HELLER: Joe Torre is the right man to own part of Dodgers

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

Even if you’re a Giants fan, it should be possible to root a bit for the archrival Dodgers if nice-guy Joe Torre becomes part of the club’s ownership group.

Torre quit as MLB’s head of on-field discipline and umpiring Wednesday to join a gang of millionaires seeking to buy the bankrupt Dodgers from the battling McCourts, Frank and Jamie, whose acrimonious divorce left one of baseball’s best properties in limbo. If Torre and his pals succeed, with Joe becoming chief of baseball operations, it could be the best news for Dodgers fans since Sandy Koufax learned how to throw strikes.

The group is headed by Rick Caruso, a developer who seems to own half of L.A. and once considered a run for mayor, but the competition is stiff. Others who would like to bleed Dodger blue as a partial owner include Magic Johnson, Orel Hershiser, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, ex-Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley and former NHL owners Ron Burkle and Tom Golisano.

Because Torre is a pal of MLB commissioner Bud Selig, he might have the inside track if Selig had the last word. Unfortunately, the winner will be chosen by Frank McCourt, who has given no hint of how he’s likely to lean.

Notwithstanding Caruso’s surname, neither he nor anyone else will get the club for a song. Estimates are that the sale price will be about a record $1 billion for the team and still-gorgeous Dodger Stadium.

It’s hard to root against Torre, a man so widely respected in baseball that even George Steinbrenner pretty much shut his tater trap when Joe was winning six pennants and four World Series for the Yankees from 1996 to 2007. Despite less successful managerial stints with the Mets (1977 through ‘81), Braves (1982 through ‘84), Cardinals (1990 through ‘95) and Dodgers (2008 through ‘10), Torre is fifth on the all-time winners’ list with 2,326 victories.

If he becomes part-owner of the Dodgers, Torre will have experienced baseball’s thrills and chills at just about every level. More than four decades ago, he was one of the best players around — a marvelous catcher who batted .297 over 18 seasons and won the National League batting championship in 1971 with a resounding .363 average.

And though the Dodgers are now managed by Don Mattingly, another former Yankees icon, wouldn’t it be neat if Torre one day returned to the dugout as his own boss? He will be 72 next season but, heck, Connie Mack owned and managed the old Philadelphia Athletics when he was 88 in 1950. Awake or asleep.

One more reason to support Torre is that he would be the best possible choice to oversee baseball operations for the Bums and possibly the best choice to restore a club that has fallen on hard times since the McCourts bought it from the O’Malley family in 2004.

Ever since owner Larry MacPhail and manager Leo Durocher made the long-dormant Brooklyn Dodgers respectable in the early 1940s, this has been one of baseball’s signature franchises. When general manager Branch Rickey shattered the sport’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers became the favorite team of millions around the country. And after Walter O’Malley shanghaied the club to the West Coast in 1958, breaking Brooklyn’s heart, it became even more so. On the Left Coast, attendance records toppled as the Dodgers won eight pennants and four World Series from 1959 to 1981 under Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda.

Lately, though, the Dodgers have been just another team. Their record for the past two seasons is 162-161, and they haven’t turned up in the World Series since 1988. All in all, that kind of performance is spelled m-e-d-i-o-c-r-e.

When teams like the Yankees and Dodgers do well, it sparks interest in baseball everywhere rather than just in the nation’s two largest cities. So it would benefit our so-called national pastime everywhere for these ancient and honorable rivals to rebound as quickly and smartly as possibly.

Sixteen years ago, Joe Torre used his fine managerial hand and patience to turn the Yankees once more into masters of all they surveyed. Let’s hope he gets a chance to work the same magic from the front office in La La Land.

For more of the author’s columns, go to dickheller.wordpress.com

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