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BILL SHAIKIN ON BASEBALL

Joe Torre puts Dodgers in an awkward situation

Just as the Dodgers are gearing up for the new season, their manager is out pitching a controversial book about his days with the Yankees.

January 30, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

It's time for Dodger baseball!

The Dodgers start the countdown to spring training this weekend, with an eight-day celebration that includes a publicity caravan across Southern California, a neighborhood Super Bowl party at Dodger Stadium, community service events and even a festive departure ceremony for the trucks carrying clubhouse equipment to the team's new spring home in Arizona.

So it should be fortuitous that Dodgers Manager Joe Torre is scheduled to appear on CNN's "Larry King Live" tonight, a national stage for the hometown team.

But Torre won't be there to pitch the Dodgers. He'll be there to pitch his new book, all about the New York Yankees and his time as the manager there.

From the first day of rookie ball, a young player hears two cardinal rules: What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. Don't put yourself ahead of the team.

By violating both of those covenants, by sharing clubhouse secrets and by upstaging the team that employs him with a book tour to talk about a team that does not employ him, Torre has left the Dodgers in an awkward position on the eve of spring training.

Not that the Dodgers need to be concerned about the contents of the book, called "The Yankee Years." When Torre's tenure with the Yankees ends, so does the book.

But the Dodgers have staked the future of their franchise on a core of young players whose maturity and professionalism has been questioned by Jeff Kent and nurtured -- seriously -- by Manny Ramirez.

The Dodgers recruited Torre -- and rewarded him with the highest managerial salary in the game -- to shepherd the young players and blend them into a smooth clubhouse fabric. What could be more toxic to clubhouse chemistry than Russell Martin and Matt Kemp and James Loney wondering whether their every word and action might be used in another tell-all book, by the manager they are supposed to trust?

In his book, Torre writes that Yankees players called Alex Rodriguez "A-Fraud," that Gary Sheffield was "a suspicious person," that Kevin Brown had "a lot of demons."

Carl Pavano? "The players all hated him," Torre writes.

Larry Bowa, a coach and confidant for Torre with the Yankees and Dodgers, said he believed Torre would be happy to discuss the book with any Dodgers player who asked.

"Maybe I'm being naive, but I don't think it's an issue," Bowa said Thursday. "How many times do you have a team meeting -- one that's supposed to be the manager, the coaches and the players -- and you have the unnamed source that says, 'Here's what the manager got on us about.'

"Is it a double standard?"

At least Torre put his name behind his words. But so did David Wells six years ago, in his own tell-all book, and Torre was "furious, angry that Wells had aired some of the Yankees' dirty laundry," according to ESPN's Buster Olney, who covered the team that year for the New York Times.

This is what Torre writes in his book: "The difference between Kevin Brown and David Wells is that both make your life miserable, but David Wells meant to."

This is what Wells said Thursday, on 710 AM: "When you break the code, you're a punk."

This too from Wells, whose nickname was "Boomer:" "He's always saying, 'Boomer being Boomer.' This is Joe being Joe.' "

The Dodgers are two weeks away from a spring training that Torre now has ensured will be dominated -- at least at the start -- by reporters asking Torre and his players about his book. They are four days away from the annual community caravan, in which players and coaches build up excitement for the coming season with public appearances and visits to hospitals and schools.

Frank McCourt has taken his share of knocks, but dedication and commitment to civic involvement has been a hallmark of his ownership. The Dodgers brought two dozen top prospects to Los Angeles this month, not only for workouts, but to instill the concept that their players are expected to contribute on the field and in the community.

Martin will join the caravan next week, and so will Kemp and Loney.

Torre won't be there.

He'll be appearing on David Letterman's show, pitching a book about the Yankees.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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