Billy Witz checks in with Joe Torre in The Times today and finds that Torre does not miss the circus back east.
After his less-than-amicable departure from the Yankees, Torre is settling into a new reality, attempting to restore credibility to a franchise that has won one playoff game in 20 seasons.
There is no fishbowl, no calls from Boss & Sons and no suggestions from above for lineup changes.
On the other hand, there is no $200 million payroll. The Dodgers constitute the Little Engine That Could.
“This is more reminiscent of my first year there,” Torre said of the 1996 Yankees, who won the World Series. “We were underdogs. I remember George telling me in June, ‘Are you doing this with mirrors?’ We didn’t have home run hitters. It drove him nuts because he liked to beat everybody by 10 runs, but we were playing solid baseball.”
Of course, the problem is that the 2008 Dodgers are nothing at all like the 1996 Yankees. The Dodgers right now find themselves treading water at 9-13. They’re in fourth place, seven games behind the Diamondbacks. In 1996, the Yanks were 12-10 after 22 games and found themselves in first place for the first time. They would remain there all season.
Right now, the Dodgers are playing a bit below their run differential. They probably should be 12-10, and in that regard, they are similar to the 1996 Yankees. But Torre in Los Angeles is still doing the things that Torre in New York did that drove us all crazy. Joe Beimel has appeared in 13 games already this season; Scott Proctor, of course, has pitched in 11; and Jonathan Broxton has thrown in nine games.
When Torre took the Dodger job, it seemed like a moment of hubris for the former Yankee skipper. He wanted to prove to the baseball world and his critics that he could win without a $200 million payroll. He wanted to prove that he had what it took to lead a baseball club that needed managing instead of one that could operate fairly well on auto-pilot. Right now, this gambit isn’t working, and I have to wonder if Torre’s legacy would have been better off had he just called it a career after his less-than-friendly divorce from the Yanks in October.
One thing though is for certain: The 2008 Dodgers are not the 1996 Yankees.