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Joe Torre leaves door open, and then goes to New York

Reports that make it sound as if he was there soliciting the Mets' manager job leads to the question: 'Shouldn't Frank McCourt fire you for going after another job while still employed here?'

September 21, 2010|T.J. Simers

I consider Joe Torre a good friend.

I'd have fired the guy Tuesday.

New York newspaper quotes and radio snippets made it sound as if Torre was there a day earlier soliciting the job as Mets' manager.

Isn't he still the Dodgers manager? The Dodgers aren't good enough for him? What does that say to Dodgers fans?

"If Frank McCourt was more engaged as owner these days… " I told Torre, but he interrupted.

"Engaged is probably not a good word, given the divorce situation," he said, a funny moment before it got serious.

"Shouldn't Frank McCourt fire you for going after another job while still employed here?"

"That's their prerogative," Torre said, and by "their," he must believe both Frank and Jamie own the Dodgers. That will surely get him fired.

"To me, he hasn't violated his contract," said Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. "What he wants to do after his contract expires is his business. Would I like his focus to be on our club for the last number of games? Yes."

When we met Tuesday afternoon, Torre had no idea of the fallout from his New York trip. He thought the emphasis had been on honoring George Steinbrenner and reuniting with Yankees' GM Brian Cashman.

"I'm getting a little frustrated now," Torre said, and also a little angry. "I know what I'm doing and it's being misunderstood…. It was not my intention to go to New York and be around the writers to get me a job."

Torre knows New York better than most. So shouldn't he have anticipated such media coverage?

"Headline in the New York Daily News," I told Torre: "Mike Pelfry says it would be 'kind of cool to have Joe Torre' as manager."

"He shouldn't be doing that," Torre said.

"But you're supposed to be the epitome of class," I said. "The Mets still have a manager in Jerry Manuel and you are talking about the man's job with the media in New York."

Torre leaned forward, both elbows on his desk, and thought for a moment. "I know me and I know what I'm doing. I was not soliciting a job and I don't care what people in New York think."

"What about the Manuel comment?" I asked. Torre was unaware until I told him that Manuel had fired back.

"You question the integrity," Manuel told Mets reporters when asked about Torre's remarks.

Torre nodded. "I probably should have said they have a manager, and I apologize. I misspoke. I should have been more considerate of that situation. I feel badly. There's no excuse for that.

"But if I was soliciting for the job, that is the last place I would have gone. Trust me."

"That doesn't make sense," I countered. "Most people here think it's the first place you would go."

"The people here don't care for Don Mattingly either," Torre replied, as tough a retort as he has ever offered in his three years here.

"It bothers me because I thought we'd get to the point in our society where we would wait to see if somebody can do the job before criticizing him," Torre said. "It's the same, I guess, as 'Clueless Joe,' the headline when I was hired by the Yankees. Time will tell how Donnie's going to do, and that's all I can say."

Well, not really. "Do you want to manage the Mets?"

"I'm closing the door on managing the Mets," Torre said, "and probably everybody else.

"To me it doesn't make any sense to go to the other team in New York after spending so much time with the Yankees. I built up a lot of goodwill with those fans of the Yankees, and now all of a sudden I'm going to make them mad?"

One New York reporter wrote Torre was on the prowl because "the McCourts wore him out, made him cry uncle and made him yearn for the silent treatment from" Steinbrenner.

What about it?

"That's not true," said Torre. "It's a mess [the McCourt case], but it's wrong to say it's the reason I'm leaving. The McCourts have nothing to do with me leaving."

"I've heard you were upset because Frank lied to you about making deals to improve this team," I said.

"I'm not going to refute this or that, but I'm not leaving because of the McCourts," he said.

"So I will never hear in my lifetime -- you telling someone the McCourts were really the reason you left?"

"You'll never hear it in your lifetime and I expect you to live a long time," Torre said. "I'm leaving because I wasn't helping these players enough. And I want to spend more time with my family."

"Isn't all this furor your fault?" I asked. "You left the door open about managing again."

"That's tough," Torre said. "I'll be Andruw Jones -- that's tough."

Why would he want to whiff on a question?

"I'm trying not to be a liar," he said. "I probably won't manage again. But what if I got a call and there was something really interesting? That's it. I don't want to be a liar.

"I'm not planning on leaving [Southern California]. In fact, I looked at a house here this morning."

He said he will manage the Dodgers' final game of the season. It will be a break in tradition, Torre ordinarily letting his players manage the final game.

"I'm managing the last game because it's my last game," Torre said. "I don't like the sentimentality stuff. I'd just as soon walk away, but I'm managing the last game."

As a good friend, I heard him out.

And I changed my mind. I would not have fired Torre, because that would've meant Mattingly taking over right away.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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