ANAHEIM -- Before this season began, the Dodgers purchased space on approximately 300 billboards around Los Angeles, advertising their inter-league series against the Yankees under the slogan: "Rivalry Renewed." It was to be New York vs. L.A., East Coast vs. West, a reprise of World Series past. But for all practical purposes, it is Joe Torre vs. Joe Torre and nothing more, the team he manages against the team he will always be known for managing. The only conflict is the one inside of him.
The billboards came down late this week, just as Torre was turning the so-called rivalry into a love-in. He called Yankees shortstop
The Dodgers kick off their three-game extravaganza against the Yankees at Chavez Ravine on Friday night, the kind of spectacle that interleague play was invented for. "The odd thing is I'm going to be in that dugout pulling against people I've never pulled against," Torre said. He used to rejoice whenever he saw Yankees closer
No fan under age 30 can remember the Yankees and Dodgers playing in the World Series -- which they've done 11 times, most recently in 1977, '78 and '81 -- but all remember Torre leaving the Yankees and winding up with the Dodgers less than three years ago. Since then, he has barely spoken with Yankees general manager
He is far cozier with Yankees players than with the front office. He still talks about the Core Four as his adopted children and they still talk about him as their second father. The fact that Jeter will turn 36 on Saturday amazes him to no end. "They're still kids to me," Torre said. He even refers to their manager,
The tale of Torre's departure is old news, but it will resurface this weekend, as the backdrop of the series. The way Torre recreated events Thursday, he knew it was time to leave, and the low-ball contract offer just gave him an excuse. "I stayed a long time, maybe too long," he said. "I was very stressed out." He discovered in L.A. what so many other dispatched New Yorkers have found over the years: a place to work and relax at the same time. "I wanted to see if it could be fun again," Torre said, "and it was fun here."
The Dodgers gave Torre a second wind, but he gave them something much more valuable. Besides guiding them to two straight NL West championships, he has provided the organization with credibility, a commodity in short supply under the ownership of
But even he has limits. Before beating the Angels on Thursday night, the Dodgers had lost six in a row and nine of 11, suffering from the kind of mental lapses that speak to a team's make-up. Trailing by one run with one out in the ninth inning Wednesday,
"You need more than ability to play this game," Torre said. "You need to be able to think."
Not all can be blamed on the McCourts. The Dodgers still have a payroll that is more than twice as much as the Padres, who lead them in the NL West. With Torre in the final year of his contract, the stakes are high for a turnaround.
Perhaps the Dodgers can kick-start themselves by hosting this weekend's Joe Torre Reunion. He will hug the Core Four. He will shake hands with