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New job, coast, challenges for Torre

New job, coast, challenges for Torre

Joe Torre, to the surprise of no one who was watching carefully, landed on his feet.

The New York Yankees, after Torre reached the postseason 12 straight times as their manager, made him an offer he could refuse. In fact, he almost had to refuse it, because it was a one-year contract that would have guaranteed only 12 more months of endless speculation about his job status.

Torre walked away from that offer, but his unemployment has lasted only a matter of days. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Dodgers hired him as manager with a three-year pact for about $13 million. It's a pay cut from his last New York contract, but nobody pays like the Yankees and at this point, it is not about the money for somebody with the standing of Joe Torre.

The deal is a two-way street. As much as the Dodgers give Torre a job, he gives them additional credibility. He won four World Series with the Yankees. If none of those came after 2000, the fact that the Yankees each October found themselves facing somebody with much better pitching, indicated that the dry spell was hardly the manager's fault.

In addition to the record, Torre routinely conducted himself with dignity and grace in the face of the semi-crisis atmosphere that accompanies the Yankees whenever they are not winning big. Torre is respected within the game, not only for his managerial accomplishments, but for who he is as a human being.

If Torre is stepping into a prominent role with one of the most prominent franchises in baseball, he will not be inheriting a push-button situation with the Dodgers. Managing this club will not be like managing the Yankees.

The Los Angeles team that stumbled home at 82-80 this season, was a fractured group, demographically divided between promising young players and fading veterans. This is going to be a managing job that relies more heavily than the Yankees job on dealing with players who are growing into their Major League roles, as well as healing the internal rifts.

But Torre has successfully managed a series of difficult situations and individuals with the Yankees. There is no reason to expect that by changing coasts, he will lose his ability to relate to players on a fundamentally fair, empathic level.

Torre will have to do some of his best work here, because the National League West has become a very tough neighborhood. The National League pennant winners, the Colorado Rockies, are loaded with young talent. So are the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the division in 2007 and went on to reach the NL Championship Series. And the San Diego Padres will return a strong pitching corps.

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ALL-TIME WINNINGEST MANAGERS       
1. Connie Mack 3,731
2. John McGraw 2,763
3. Tony La Russa 2,375
4. Bobby Cox 2,255
5. Sparky Anderson 2,194
6. Bucky Harris 2,157
7. Joe McCarthy 2,125
8. Joe Torre 2,067
9. Walter Alston 2,040
10. Leo Durocher 2,008

On the plus side of the Dodgers equation, Torre will be working with a shrewd and diligent general manager, Ned Colletti. And while the Dodgers, like the other 28 franchises, do not have the Yankees' resources, their player payroll of $124 million for 2007 was third highest in the Major Leagues.

Does Torre's arrival mean that the Dodgers are more likely to sign Alex Rodriguez, who has opted out of the remaining three years of his contract with the Yankees? Perhaps, but there remains the question of whether this is even a good idea, given the fact that for all his monster numbers, A-Rod has never been on a team that reached the World Series.

What Torre's arrival does mean is that the Dodgers will appear to be a more viable destination for talented players. His stature within the game assures that, as will the comments of people who have played for him. Gary Sheffield aside, those comments are routinely glowing, made from a combination of admiration, respect and affection.

In any case, Joe Torre deserved better than he received at the end of the day from the New York Yankees. He deserved to have a managing job, with a modicum of security and he has one, with a team rich in history and tradition. It will be a series of challenges, but this manager has a history of dealing successfully with those. This is an opportunity for Torre to enhance his managerial legacy, which really doesn't require much enhancing. But for anybody who dismissed his success in New York as the result merely of an enormous player payroll, this job won't allow for that rationalization.

Only the passage of seasons will truly tell, but it appears that this hiring is a two-way winner. Both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Joe Torre should be well-served.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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