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Dodgers' choice of Mattingly a downer for fans

Dodgers fans have mixed emotions about Joe Torre's departure, but they are unanimous in reaction to hiring of Don Mattingly.

September 17, 2010|By David Wharton
  • Dodgers Manager Joe Torre and manager-in-waiting Don Mattingly share a laugh at the news conference Friday evening at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers Manager Joe Torre and manager-in-waiting Don Mattingly share… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

From her regular seat in the left-field pavilion, Joyce Thomas could turn and see Joe Torre looming above, larger-than-life on the scoreboard video screen.

"I'm so sad," Thomas said. "He's such a great person."

Like so many Dodgers fans, the 63-year-old Arleta woman arrived for Friday night's game against the Colorado Rockies only to learn that Torre had decided to leave as manager after the season.

Those who came early enough watched his news conference on the big screen during batting practice.

"He's a Hall of Famer for sure," said Greg Garnet, a 46-year-old from Canoga Park who waited along the thirdbase line with glove in hand, hoping to shag a stray ball. "But I have mixed emotions."

Which says a lot about the reaction at Dodger Stadium.

Some fans were surprised by the news, others said they saw it coming. More than a few blamed the expensive divorce proceedings between Frank and Jamie McCourt, which has raised questions about whether ownership can afford to build a contender.

"You see someone like Joe Torre bailing out, it makes you wonder as a fan," Marco Inda, 36, of Silver Lake, said. "If he thought they had a legitimate chance of winning next season, he would have stayed."

Opinions varied in regard to the legacy that Torre leaves behind in Los Angeles. The Dodgers reached the postseason in his first two seasons and won a playoff series for the first time in two decades.

"He's a real legend and we were lucky to have him," said Beryl Trautner, 69, of Upland, wearing a bejeweled Dodger cap and T-shirt, a shiny blue jacket pulled over her shoulders.

But with the team faltering badly this season, his relatively short stay in Los Angeles could not match a dozen years in New York, where he led the Yankees to four World Series victories.

"People are going to see this as a stop-off," said Aaron Flowers, 33 of Chino. "Like he was coming here to Southern California for a while before he retired."

If nothing else, there seemed to be a consensus among fans on one subject — the franchise selecting Don Mattingly as Torre's replacement.

Mattingly, promoted from hitting coach, has never managed at any level. Serving as acting manager during a July game, he visited pitcher Jonathan Broxton on the mound for a strategy talk, stepped away, then returned to speak with first baseman James Loney. That qualified as a second visit, so Broxton had to leave the game.

"The times that Don Mattingly has been acting manager, he's made some decisions that Coach Buttermaker of the Bad News Bears wouldn't have made," Garnet said.

No one seemed comforted by the fact that Mattingly will have a trial run in the Arizona Fall League.

"Do you really want a manager-in-training?" asked Geoffrey Zollar, 49, of Ventura. "Wouldn't you want to bring in somebody who can stabilize the team with all this going on?"

The name that kept popping up — in the stands, out in the parking lot, by the snack bars — was Tim Wallach. The former Dodger has spent the past two seasons managing at triple-A Albuquerque.

Fans suspected that he might now leave the organization for opportunities elsewhere, much like another Dodgers managerial prospect.

Wallach could turn into another Mike Scioscia, they said, referring to the manager who became a World Series winner with the Angels.

It might seem that with all the uncertainty surrounding the team, not just the divorce but also potential roster moves this winter, a managerial switch might be overshadowed by more pressing concerns.

But on a Friday night with blocks of empty seats throughout the ballpark, fans stood to cheer for Torre when his picture flashed once again across the video screen.

And, for many, his departure felt like another nail in the coffin of a disheartening season.

"He brought excitement … there was hope," Pearl Rodriquez, 34, of Chino said. "Now that little ray of hope is gone."

david.wharton@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesWharton

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