Commentary

Torre's hiring is no panacea for Dodgers' deficiencies

Originally Published: November 1, 2007
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Let's make this clear: Joe Torre's departure from the Yankees was a much bigger story than his arrival with the Dodgers.

Even the announcement of his new job matters more in New York than in Los Angeles, which might explain why most of the early leaks and stories came from back East. Torre's time in Dodger Blue will never come close to matching his accomplishments in pinstripes.

And the city's long relationship with the Dodgers, celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, no longer generates the same passion as its newer love, the Lakers. Sometimes it seems the Dodgers season is just something that happens in between Kobe Bryant trade updates.

The Dodgers aren't hurting for attention. Their attendance of 3.8 million this year trailed only the Yankees. They just don't dominate the discussion any more, don't get the city's heart racing or keep Dodger flags fluttering from cars on the Santa Monica Freeway.

It's not just about the flash, the star power and the almost daily dosage of drama the Lakers provide. Nothing short of a championship will satisfy this city's sports fans. And while the Lakers and the USC football team revived their glory days earlier this decade, we're almost to the point where a whole generation has grown up, left for college and come back while the Dodgers maintained the exact same status: without a playoff series victory since 1988.

And no manager, Joe Torre included, is good enough to transform the Dodgers into a championship team.

Not even if he breaks out a free companion flight certificate and brings Alex Rodriguez on the plane with him.

[+] EnlargeJoe Torre
Michael Nagle/Getty ImagesNew skipper Joe Torre is welcoming the big job of returning the Blue to winning October baseball for the first time in 20 years.

If adding A-Rod to the 2004 Yankees couldn't get them to the World Series, how would he single-handedly transform the 2007 Dodgers?

So Torre, in and of himself, doesn't change the L.A. sports landscape. The Dodgers already had a face in Tommy Lasorda. They already had a voice in Vin Scully. Torre won't take over either of those roles -- not that he would want to. He's not here to promote. He's here to maintain. Manage, you might say.

He's pretty good at it, even if the Dodgers aren't a good fit for his specialties. To use an example of another transplanted coach who arrived with a ring collection that wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment, it's like the Lakers hiring Phil Jackson in 2004, not the Lakers hiring Phil Jackson in 1999.

The first time around, Jackson was the right man at the right time, a guy who could meld the egos of a talented team and take it to the next step. The result: three championships for a group that had never been to the NBA Finals before. In Version 2.0, even Jackson has doubts that a coach at his salary level is a good value for a team that doesn't have championship talent.

Truth is, the Dodgers aren't really in need of Torre's greatest assets. What made him so effective in the Bronx? His ability to insulate the players from George Steinbrenner, and his ability to keep the pack of news hounds at bay. Neither will be necessary in L.A. You're more likely to hear from Frank McCourt's wife, Jamie, than to get one of those famous Steinbrenner quips on his way to the car. There are no local tabloids around to spin up a controversy at the drop of a lineup card. (If you want an example of the media leniency, just take the case of Vladimir Guerrero, whose .183 batting average and 7 RBIs with the Angels in the postseason are even worse than A-Rod's .244 average and 8 RBIs in four Octobers with the Yankees, but who hasn't received 1/10 of the grief about it.)

What will help is Torre's ability to handle the clubhouse to prevent the rift between vets and young guys that tore apart the Dodgers under Grady Little down the stretch this year. You never heard Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams griping about their roles or their replacements when they were on the way out the door.

So, no, Torre isn't a bad hire. It just seems a little extravagant for a team that wasn't supposed to be shopping in this neighborhood.

Frank McCourt made his money in real estate, and he seemed to be following the old adage that you should buy the worst house on the best block. They're in the two-bedroom bungalow down the street from the mansions. Except that doesn't work in baseball. The Dodgers had baseball's sixth-highest payroll, but were some $40 million behind the Boston Red Sox and $90 million behind the Yankees. He has overcome initial fears that he wouldn't spend money; now Dodgers fans are antsy that he and GM Ned Colletti won't spend it wisely following high-money, low-yield contracts for Jason Schmidt and Juan Pierre.

The actions of McCourt just reaffirm a little secret about Los Angeles: all of the behavior that gives this city a bad name comes from people who move here, not the folks who are from here. As soon as the plane lands, the new residents throw on the sunglasses, find a hairstylist and start trying to fit in. McCourt, a Bostonian, just bought the flashiest car on the lot and is ready to show off. He might even accessorize with A-Rod.

But over the long run, this city really does separate the talented from the hyped. In the movies, it's all about box office. In sports, it's about banners.

Want proof? When was the last time you read about that David Beckham guy?

J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as a columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.

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