Dodgers need Torre to pull a Jackson
L.A. would be best served if its manager decided to return for at least one more season
LOS ANGELES -- Joe Torre and Phil Jackson are both creatures of habit. They both do the exact same thing before every game when talking to the media.
While Jackson lumbers toward a makeshift podium set up in a hallway outside the Lakers' locker room, leaning on it with his left hand and often touching his lips with his right, Torre sits on the backrest of the bench in the Dodgers' dugout, his legs crossed as he sips on his green tea in between questions.
Their pregame routines might be different, but the most persistent question posed to both during those media sessions this year has been identical: Are you coming back?
As much as Torre respects Jackson and his 11 championship rings as a coach, he will be taking a different approach to making his decision than Jackson, who waited two weeks after the season to announce his intention to return after initially saying he was leaning toward retirement.
Torre said he would announce his decision in the next month to give the team ample time to prepare for next season, one way or another.
Before Torre got a taste of what it's like to watch a game from a luxury suite as opposed to the dugout while serving a one-game suspension Wednesday night during the Dodgers' 2-0 win against the San Francisco Giants, I sidled up next to him in the Dodgers' dugout and asked him whether he was pulling a "Phil Jackson."
"Well now, I didn't say I wouldn't coach basketball," he said before cracking a smile.
He's right, he didn't. Then again, he hasn't really said what he will or won't do after this season. His mindset, however, seems similar to that of Jackson, who always said he would either return to the Lakers or retire. Torre contends he's considering only returning to the Dodgers or retiring at the moment, despite reports he might be in line to manage the Chicago Cubs or Atlanta Braves.
"I'm not looking [to move]," Torre said when I asked about the possibility of his being with another team next year. "I'm perfectly happy here. I enjoy it here. It was a nice move when I moved to California. The only thing I was uncomfortable with was uprooting my daughter because the only home she knew was New York, but we're happy. I'm certainly not waiting a month to decide if I want to manage here or someplace else."
Then again, much like Jackson, Torre is giving himself some wiggle room when it comes to his decision. When he was pressed whether he was completely ruling out going to another team, he smiled and shrugged.
"I don't anticipate leaving, but I've stayed away from saying definite because I never know what's going to come down the pike, but I certainly don't envision that happening, I really don't," he said. "I don't want to rule anything out, but at this point in time I'm not thinking of going anyplace else."
So there's a chance Torre could announce his retirement, get a call from another team and come out of retirement before spring training?
"I think you have to find out what's out there," Torre said. "I certainly don't want to shut myself down after I stop managing. I don't anticipate managing anywhere else, but you're crazy if you don't listen to things. I'm not saying that as a come-on to anybody, trust me, I'm just doing that so I don't say I'm definitely not going to do it and all of a sudden I'm a liar somewhere down the road."
While Torre is adamant he isn't stressing over the decision and doesn't know what he will do at the moment, the feeling among those around the team is he likely will retire and take a position in the front office, allowing him to still be around baseball without having 12-hour workdays and a grueling travel schedule, which make it almost impossible to spend quality time with his wife, Ali, and daughter, Andrea. He mentioned he took a dip in the swimming pool at his house for the first time since moving in three years ago and that he finally plans on building a home on the property he owns in Hawaii, where he plans to one day move when he completely leaves the game.
What might ultimately drive Torre away from the Dodgers and to another team (Torre still wants to be involved in baseball even if he isn't managing) is the current dysfunctional state of the team. No one knows who will be running it after the divorce hearings between Frank and Jamie McCourt, and while the two are in litigation there is a good chance the team won't be able to improve a roster in need of drastic upgrades before it can be considered a World Series contender.
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Does Torre really want to spend the twilight of his baseball career working for a dysfunctional, cash-strapped organization?
Torre says he won't base his decision on whether or not he thinks the Dodgers can contend for a World Series next year, and that he wants to work with general manager Ned Colletti on improving a team he has taken to consecutive National League West titles and NL Championship Series.
"I enjoy working with Ned and I enjoy this organization. I really do," he said. "Yeah, have there been some stuff going on and distractions and all that? Yeah, but, hell, after coming from New York, it's no big deal distraction-wise."
Similar to Jackson, who most believe has tabbed Brian Shaw (a popular former player with no head coaching experience) to be his heir apparent, Torre has done the same with Don Mattingly, a popular former player with no managerial experience. The dip in experience and championship cache between the teacher and the pupil in both cases is extreme and cannot be understated whenever Jackson and Torre decide to step down.
While the Lakers might be able to get by on sheer talent with Shaw at the helm for a couple of years, handing the Dodgers' streaky lineup, shaky rotation and nonexistent bullpen to Mattingly full time might signal the end of the most successful three-year period of Dodgers baseball in more than two decades.
Fans can only hope Torre follows Jackson's lead and decides to return to the team, even for one last season, to provide some stability for an organization in desperate need of some right now.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.