Commentary

Torre to L.A. rekindles Yankees-Dodgers rivalry

Originally Published: November 1, 2007
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

It's the rivalry that brought us Billy versus Lasorda.

It's the rivalry that brought us Reggie versus Bob Welch.

It's the rivalry that brought us George Steinbrenner versus The Elevator.

And now, it's back. After all these years.

New York Yankees-Los Angeles Dodgers.

Once again, it's must-see baseball theater.

For that, we can thank Joe Torre. Well, we also can thank the people in New York who nudged him out the door. Not to mention the folks in Los Angeles who hired him.

But it's Torre who almost single-handedly will turn the Dodgers' next few seasons into a major, never-ending New York story, just as the Yankees' next few seasons without him now will loom as a huge L.A. story.

As soon as Hank Steinbrenner uttered those magic words about Torre -- "Let's not forget ... the great team he was handed" -- this battle line was spray-painted. And once the Dodgers decided they had themselves a manager, this rivalry was back.

Now we get to contemplate two fascinating questions that before were unanswerable:

How much of the Yankees' success these past 12 years was Torre's doing?

And how much of Torre's success was the Yankees' doing?

The answers to those questions ultimately won't be judged merely by the Yankees' future under Joe Girardi. We also will judge them through the prism of the Dodgers' performance under Torre.

Can Girardi maintain the clubhouse serenity Torre was so brilliant at preserving? Do the Yankees even want him to?

Could the Yankees' problem these past few years have been too much serenity? Maybe this team was too comfortable to push itself deep into October.

Maybe Torre's soothing ways had run their course. Maybe Girardi's edge is exactly what this team needs.

But maybe not. If the effect of that edge is a heightening of clubhouse tension, in a room full of egos and megastars, can a team like this play over that?

Joe Torre
Al Bello/Getty ImagesJoe Torre led the Yankees to the postseason in all 12 of the seasons he managed the team.
Or maybe a collection of players with this much experience, this much stature, simply won't respond to a tough voice like Girardi's. Won't listen to a drill sergeant. Won't react well to too disciplined an approach.

There is no way to know which way this is heading. But we know this:

Whichever way it does head, it's a referendum on Joe Torre.

And it won't be just the Steinbrenner family who will be watching the returns from that referendum. It will be all of us.

We'll be watching just as closely when Torre begins to recraft a troubled Dodgers team in his own image next spring and summer.

It's now clear that the Dodgers were a club that splintered down the stretch this year, with veterans and kids and the coaching staff not necessarily stampeding in the same direction. So this might well be harder work, pulling this group back together, than anything Torre had been challenged with lately in New York.

But it's no worse a mess than Jim Leyland inherited two years ago in Detroit, is it? And just as Leyland was the perfect fit for that collection of players, Torre's personality and built-in credibility might be all the Dodgers need to fit their championship pieces together.

Then again, maybe not. It wasn't as if Torre, with the same personality, was able to have that effect on the teams he managed in Atlanta or St. Louis or Flushing, before he showed up in the Bronx. Right?

Who knows? Maybe L.A. is a different kind of place. Maybe a team in a laid-back town doesn't need a laid-back manager. Maybe the kind of fires Torre was so good at dousing in New York don't even rage in a place like L.A.

But we'll find out. We can't wait to find out.

We can't wait, especially, for a rivalry as time-honored as Yankees-Dodgers to matter again.

It will have to matter in a different way, obviously, than it did from the '40s through the '80s, when these teams met in 11 World Series.

It will have to matter in a different way, obviously, than it did when the compelling arguments of the day were Mantle versus Snider, Koufax versus Ford, Garvey versus Chambliss.

Those were arguments that were actually settled -- or re-ignited -- on the field, in the shadows of October. And that's where all rivalries reach their zenith.

With Torre versus Girardi, on the other hand, it's possible we might never settle that one on the field. An awful lot has to happen for the Dodgers and Yankees to end up in another World Series together -- especially in L.A., where the World Series has turned into just another reality TV show these past 19 years.

After all, since the last time the Dodgers won a World Series, in 1988, the Yankees have won four.

Since the last time the Dodgers won a postseason series of any kind, also in 1988, the Yankees have won 18.

Since Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson lifted the Dodgers to glory in '88, the Yankees have won 78 postseason games. The Dodgers have won one.

Since Hershiser threw the final pitch of that '88 Series, the Yankees have had 22 pitchers win a postseason game, from Jimmy Key to David Cone to Chien-Ming Wang. The Dodgers have had one -- Jose Lima.

So have there been any forces out there in the cosmos to draw these two storied franchises together over the past two decades? Don Zimmer? Raul Mondesi? Kevin Brown? Wilson Betemit?

Sorry. Not enough.

But now we have a guy, who grew up in Brooklyn and managed in the Bronx, suddenly heading for Chavez Ravine. Now we have a plot line never before witnessed in baseball.

Now we have Joe Torre becoming the first man to manage the Yankees to World Series triumph at one point in his life and then turn around and attempt the same feat with the Dodgers.

So somebody go tap Roger Kahn on the shoulder and tell him it's time to start typing.

It's Yankees-Dodgers. Must-see baseball theater. Again.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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