Joe Torre shows class in farewell
LOS ANGELES -- Joe Torre wouldn't use the word "retirement" either before or after his final game as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, a 3-1, season-ending victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks before 38,007 at Dodger Stadium. But that didn't stop the front office, the players or the fans from treating Torre like a conquering hero about to ride off into his personal sunset.
Immediately after the final out, which fittingly was recorded by reliever Hong-Chih Kuo -- more on that later -- Torre was presented with a large painting of himself in a Dodgers uniform by sports artist Opie Otterstad, who did a similar painting for retiring Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox.
Torre then addressed the crowd over the ballpark public-address system, with his wife, Ali, and daughter, Andrea, standing at his side.
"My hat is off to you guys," he said. "I left New York after the '07 season [after] three very stressful years for me. I just wanted to see if managing could be any fun anymore. So I would like to thank [Dodgers owner] Frank McCourt, [general manager] Ned Colletti, and mostly because of [Ali and Andrea], who basically talked me into it. All the fans, whether at the ballpark or walking around the L.A. area, made us feel welcome, and I can't tell you how appreciative I am for that."
As Torre mentioned McCourt, a loud chorus of boos rained down from the stands. McCourt is involved in a messy, expensive divorce from his wife, former Dodgers president Jamie McCourt, which might or might not have been the reason McCourt slashed the team's player payroll to about $83 million at the start of this season.
Although Torre hasn't completely closed the door on anything, he seemed as definitive as ever in saying before the game that he has no plans to manage again -- except possibly on a short-term basis, such as in the World Baseball Classic, which won't take place again until 2013. However, Torre still wouldn't say he was retiring, mostly because he wants to stay in the game in some capacity. He said he plans to meet with Colletti at some point in the next month or so to discuss a possible position with the Dodgers, but Torre certainly hasn't committed himself to anything like that at this point.
During what probably will be the final game of his certain Hall of Fame managing career -- a game that had no bearing on the standings -- Torre made a series of symbolic gestures on behalf of a handful of his players:
• Veteran catcher Brad Ausmus, who is retiring after 17 seasons in the majors, started behind the plate and caught the first eight innings, leaving for a pinch runner after his eighth-inning single left him 2-for-4 -- he had doubled to lead off the second.
"The first thing I thought [after the single] was, 'Please pinch run for me,'" said Ausmus, 41. "I hadn't caught that many innings since Houston back [on Sept. 12]."
• Shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has battled injuries this season, started the game but was lifted after one inning. He struck out to lead off the bottom of the first, then left the game with a batting average of .3002611, his third .300 season in his five years with the Dodgers.
• First baseman John Lindsey, whom the Dodgers finally promoted to the majors for the first time last month after he had spent 16 seasons in the minors but who has been sidelined for the past week because of a broken left hand after he was hit by a pitch in Arizona on Sept. 25, was sent to the plate to pinch hit in the bottom of the seventh.
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Torre, of course, had no intention of allowing Lindsey to actually hit, given that he is wearing a cast on his hand. But with Lindsey not officially on the disabled list, Torre was able to send him to the plate so the crowd could cheer for him and his name could appear in one more box score, then call him back and send Trent Oeltjen to hit instead.
Lindsey even got a nice congratulations from plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, who knew Lindsey from the minor leagues.
"[Torre] is first-class," Lindsey said. "He wants everybody to succeed."
• Finally, Torre made a point of bringing in Kuo -- the situation actually called for it, but Torre was planning to bring him in no matter what -- so Kuo could post the lowest single-season ERA (minimum 50 innings) in franchise history. Kuo pitched around a leadoff walk to retire the final three Diamondbacks hitters, nailing down his 12th save and leaving him with an ERA of 1.200, just edging the 1.202 posted by Eric Gagne in 2003, when Gagne went 55-for-55 in save opportunities and won the National League Cy Young Award.
When it was all over, Torre, who said it actually was important to him to win his final game because he had won his first game as manager of the New York Mets way back in 1977, held court with the media far longer than he normally does. His wife, who is never present for those sessions, stood in a corner of his office the entire time.
Eventually, those reporters trickled out, and the Torres went home for dinner. Where they were headed after that is anyone's guess at this point, including theirs.
"I just want to go home and have dinner tonight at the house," Torre said. "That wouldn't be any different even if I wanted to continue my career as a manager. I would still be happy [the season] is over for now. Even if I wanted this to continue, at the end of a long season, you just want to get away from it for a little while."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.