Head West, Old Man


History does have a way of repeating itself.  Fifty years after the Brooklyn Dodgers ventured west to California, native son Joe Torre has done exactly the same thing.  Perhaps the baseball Gods are finally rewarding the Dodgers after losing Leo Durocher to the hated Giants way back when there were three franchises in New York.  


It will be very bizarre to see Torre leading the Dodgers.  His reign in New York was outstanding, and will be unsurpassed.  In 12 seasons, he was the all-time winningest Yankee manager.  He had four World Series championships, and 12 straight playoff appearances.  The most impressive fact is that he was able to survive the mercurial Steinbrenner regime for 12 seasons, when there had been 21 managerial changes in the previous 23 seasons.


Why would a 67 year old cancer survivor, who has just gone knee replacement surgery, who is financially secure with a legendary track record decide to endure the aggravation?  When one has been at the pinnacle, what else is there to accomplish?


The Yankee players certainly did not want him to leave.  He was the perfect buffer between the clubhouse and what is the insanity of the Steinbrenner front office.  He was offered a 1 year incentive laden extension at $5 million, which he rejected.  Why did he thumb his nose at the franchise that made him a legend and decide to start all over again?


Perhaps he did have something to prove.  Many sceptics felt that anyone could have succeeded with the Yankees budget and the calibre of players he had.  Prior to joining the Yankees, he had very marginal success at stints with 3 other clubs (Mets, Braves, and the Cardinals).  In 14 seasons, he only reached the post season once and had a .471 winning percentage (894-1003).  There was outrage when he was hired to replace Buck Showalter at the conclusion of the 1995 season and he was derisively called “Clueless Joe” in the press.


If he does have something to prove, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the perfect team to go to.  They are very young, have an abundance of talent, and a great mix of veterans and prospects.  They underachived last season, and finished with an 82-80 record.  Many felt that they should have made the playoffs.  They have excellent pitching, anchored by Brad Penny and Derek Lowe.  They have signed Japanese import Hiroki Kirodu, who may be this years Dice-K.  They have an outstanding closer in Takashi Saito, and enough power (Jeff Kent) speed (Juan Pierre) and defense (Russell Martin) to keep them in contention.


The big question mark will be Andruw Jones.  Jason Schmidt was the biggest free agent bust in 2007.  Will a change of scenery resurrect Jones’ career, or is he an old 30 and is his .222 batting average a portend of things to come.  Now that the team has two centerfielders, where will be Pierre play and can he get 300 at-bats?  Was there a lot of dissension on the team, and if so, what will Torre bring that Grady Little couldn’t?


Finally, there is the issue of Frank McCourt.  He bought the team in 2004, and Torre is his 3rd manager in 4 seasons.  Jim Tracy and Grady Little have been let go.  Torre has brought two trusted lieutenants with him (Larry Bowa and Don Mattingly) but many feel that McCourt has many similar characteristics to George Steinbrenner.  Well, if so, then it’s a match made in heaven.


There was truly angst in 1948 in Brooklyn when Durocher left to join the New York Giants.  There was jubilation in the Polo Grounds six years later when the Giants won the World Series.  If Torre can bring a championship to the Dodgers, in a perverse sort of way, history will be repeating itself…..And the Baseball Gods will again be smiling.

Start a Conversation