- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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The press release headline gets right to it.
Dodgers Name Joe Torre 26th Manager in Franchise History. Future Hall of Famer hired to pilot Los Angeles in 2008.
Problem is, Torre will be piloting a prop plane with no power, no guarantees its highest paid player can pitch, and no parachutes. When owner Frank McCourt is done with you, he just pushes you out the fuselage door. Hey, look, isn't that Grady Little hurtling toward earth?
Either Torre has lost his mind, or McCourt and wife Jamie, who doubles as vice-chairman and team president, have actually decided to quit ripping off Dodgers fans and put together a team capable of winning something other than the annual National League attendance figures. I vote for Torre and lost his mind.
McCourt is from Boston, tried to buy the Red Sox, and discussed moving them out of Fenway Park to, ta-da, land he owned in South Boston. Brilliant. He bought the Dodgers in 2004 and already is on his third manager, third general manager, and who knows how many image consultants.
Jamie McCourt, whose baseball credentials include a French degree from Georgetown and a diploma from La Sorbonne at the University of Paris, is, according to the team's information guide, "the highest ranking female executive in baseball today" (Of course she is -- she married the owner!) and "oversees the strategic planning and development for the franchise."
Some plan. They fired two managers (Jim Tracy and Grady Little) who led the Dodgers to the playoffs. They spent $47 million on Jason Schmidt, who underwent shoulder surgery in late June and might, if the Dodgers are lucky, be a No. 4 or 5 starter. Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers calls Frank McCourt "the parking lot attendant" and Jamie McCourt "screaming meanie." So needless to say, the McCourt ownership regime hasn't exactly captivated the city.
Now they hire the respected Torre, who takes a pay cut (from about $7.5 million per year to about $4.5) and a talent cut (no Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, etc.) to take the Dodgers job. He goes from New York Yankees dictator George Steinbrenner (and sons) to McCourt (and wife).
"Throughout his career he has demonstrated the ability to turn a vision for success into results on the field and we welcome his passion and leadership," said GM Ned Colletti in the release. "We have tremendous fans and they deserve no less."
And yet, they've gotten less for years. The Dodgers have won exactly one playoff game the past 19 seasons. They haven't won a World Series in 20 years. Thank god for Vin Scully.
Torre is supposed to reverse the inertia, the irrelevancy. It isn't going to happen. Torre is indeed a future Hall of Famer, but before he came to the Yankees he had one first-place finish: 1982, with the Atlanta Braves. Even in 1996, his first season with the Yankees, he had players. The Opening Day lineup at Cleveland featured Wade Boggs, Mariano Duncan (a first base coach for the Dodgers in 2007), Paul O'Neill, Ruben Sierra, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Gerald Williams, Jeter and the man who just replaced Torre in New York, Joe Girardi. They won a World Series that year.
The Dodgers aren't going to win a World Series in 2008. At least, they're not going to win it because Torre replaced Little.
Everybody needs starting pitching. What else is new? But after spending the $47 mil on Schmidt, do you think the Dodgers are going to make a run at, say, free agent Carlos Silva? Don't think so.
And maybe the McCourts will shock us, but I'm not counting on A-Rod making a soft landing in Chavez Ravine. Mike Lowell, maybe. A-Rod, no. He'll play for Los Angeles, but it will be the Angels before the Dodgers.
Still, Torre isn't coming to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Dodgers have some serious young talent on the roster and in the pipeline including: outfielders Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Delwyn Young and infielders Russell Martin, Andy LaRoche, James Loney and Tony Abreu (when Jeff Kent is gone).
The bullpen is solid (Takashi Saito with Jonathan Broxton as a possible closer-in-waiting). And left-hander Scott Elbert (shoulder surgery) and right-hander Bryan Morris (Tommy John surgery) have potential if they recover from those injuries.
But there's no way Torre agreed to this deal without assurances from the McCourts that they'd bump up the payroll and fill in some potholes. And even then, the Dodgers still have to deal with the Colorado Rockies, the Arizona Diamondbacks (who will have starting pitching issues of their own, though) and the San Diego Padres.
Torre will make a difference, but he won't make THE difference. That only happens if the McCourts decide to get serious about winning games. What are the chances of that happening?
Ask Grady Little. He'll be smashing against the ground soon.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.
1mEthan Sherwood Strauss