and he hints that he believes some of those questions started in the front office and were delivered by the media.

"If I could go from the living room to the dugout, it would have been wonderful," Torre said. "But there were so many non-baseball questions. It's tough going to the park when stuff is being talked about. My players and coaches became uncomfortable talking to me about certain things. My safe haven, my clubhouse, was becoming uncomfortable because of what was being written and said."

The Dodgers' clubhouse was an uneasy place last season as young players and veterans had trouble mixing. When Grady Little was let go, the Dodgers quickly jumped at Torre.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to uproot, but the Dodgers are one of a handful of franchises that are special," Torre said. "In New York, managing stopped being fun. I wanted to see if the managing aspect could be fun again, and it has been. Everything is above-board here and my relation with [GM] Ned Colletti is very comfortable."

Larry Bowa, Torre's third base coach for two years in New York and now with the Dodgers, says his boss is more relaxed in Los Angeles.

"There's a lot of pressure putting on the pinstripes," Bowa said. "It doesn't matter who gets hurt, you're supposed to win.

"I'm sure deep down Joe knew people over there said he had push-button teams in New York. But watch him handle guys. He's special."

From afar, Torre has always had a stately appearance. His players have enjoyed getting to know him.

"He's been great to play for," third baseman Casey Blake said. "I didn't really have an idea what he was all about over with the Yankees. You'd see him sitting in the dugout and wonder what kind of personality goes with a big name, one of the great managers like that. I've really enjoyed my time with him. He's a lot more down-to-earth than I thought he'd be."

Game 1 pitcher Derek Lowe, a former Red Sox who frequently pitched against Torre's Yankees teams, credits Torre for leading the Dodgers through a series of injuries and inconsistency.

"He's had a calming - I don't know what the right word is - but he's had an impact," Lowe said. "Our year has been so up and down, streaks good and bad, that we've always kind of looked to him. Continually being calm, believing in us, telling us that we're going to win the division, has had a lot to do with our success."

As the Dodgers were surging to the NL West title, his old team was getting ready to close Yankee Stadium. Torre's name went conspicuously unmentioned during the stadium's send-off party.

"That was weak," Bowa said. "He was underappreciated in New York."

Torre does not believe that to be true.

"I think I was appreciated," he said. "I know I appreciated the opportunity they gave me and I'm very proud of the consistency of the ballclub."

Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

13 and Counting

In Joe Torre's first 15 seasons as a manager, he led only one team (1982 Braves) to the playoffs. Since being hired by the Yankees in 1996, he hasn't missed. Here is how it happened:

Yankees

1996: 92-70

World Series champion

1997: 96-66

Lost in ALDS

1998: 114-48

1999: 98-64

2000: 87-74

2001: 95-65

Lost in World Series

2002: 103-58

2003: 101-61

2004: 101-61

Lost in ALCS

2005: 95-67

2006: 97-65

2007: 94-68

Dodgers

2008: 84-78

Reached NLCS

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