Torre's reunion with Yankees long-awaited

Torre's reunion with Yankees long-awaited

ANAHEIM -- The Interleague series that opens Friday night at Dodger Stadium didn't exactly sneak up on Joe Torre.

"LA has had the billboards up all year -- Renew the Rivalry," Torre said of the long-awaited matchup between the team he now manages, the Dodgers, and the one he no longer manages, the Yankees.

  • 134 wins
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"I can't escape it," Torre said. "Obviously I'll be busy, but it will also be fun to see a lot of people. Long before I was a Yankee, that uniform was something special. I always had that mindset. It meant something to beat the Yankees."

It would mean something for the Dodgers to beat anybody right now. They entered play on the eve of the Yankees series with a season-high six-game losing streak, having gone from the best record in the National League to third place in the NL West in two weeks.

But it's inconceivable that this series doesn't have special meaning for Torre; for his hitting coach and supposed heir-apparent, Yankees legend Don Mattingly; for third-base coach on both coasts Larry Bowa; and everyone connected with Torre's 14-year reign as one of the most successful managers for the most successful franchise in the game.

"These kids, they made me famous, and I'm looking forward to seeing them," Torre said of the core of the Yankees that remains, from Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera to Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, not to mention his protege and successor, Joe Girardi.

"It's going to be weird for me because I'll be pulling against guys I've never pulled against before," Torre said. "That's my job, and once you get buried in the game, that's what you do, but it's certainly unusual. I watched the World Series last year, and all the guys that played big roles were significant with me. You don't normally keep even a small core together for that long a period, especially on a ballclub like the Yankees that has a habit of mixing and matching. For them to be just about as significant in the late 2000s as they were in the late 1990s is not easy to do."

Torre said the series will be "a big deal," but not quite as big as it would have been last October, when Torre allowed himself the thought of a World Series against his old club, until the Phillies spoiled that dream.

"It would have been bells and whistles all over the place," he said. "It certainly would have been something that would have been exciting, no question. If we go back from Philadelphia one game apiece, three games away from the World Series, that would have been pretty wild. I didn't manage well enough, I guess."

This week, as New York media has revisited Torre's messy ending in the Bronx, he has stressed that he didn't leave over money, he left over respect. Yankees ownership wanted Torre to take a pay cut with incentives linked to the team's play.

"Change was best for both of us," he said. "They didn't know how to go about it. I didn't want to stay there with the stipulation that I needed incentive to do my job."

Nonetheless, while Torre said he called to congratulate Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after he won last year's World Series, he said he doesn't talk to Steinbrenner's sons, who were at the controls when Torre left the Yankees.

And those New York reporters reminded Torre that the 2009 book he co-wrote with Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, "The Yankee Years," opened wounds with Alex Rodriguez that have not healed. Torre disputes criticism that he revealed anything about Rodriguez, or anybody else, that wasn't already public, and he said he intends to say hello to Rodriguez, as well as his other former players, when he gets the chance on Friday.

"I never had a problem with Alex," Torre said, although he might now.

Meanwhile, Mattingly, passed over when Girardi was hired to replace Torre, said he left an offer to remain on the Yankees' coaching staff to join Torre in Los Angeles.

"I left there with no bad feelings in any way, shape or form," said the Yankees legend. "I could have stayed, but I felt it would have been the wrong thing to do. It wouldn't have been fair to Joe [Girardi], to sit there as the bench coach and anytime we had a bad spell, I know how it would have been in New York, the perception that I'd be next. I didn't want to put him in that situation, and I didn't want to be in that situation."

Instead, he and Torre are on a team that still makes too many youthful errors, a team with ownership uncertainty and one that certainly lacks the money's-no-object wherewithal to fill any hole.

"Just being world champs, they definitely know how to win," said Reed Johnson. "And it will be good for us to see what caliber of team we have to beat if we want to win a World Series."

Said Dodgers reliever Jeff Weaver, who played for Torre on both teams:

"It will be good to see some old faces, a lot of good guys, most have been there 15 years, and they're still winning championships. That's what the Yankees are all about, and what we're trying to achieve."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.