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Torre finally is able to let emotions take over

September 26, 2008|T.J. SIMERS

Coming out of the mouth of the unflappable one, it just sounds so funny. "I'm a mess," Joe Torre says.

He beats cancer, works for a dozen years with George Steinbrenner, and as tough as the baseball and New York grind can be, he always has the Yankees in the playoffs.

But now the Diamondbacks have lost, lifting the Dodgers into the playoffs, and Torre is in the dugout struggling to keep a grip on appearances.

It's already been a trying week, of all things at this late date, one Yankee slight atop another. And now the emotion that comes with hitting the finish line, a media mob wanting to know how he did it.

"It never gets old," he says, the mood shifting to business again when everyone wants to know who will be the third starter, who will be the closer and who do you want to play in the World Series?

The news conference ends, Torre stands, but then turns with his back to the field while putting a foot on the dugout bench to further explain himself one on one.

"You know, I thought I could go home last night, what with the magic number at one, and maybe for a few hours be all right," says Torre, more human now than automatic pilot of a playoff team.

"Couldn't do it. I'm a mess," he says. But then with a grin, he adds, "You know, it's wonderful to have that feeling again."

OPENING DAY in Dodger Stadium. Torre is talking to Dodgers GM Ned Colletti when he meets Page 2 for the first time.

And it begins, "So you're the guy who is here on vacation," just the kind of greeting Rick Neuheisel would get later, but from game No. 1 Torre is the same affable guy as the one showing up for game No. 159.

"Except for that one day," Torre corrects, and he's right, a real grouch, cranky and short, the news conference ending that one day, and Torre taking Page 2 aside to apologize for being so grouchy, cranky and short.

Now maybe they come just as decent in demeanor, and Grady Little was every bit as decent as Torre. Maybe they come just as qualified, and we already have one of those in town in Phil Jackson. And maybe they come just as approachable despite being so well-known and hounded by attention, but there's someone at work here who's been there, done that and it's still not enough.

One hour after a win earlier in the week, Torre is in his office, and jaded as he might be with all those wins and rings, he just blurts out, "I'm excited."

ONE YEAR ago he's on his way out with the Yankees. He gets the Yankees into the playoffs, but he already knows he's probably gone.

The Yankees offer him a contract calling for incentives if the team should win everything, and Torre takes it as an insult.

"It's like I needed more money to motivate me to manage better," Torre says. "It's nice not to have that concern here."

Reminded by Page 2 that he won't have to worry about the owner here trying to give him more money, Torre rolls with the crack, as he rolls with everything.

A few minutes later he lists the folks who have called with congratulations and concludes by saying, Arizona Manager "Bob Melvin sent a text."

"During the game [the Diamondbacks just lost]?" Page 2 wants to know, and Torre playfully rolls to his left, away from Page 2 sitting to his right. He does that a lot.

And so it goes, Torre bobbing and weaving his way through news conferences, much like he's done all season with a team dealt blow after blow. Rafael Furcal, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito disappear, young and old players regroup, do so again after an eight-game losing streak, and has anyone seen Andruw Jones?

Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake appear as if heaven sent, much like the schedule in September, and suddenly it's bows all around.

"Any manager who thinks he's responsible for a game that players play, is delusional," Torre says, but how many people do you know capable of making the Dodgers look good?

HE'S 68 now -- 67 when he starts all over again in L.A. while admittedly unsure of what he's getting himself into. But he's solid in who he is, fielding phone calls from his teenage daughter a few hours before the game, and enjoying life as much as ever, while finding it fun again to go to the ballpark.

Initially, friends advise against such a move, suggesting he let his legacy stand as is, but Torre concludes, "what you did is what you did."

"I'm motivated by the challenge more than anything else," he says, "and I still feel that edginess."

So he adds another chapter to the legacy, still a Dodgers work in progress, the Yankees getting the chance to pull up a chair at home now to watch how it goes.

A NUMBER of reporters were surprised to show up to the stadium and find Ramirez, who hasn't sat out a game with the Dodgers, in the starting lineup.

"I want to be like Cal Ripken, play every game and start a new streak," says Ramirez, who has been given the option by Torre to take off a game whenever he likes.

TOM LASORDA took a victory stroll in the left-field pavilion during the game, odd, because it's all you can eat in the right-field pavilion.


T.J. Simers can be reached at To read previous columns by Simers, go to

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