- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If Joe Torre hadn’t been low-balled by the Yankees, he might have spent the weekend watching up close as balls flew out of the new Yankee Stadium seemingly every time someone swung a bat. Instead, he was at Dodger Stadium watching them sail out of what is normally a pitcher’s paradise.

In perhaps the most unusual twist of events since Torre went all Hollywood, it’s his Dodgers who have been hitting them.

Two by Manny Ramirez on Saturday, along with a pair by Andre Ethier. Two more by Matt Kemp on Sunday, one of them a grand slam.

Thirteen games into the young season the Dodgers have scored more runs than anyone in the National League. Their pitching staff, meanwhile, has let up the least.

Let Joe Girardi put up with the suffocating pressure of managing the New York Yankees. Torre is doing just fine on the West Coast, where the surf is always up and the writers don’t sharpen their claws on the clubhouse door.

No, he’s not driving a convertible and drinking wheat grass, as one of his commercials suggests. He doesn’t go wakeboarding.

But he does crack an occasional smile in the dugout. And he appears to be having fun with his players, something that seemed impossible in later years in New York.

Winning by big margins, of course, helps.

“I felt pretty good about this club leaving spring training. I just felt we were going to score runs,” Torre said Sunday after the Dodgers finished off an undefeated homestand with a 14-2 thrashing of the Colorado Rockies. “But to get off to this kind of start is pretty good.”

Yeah, not bad at all. The best part, though, may be what Torre is missing in New York.

Girardi is in that hot seat now, the wolves eyeing him warily and his tenure as manager at risk if the Yankees fall short of anything but winning the World Series. Girardi is the one who has to explain now why a team with a $200 million payroll was embarrassed on opening day, then humiliated a few days later when the Cleveland Indians scored 14 runs in one inning.

Torre spent a dozen years of his life doing that, though it was easy at first because the Yankees won four World Series titles in his first five years there. It became more difficult when his team collapsed and lost four straight to the Red Sox in 2004, and even winning two more division titles wasn’t enough to keep the Steinbrenners from insulting him with an offer he could refuse.

He wanted one last chance to find out whether managing could be fun again and he came west to find out that maybe it could. The addition of Ramirez helped make it that way, catapulting the Dodgers to a strong finish last season and a surprising sweep of the Cubs in the first round of the playoffs.

But this year’s team isn’t all about Manny. The Dodgers have a loaded lineup from Rafael Furcal at the top to Casey Blake at the bottom, and they displayed it on the homestand that ended Sunday to fans not accustomed to seeing such things at pitcher-friendly Chavez Ravine.

In six games they had 77 hits and scored 50 runs. There were 11 home runs and 31 walks, and the team batted a collective .367.

They looked a lot like the guys in pinstripes used to look like. And why not? Torre, after all, wrote the book on them.

There will be no book on these Dodgers, because Torre’s contract forbids it. But, assuming the pitching staff that isn’t as good as it has looked so far this season doesn’t totally collapse and Manny remains happy, there could be another chapter written in his managerial history.

Unfortunately, it could be the final chapter.

Torre turns 69 in July and is the oldest manager in the majors. He told the Los Angeles Times recently that should the Dodgers win the World Series this year he would consider stepping down, even with a year still left on his contract.

If so, it will be a quick trip to the Hall of Fame. Winning five titles gets anyone there, even if Torre enjoyed the benefit of the $200 million payrolls along the way.

Torre would rather talk about his days as a player in the 1960s than his days managing the Yankees. About the only thing he’ll say is he doesn’t miss the zoo that was in the Bronx.

The rest, of course, is in the book.

He’s a star in a city of stars, but the one thing that hasn’t changed from New York is that he’s still expected to win. So far the Dodgers are doing that, and more.

And baseball is fun once again.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org

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