Torre's job is bringing Dodgers to heal (broken hearts mend over time)
An ugly rift fractured the clubhouse last year, and ingredients exist for it to happen again. The new manager was hired in part to prevent a recurrence. Or becaues there was literally no one else available. Whatever, lets get this over with.
March 9, 2008
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- So far, they smile and hug and make nice.
Jeff Kent spends 20 minutes working on a swing with Andy LaRoche. ( Andy is swinging already?)
Nomar Garciaparra spends quiet moments joking with locker neighbor James Loney. AAAhhhh, good times!
Everybody watches Matt Kemp's baserunning blunder, and nobody says a word. And then Kemp hits Pierre over the head with a bat and the team cheers, screams, and even some cry together as they watch Pierre's crumpled body twitch uncontrollably on the ground.
So far this spring, the Dodgers veterans and kids look nothing like the factions whose ugly September fight cost a team its season and a manager his job. Since the fight basically happened at the end of an already lost season, I don't think the "fight" cost the team it's season or the managers job. Grady did bad enough on his own to get fired. My 7 month old son had the sense to fire the guy.
"This is family again," Loney says. As he kisses Jeff Kent on the mouth.
But look closely. Listen carefully. I can't... I'm reading.
The same ingredients that exploded in last year's turmoil still exist. It wasn't an explosion. And the main ingredient is missing. LOSING!
The same competing interests. Baseball is a competitive sport. The same diverse opinions. Did he just call me black? The same short fuses. Jeff kent is back.
In one corner are veterans at the end of their Dodgers careers. Or so we hope. Until Ned gives extensions to Jeff Kent, Nomar, and Juan Pierre just for fun.
In the other corner are kids at the threshold of their Dodgers careers. Are you ready for "Smackdown Hotel" 2008? (thankyou scully88, you're still a "Bill")
The Dodgers are family right now, sure, anybody can be a family when life is a lazy exhibition.
But come opening day, it could all change at the drop of a fly ball, and they all know it. It would be Juan to drop said "fly ball".
"Nobody can sit here and tell you it won't happen again, nobody knows that," said pitcher Derek Lowe. "People don't change. People are who they are. It's all about making the right choices." and mostly about not losing, or making lineup cards that don't have Juan Pierre on them.
Late last season, the kids made the choice to laugh too loudly and run too easily and seemingly care too little. And they had way too much fun winning while the veterans were losing.
The veterans made a choice to rip them for it. Bastards!!!
This year's clubhouse has the same youthful energy with potentially five kid contributors in Kemp, Loney, LaRoche, Andre Ethier and Russell Martin. What about Chad Billingsly, John Broxton, and Clayton Kershaw?
This year's clubhouse also has the same veteran edginess, with Kent, Lowe and Garciaparra all in the final years of their contracts. So, Mark Sweeney, 38, isn't a veteran?
So what's to keep it from blowing up again? How about.... losing?
"Experience," said Jeff Kent. When he was asked about his hemmeroid problem going away.
I though this was supposed to be an article about Torre "healing" the dodgers clubhouse? All he really has to do is any four of the million things his predecessor didn't do. Lets just start with the lineup. No Pierre... Check. Furcal, Martin, Loney, Kemp in that order... check. Then he has to make sure to make Martin take a few extra days off... Check. Now, bring the right reliever in whose name isn't Hernandez or Tomko... check. Do not let a reliever start the game... check. Do not let a starter go to the bullpenn... ( this might be getting complicated...) Just make sure you don't be a total dunce like grady little or bill plaschke... check
"Winning," said Juan Pierre. Even Juan gets it.
"Hmmmm," said Joe Torre. Oh Boy...
Experience and winning would help, but the answer can be found in the "Hmmmm."
Yeah, this is all about Joe Torre. I know... that's why the article is named "Torre's job is bringing Dodgers to heal."
This is what he must do. This is a reason why he is here. Yup. I knew that.
Torre is not just a manager, he's a soother, a fixer, a closer. Most managers fill out lineup cards, give specific direction. Torre manages to sooth, fix, and close as well... by shrugging.
Where other managers blink, Torre shrugs. See, I told you.
Where other managers scream, Torre just shows up. Where other managers cry, Joe Torre cartwheels.
He was hired not only for his resume, but his gravitas. Ding ding ding. Bill has found our secret word of the day! The kid-veteran conflict is still so fresh and tender, it can only be squashed by this giant presence. Squish it... like a grape under your big toe!
Amazingly, Torre has not said one word to his team about last year's problems. Good on him.
But quietly, he has talked to veterans, he has talked to kids, he has met with coaches, and here's what he thinks:
"Handling this, after where I've been for the last 12 years?"
He smiled and shook his head.
Again and again and again. Then he got dizzy and had to sit down and have a drink of water.
First, Torre doesn't think it was a big deal. Because most everyone will tell you, "it wasn't a big deal".
"You have to understand, everything in this game starts small, everything," he said. "From what everybody told me, this was a mountain that came out of a molehill."
Indeed, it began small. and people like you, Bill, blew it way out of proportion.
A vet didn't like Loney's approach during a certain at-bat. Another vet didn't like the way Kemp ran on a certain count. Are these specific events or are you just making crap up?
A kid thought Kent was being standoffish. Or typical. Another kid thought Luis Gonzalez was being conniving. Even more typical.
Little things, silly things, bubbling things that burst in late September when Kent finally said what nearly every veteran in the clubhouse had been thinking. "These hemmeroids are driving me nuts!!!"
Followed by Loney and Kemp's saying what every kid in the clubhouse had been thinking. "yeah, Jeff, that doesn't look too comfortable. you should see a doctor or something."
It was rip upon rip, the unchecked molehills sprouting into an Everest-sized issue in which everybody was right, and everybody was wrong, and the biggest losers were the Dodgers. Considering that by the time the "fight" happened the season was basically over.
Torre says the secret is to walk around the yard enough to recognize, and step upon, those molehills. Stupid mole's. If we just didn't have mole's like Bill Plaschke to create goofy azz news like this we wouldn't have had a bad season last year and Grady Little would still be our manager. I can take winning... just not with Grady. Lets get rid of the mole's like Bill Plaschke... Check.
"That's what my coaches and I do," he said. "We need to be aware of what is going on in that clubhouse, and when certain things start to bubble up, we will be there step in. And squash Bill Plaschke's grapes."
Torre said the conversation with a fighting kid and veteran is a simple one. Smackdown Hotel 2008!!!
"I ask them, 'You guys have an issue, what are you going to do about it?' " he said. "I tell them, 'You guys have a problem, get it fixed.' " So, he does nothing?
Like his coach Larry Bowa, Torre starts the season with a separate message for the kids and veterans.
To the kids: "You are crazy if you don't take advantage of the experienced guys."
To the veterans: "I want you to speak up if something is bothering you, but I want you to go right to the person."
If it seems Torre is favoring the veterans, well, he has more postseason victories than any manager in baseball history (76) thanks mostly to veterans. Or the 200 million dollar payroll. But we can just chalk it up to experience. Whatever.
"There's a lot of passion in this game, and I'll never try to keep guys from expressing themselves," he said.
If it seems Torre is wary of kids, well, his New York Yankees usually traded those kids for championships. Who did they trade? I remember them signing a bunch of guys and playing the kids when they were ready.
"Kids try to be as good as they can be, and that sometimes leads to tunnel vision, where they lose sight of the big picture, which is winning," he said.
But Torre said he will not play favorites, because that would lead to greater divisions.
"You just try to make sense of it all," he said. "You just try to find a way to get through it."
For now, the sense is there, although the memories are still strong.
"Last year, we didn't get it," Kent said. "We just didn't get it." When asked why he didn't use preparation H.
This year, Joe Torre must give it to them.