Thursday, January 5, 2012

Can Joe Torre restore the Dodgers to greatness?

Joe Torre is a proven winner in the game of baseball, but he is going to need all his skills and talents for what he hopes will be his next job: restoring the Los Angeles Dodgers to greatness.

Torre announced that he was leaving Major League Baseball’s front office to join a group seeking to buy the bankrupt Dodgers. If the group’s bid is successful, Torre would become the head of baseball operations for the iconic franchise and the primary face of a new ownership group seeking to turn the Dodgers back into a superior organization.

Torre has a lifetime of baseball experience as a player, manager and broadcaster, although he experienced his greatest post-retirement success as manager of the New York Yankees. I do not question Torre’s baseball smarts at all. But I can’t help but wonder whether a job running baseball operations is the best fit for an admitted old-time thinker when it comes to baseball. Can Torre really deal with all the advanced metrics and new-age thinking that comes with recruiting and signing players for a major league franchise in the Moneyball era?

I’m also a little surprised that Torre decided to leave his job as right-hand man to Bud Selig at MLB. It was a comfortable role that seemed to fit Torre like a glove, even when there was controversy with the umpires or MLB’s foolish decision to deny the New York Mets the right to honor the first responders at the 9/11 ceremonies by wearing their hats. But Torre is a master at deflecting and defusing controversies, a talent honed in his many years as Yankees manager under George Steinbrenner.  

He’s going to need more than that if he’s going to succeed in his latest task. The Dodgers are fighting to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and regain the love and affection of Angelenos turned off by the antics of current owner Frank McCourt and the thugs who infiltrated the stadium in recent years, leading to a near-fatal attack on a visiting San Francisco Giants fan. The Dodgers will also have to contend with the suddenly free-spending Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and their new superstar Albert Pujols, whose signing has excited, and perhaps expanded, the Angels fan base.

But Torre has a lot to work with, namely a nucleus of young talent, led by superstar Matt Kemp on the offensive side and ace Clayton Kershaw on the pitching mound. He will have his hand-picked successor Don Mattingly, who did a commendable job running the 2011 team despite all the drama, back in the dugout. It’s a strong base to build off of and Torre may be the guy to massage the team back to what die-hard Dodger Blue fans deserve: a title-winning ballclub. I certainly hope so.

Good luck, Joe!

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