Joe Torre and the Dodgers were merely passing through our town, and Joe was not happy at all. “This is our only trip to Atlanta, three games against the Braves, then next week they come out to L.A. for four games.
“And that’s it. It’s not like we’re in the same league, like interleague play. Makes no sense, and it’s probably not going to change,” Torre said, resting behind the desk in the visiting manager’s office at Turner Field.
It’s coincidental that a record Torre holds should break into the news, that for hitting into four double plays in a game, when he was a New York Met. “I’d like to thank Felix Millan for making it possible,” he said impishly. “He singled four times in front of me.”
Torre has been carrying on a fractious relationship with this town since he was fat and l4, when he came to visit his brother, Frank, then the first baseman for the old Atlanta Crackers. Joe returned as the first Braves catcher when they relocated from Milwaukee in 1966. He already was an All-Star catcher and broke in here with a flair. He hit two home runs in the opening game, which the Braves lost to Pittsburgh in 13 innings.
But he became a thorn in the side of Paul Richards, the general manager, who cheerfully traded him to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda and pronounced it “good riddance.” I shall not elaborate here, though Torre had become well acquainted with local gendarmes.
This, perhaps, puts the best spin on it, Joe’s own pronouncement as I left his office: “When I went to St. Louis, I grew up,” he said, a parting statement that he knew required no elaboration.
It was pure irony that he should return as manager in 1982, improbable successor to Bobby Cox — the same — and later to be succeeded by the improbable Eddie Haas. Torre did produce a division championship his first season, but as a manager, he was ahead of schedule. The next six seasons he spent in the broadcast booth of the California Angels, which in most situations would indicate that his managing career was over. Dumped by the Mets, then by the Braves, this would appear to be his burial ground as a manager.
But not for fast there — St. Louis again. This time the Cardinals came calling once more. This time he followed Whitey Herzog, and that marriage lasted another six years. Then, as I understand it, the late Arthur Richman, a sort of an unofficial consultant to George Steinbrenner, suggested Torre. You know, a nice guy from Brooklyn. How could you go wrong?
The Yankees? The place where managers go to die?
Not Joe Torre, and as Paul Harvey might have said, you know the rest of the story. Championship after championship after championship. Then charm wore thin, and when the Dodgers came calling, it was a natural blending. Another division championship, but the Dodgers lost in the playoff to the Phillies.
Torre brushes it off as managerial genius. Pure scoffery. “It’s just a game and I’m rolling along with it,” he said, resting comfortably atop the NL West.
But I had to ask about Manny Ramirez, his game, his hair. Are all those braids his own natural growth?
“He grew it himself,” Joe said. “People just don’t understand him. When we’re home, he’s at the park by 1 o’ clock for night games. He takes his game seriously, don’t forget that.”
Andruw Jones, what went wrong? “He didn’t do himself any favors. He kept saying he’d get his home runs, but he didn’t. Nobody could understand.”
Do you call pitches from the dugout, as so many managers do? “I don’t call pitches. I was a catcher, and I wouldn’t have liked it. I may call throw-overs now and then, but I don’t call pitches.”
Uniforms down to the ankles, how about that? “Oh, I wear mine low. I just don’t want to be out of touch. But I don’t like it.”
Anything else? Yes, “When I went to St. Louis, I grew up,” he repeated, and he knew I knew what he meant.