Bridging the gap
Also in this column: • Wright responds to MVP disagreement • Red Sox look at adding another starter • Should Clemens fire his lawyer?
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- General manager Ned Colletti thought he had the perfect man to manage the Dodgers, the perfect man to grow with what should be a terrific young team (especially if the team either bridges a generational divide in the clubhouse or moves a couple more crusty veterans out of the way). But once the Yankees' job came open, Colletti became concerned he would be unable to hire Joe Girardi after all.
"What do you think?" Colletti asked Girardi after the Yankees' top baseball seat became vacant.
Colletti knew Girardi for 20 years, since Girardi was a young Cubs catcher and Colletti headed the Cubs' public relations department; Colletti figured he'd know from the way Girardi responded whether the Dodgers still had a shot at their first choice.
"Uh, I, I'm not sure," the normally supremely confident longtime Yankees player, coach and broadcaster said.
And that's when Colletti knew for sure the Dodgers were the second choice of Girardi, who at 43 seemed to fit perfectly with the Dodgers' young nucleus. So, shortly after Grady Little delayed his decision about whether to return as manager until exactly three weeks after the season -- thus sealing his own fate as an ex-Dodgers manager -- the storied L.A. franchise had to turn to its second choice.
Joe Torre is the very reason Girardi was no longer available to Colletti. Torre also became the most obvious answer to Colletti's managing conundrum; not often does a second choice tote four World Series rings.
Colletti and Torre didn't know each other when they found each other. But Colletti flew to New York to get to know Torre, and in Colletti's estimation, "We hit it off immediately." No surprise to folks who know both men.
In some ways, Torre, Girardi's mentor, was the best man for the job all along. He proved generally terrific as a clubhouse-calming influence in New York (except in a few cases, especially when it came to Alex Rodriguez in 2006).
Yet in other ways, it's an odd choice. The Dodgers are heading in a young direction, and while a few young stars, including Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, developed under Torre, and Colletti said, "[Torre's] personality is such that he relates to the potential All-Star as well as the All-Star," he has been universally and fairly viewed as predominantly a veterans' manager.
Torre is 67, and his team is built around talented players who are under 26. He's going to need to be at his best, as he walks into what is viewed as a split clubhouse that craves cohesion. Dodgers people will tell you the locker room's generational divide was overblown in the press late last year when a talented team fizzled -- however, the evidence of the division came directly via the public words of veteran Dodger Jeff Kent, whose complaint about a lack of "professionalism" among the star young players sparked more harsh volleys between the very young and very old.
Furthermore, according to club sources, some older Dodgers went to club higherups and privately griped about the mistakes of youth, particularly baserunning gaffes that afflicted Matt Kemp, who's seen as a potential superstar.
While some veteran Dodgers also saw the young kids as cocky and unwilling to show the proper respect to their elders, a big part of the problem, some club sources say, related to the reaction of the veteran players to long-warranted diminished playing time. Even if the benching was long overdue -- and, if anything, hindsight suggests the Dodgers were slow to provide playing time to top young stars, such as Kemp and James Loney, who easily outplayed the fading vets such as Luis Gonzalez and Nomar Garciaparra -- it didn't diminish the hard feelings of the vets.
Kemp is full of confidence, and while he's an enthusiastic kid, club officials concede he's a "young 24." But scouts also see him as "the next Dave Winfield," and he actually appears to have shown real, honest-to-goodness restraint since he never publicly spoke the obvious, which was that the Dodgers never should have signed Gonzalez, or played Gonzalez ahead of him.
The potential for more dissension still exists, with Kent opting to return for another season and Garciaparra coming back as a backup after a season in which he appeared to lose it. On my day in Dodgers camp, there still didn't seem to be much socializing between the very old and very young. Kent, who has a long of history of not playing well with others and made the opposite claim of a lack of respect when he was a young player with a veteran Mets team, wore a dour face at a corner locker all day, far away from the others.
What's worse, while the surly Kent may not talk much to his teammates, everyone around the team knows he is a main adviser to Jamie McCourt, wife of team owner Frank McCourt, an unhealthy alliance that can't be positive for the team. The absurd idea of dumping the multitalented Kemp hit the L.A. papers early this winter, and it's natural to conclude an idea that foolish could only have come from the same person who questioned Kemp's "professionalism."
Team officials have considered last year's divide and concluded that one of the issues was the club's unusual generational split, with nearly the whole team fitting in one of two categories -- the under-25 group, and the over-31 group. Thanks to several consecutive poor drafts preceding their recent excellent drafts, only three players fit into that prime middle 26-31 age group -- Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal and Brad Penny.
The importing of 30-year-old Andruw Jones, a longtime class act, should help. And the decision not to bring back Gonzalez, whose former spotless rep has now been sullied in two straight spots as a selfish act, should, too.
Yet, the single biggest change has to be the hiring of Torre, who has a tougher chore on his hands than he had in New York. For now, Torre won't do anything to perpetuate the idea that there's a problem to solve, saying, "I'm not sure last year's incidents were really anything more than the product of a probably a club that was going bad," before wisely dismissing himself from the topic by adding, "I don't think it's fair if I come in here and start talking about last year. I wasn't here."
It's the only right answer for now. However, Torre's considerable clubhouse skills could be sorely tested here, where a couple remaining veterans have the potential to hinder what should be a great thing.
In an article featured in last week's SI, "Junior" of the stat-driven Web site FireJoeMorgan.com claimed that David Wright should have won last season's NL MVP over Jimmy Rollins. Earlier this week, I slammed that notion. Of course, part of my difficulty with Junior's column was the idea that baseball writers are morons for voting Rollins over Wright. But the other part is that I think Junior fails to see the big picture, which is that winning counts. And so does not winning.
If Wright's stats and play were vastly better than those of Rollins and Matt Holliday, that would be one thing. But with all those players (plus Prince Fielder) having excellent seasons, but none having an all-time great season, I believe that either Rollins or Holliday, whose teams reached October, was a right choice (though I slightly favored Rollins).
Predictably, Junior promptly responded.
Enough bickering. I figured the best way to settle this disagreement was to go to Wright himself, and ask him. So I did.
No surprise to me, and without any prompting from me (I swear), Wright, a level-headed young man, agreed that Rollins was the MVP. Some may claim that Wright was just being polite, but as he pointed out, from late August he was consistent in saying that the MVP wasn't determined until the playoff spots were settled. So he was just repeating what he implied all along.
Told that some of the stat folks favored him, Wright responded, "It's flattering people think that way. But it's tough to name an MVP from the team that had the type of collapse we had, and from a team that played as poorly as we played down the stretch.
"Jimmy's team won the National League East, and he led his team. I think he deserves it. I agree 100 percent that the MVP shouldn't come from a team that doesn't win its division or make the playoffs. I've said all along that it should go to a guy who helps his team get to the playoffs. Jimmy led his team into the playoffs. And we failed miserably.
"The award could have gone to either Jimmy or Matt Holliday. But Jimmy's a great choice."
• Free-agent pitcher Freddy Garcia was due to stop by Red Sox camp on Wednesday on his tour of spring camps -- the same day that Bartolo Colon met with the media after signing his incentive-laden deal with Boston. But ultimately the Yankees may make the most sense for Garcia, who's a terrific and clutch pitcher if healthy.
• Colon didn't inherit that weight clause from Curt Schilling. Though according to Colon's contract filed on Thursday, he will earn $1.25 million plus potentially a lot more than that ($4.55 million in games started incentives and millions more in other incentives). Colon can also opt for his release if he isn't in the majors by May 1.
• Anyone looking for a pick-me-up or pep talk should stop by Twins camp for a few minutes with the eternally upbeat Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, as I did on Wednesday.
• Nine days late after visa problems related to his DUI in 2006, Twins prodigy Francisco Liriano was delayed a few more hours by the lights going out in Miami just before his arrival. He seems like a nice kid, but he has a lot on his plate, trying to return after being away a year-and-a-half with elbow trouble and hoping to make folks forget Johan Santana.
• Sorry, I just don't see B.K. Kim putting the Pirates over the top.
• I keep wondering if the Angels would have been Barry Bonds' destination if Arte Moreno didn't have such a bad reaction to Gary Matthews' brush with HGH.
• It turns out the Cardinals do have their limits after all. The proud and tradition-rich franchise cut Scott Spiezio after a warrant was issued for his arrest related to a six-charge incident this winter that included DUI, hit-and-run and assault.
• Best wishes to Cubs infielder Mark DeRosa, 33, who will undergo a heart procedure.
• With Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada in camp, the Astors probably have a record number of players drawing the Justice Department's attention -- two.
The lawyers for trainer Brian McNamee have outmaneuvered Clemens' counsel at every turn. So I have to wonder about McNamee's lawyers' move to get Rusty Hardin removed as Clemens' lawyer. From here Hardin looks like a legal patsy.
There may be some technical reason why Hardin should go related to the fact he represented Andy Pettitte, who'll be a key witness if this goes to court. However, Hardin's presence has done nothing to help Clemens' cause. To this point, he could not have done a worse job.
I just can't help but think that if Clemens either conceded McNamee was being truthful and apologized for his transgressions, or issued a short denial, he wouldn't be in the fix he's in. Had he done either of those things, a lot of folks would probably be well on the way to forgiving Clemens.
Instead, Clemens made mistake after mistake, with Hardin as his lawyer: taping McNamee saying nothing incriminating, screaming on 60 Minutes, suing McNamee when Clemens' is the one who should be sued, insisting on a congressional hearing and claiming McNamee was lying about his presence at a Jose Canseco party before eventually conceding he was probably there.
And now, after Clemens' case was sent to the Department of Justice by the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, keeping alive a possible perjury charge, Hardin is out there saying, "Thankfully, we're now about to enter an arena where there are rules and people can be held accountable for outrageous statements." I wonder if that includes Hardin, as well as Clemens.
I also wonder whether Clemens himself may want to consider removing Hardin, who seems to be doing everything he can to sabotage his own case.