He was met with the headline in the New York Daily News of “Clueless Joe."
His hiring was one of great question and it was wondered how long before he too was fired as Yankee manager. Twelve years and over 1,000 wins later, Joe Torre is now considered one of the greatest Yankee managers of all-time.
Even after he led the Yankees to a 13th consecutive playoff appearance in 2007, it was announced during the ALDS that if Torre didn’t win the series over Cleveland, his contract would not be renewed.
The Yankees lost that series, and Torre did not return to the team the following season. Instead he went where he got the respect he deserved, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers did not hesitate to sign Torre, shortly after former manager Grady Little resigned. Torre took over a young team. A team poised to take over what was a weak division. Torre was not alone either. His bench coach Don Mattingly followed him, along with his third base coach Larry Bowa from New York.
The team was young and ready to win, a perfect situation for a great manager.
The Dodgers pitching rotation was the biggest question going into spring training. It was young and had several question marks around it.
Hideki Kuroda was one of those question marks, though he was 33. He thrived Japan, and won a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. However questions continued to float around him, mostly because it was unknown how he would adjust to America.
Another big question was the 24-year-old Chad Billingsley. Was he too young to pitch in clutch situations? Was he ready to pitch in the majors? He was drafted in the first round of the 2003 MLB Draft, and the Dodgers believed it was his time to shine. More kids would need to make an impact in order for the team to win. They just didn’t know it yet.
The season began and the Dodger pitching was not as good as expected. Derek Lowe preformed to standards, but the rest of the rotation struggled. At that point the Dodgers called up the 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw. He made his debut and pitched 6 innings, gave up two runs, and struck out seven. The Dodger season was slowly turning in the right direction.
While the pitching was slowly turning around, new slugging outfielder Andrew Jones continued to struggle in his new environment. Though Joe Torre repeated several times that Jones would turn it around, he never did.
After a controversial minor knee surgery, Jones was benched with a horrible .158 batting average in 171 at bats. Jones was expected to be the power man in Los Angeles, but with the deadline nearing, the Dodgers were suddenly in need of one.
Still a few games out of the division games, the Dodgers needed a player to put them over the hump. They later got that player..
Despite Joe Torre's known hatred of him, The Dodgers dealt a top minor league prospect and first baseman Andy LaRoach as part of a three-way deal that brought in slugger Manny Ramirez from Boston.
Manny thrived in his new Hollywood spotlight, hitting .415, nine homeruns and 24 RBI’s and was named the Player of the Month in August. The Dodgers slowly climbed up the standings and within a few weeks they had the division in their hands.
Together Manny Ramirez and Joe Torre led the Dodgers to their first division pennant since 2004. The Dodgers defeated the top team in the National League in the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. The Dodgers would go on to lose to the Phillies in the NLCS.
The September issue of the Sporting News featured a surprising article by the new owner of the New York Yankees, Hank Steinbrenner.
Hank Steinbrenner turned out to be more of a loudmouth than his father, ripping the playoff system and calling it a joke that the Yankees were not in the playoffs. He cited how the Dodgers were in the playoffs, while the Yankees were not (despite the Yankees better record).
Some considered this a shot at Joe Torre (including myself), though Steinbrenner commented that it was not.
Guess you were wrong again Hank, the Dodgers were just as worthy, think before you speak next time.