Friday, September 17, 2010

Torre to Retire; Mattingly New Dodger Skipper in '11

Joe Torre will retire as a major league manager at the end of this season. He had spent the past three seasons at the helm of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Torre will be succeeded by Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly.

Torre was unable to replicate the success he had with the New York Yankees on the West Coast. While Torre did guide the Dodgers to the post-season in both 2008 and 2009 they were a disappointment in 2010 and will likely end up with a losing record. Unlike Bobby Cox, Torre will not have a chance at one last playoff run.

Believe it or not, Torre began his managerial career as a player-manager with the New York Mets in 1977. He would retire as a player at the end of that season and manage the Mets for four more seasons. Those Mets teams were not good at all consistently finishing at or near the bottom of the NL East.

However, in 1982, Torre was hired to manage the Atlanta Braves (ironically, he would replace Bobby Cox). The Braves jumped off to a 13-0 start and never looked back winning their first NL West title since 1969. However, the Braves were swept in the NLCS by the St. Louis Cardinals who would go onto win the '82 Series.

Torre would leave Atlanta after the team failed to reach the playoffs in 1983 and 1984. It's worth noting the Braves would finish in last place in the NL West for the next six seasons. Torre spent most of those years broadcasting for the California Angels. But Torre would return to the dugout in 1990 with the St. Louis Cardinals. Although the Cardinals generally played winning baseball during his tenure the team failed to make the post-season and he was let go in the middle of the 1995 season.

Let's say that the New York media was less than thrilled to hear that Torre had been named manager of the New York Yankees prior to the 1996 season. Given his managerial resume (especially his stint with the Mets) there was no reason to believe he would be any more successful in the Bronx. At this time, the Yankees had not been in a World Series since 1981 and had not won the Fall Classic since 1978. Torre was merely going to be the latest in a long series of managers who had come and gone (and come and gone again) under George Steinbrenner.

Well, Torre stayed with the Yankees for twelve seasons and made the playoffs in every single one of those seasons. He guided them to six American League pennants and four World Series in five years much to the chagrin of Red Sox Nation. It is for this achievement that he will be enshrined into Cooperstown.

Of course, after the Yankees failed to get out of the ALDS for three consecutive seasons, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner made him offer he had to refuse. It was also widely expected that Mattingly would succeed Torre but the Steinbrenners opted for Joe Girardi. So Torre accepted a managerial gig with the Dodgers and took Mattingly along with him.

After Torre left the Yankees and before he joined the Dodgers, I wrote a piece suggesting that he would be perfect running mate for Rudy Giuliani. That seems like such a long time ago. But my argument was that Torre was calm, knew how to deal with people and projected an image of trust even amongst his rivals. Unfortunately, his reputation took a bit of a hit last year after he co-wrote The Yankee Years with Tom Verducci. In the book, he slams both Alex Rodriguez, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Yankees team president Randy Levine.

But after all is said and done, Torre has had a good run in baseball. Let's not forget he was a great player. How many people remember that Torre won the 1971 NL MVP hitting .363 with the St. Louis Cardinals? But he will also exit baseball with over 2,300 wins as a manager. That's good enough for fifth best in MLB history. Only Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, John McGraw and Connie Mack won more games as big league managers.

As Ronald Reagan would say, "Not bad. Not bad at all."

UPDATE: Well, Joe Torre might not be riding off into the sunset just yet as reports indicate he could manage the New York Mets in 2011. I guess that would be going full circle.

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