’s 2008 in Review: Manager

We’ve made it! This is the last 2008 review.

Uh oh. This is the last 2008 review. Now I’ll be forced to delve into the endless Manny/Sabathia/Furcal etc. rumors that are basically the same lies repeated over and over, won’t I?

87toppsjoetorreJoe Torre (C-)
I suppose the absolute best thing I can say about Joe Torre is, “he’s not Grady Little”. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly high praise. When Joe came out to the Left Coast last year, we were told that we could expect his expertise would be of immediate help in two areas: that after years in New York, his calming influence would help a clubhouse torn apart by the “old vs. young” fracture, and that damn it, anyone who led a team to the playoffs 12 years in a row just knows how to win - whatever that means.

Now as to the first point, we did hear a whole hell of a lot less about clubhouse dischord this season, and I don’t deny Torre his due credit for that. Keeping the clubhouse calm has always been a strength of his, and that’s all well and good. The problem I have with that, however, is that I’ve never felt the clubhouse issues were as bad as the local papers made them out to be. Obviously, stories of teammates that have issues with each other make for good copy, but I think the real reasons that we didn’t have such issues this year is that the elderly combatants of 2007 were either gone (Luis Gonzalez) or injured and/or ineffective (Jeff Kent), while young players like Andre Ethier were really stepping it up. How could you complain about a productive young player acting a certain way when you’re hitting .240 or on the DL yourself? It just doesn’t seem like this was ever nearly as large an issue as it’s been portrayed.

To the second point, the playoff streak Torre carries is all but meaningless to me. I can’t even explain how many ridiculous stories in the media were floating around about how Joe Torre was such a huge success for coming to LA and “showing the young Dodgers how to win”, while the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since 1942 was somehow proof that Torre was the man with the magic touch. The idiocy of such stories is mind-blowing to me – the Yankees were a better team in 2008 than were the Dodgers, and it’s not really even close. They won 5 more games despite playing in what was quite possibly the best division in the history of the sport and having to suffer through far more damaging injuries to the starting rotation. I’m not suggesting that Joe Torre did a terrible job (his grade is more due to how highly he was touted coming in), but let’s not forget that in 14 seasons as a manager before heading to the Yankees, he made the playoffs once and never won 90 games. Suddenly he’s a great manager once he puts on the pinstripes? No, I’d say it’s much more due to having the best collection of talent in the game, not to mention how lousy the entire division was for much of that time (remember, the Red Sox didn’t become the Red Sox until about 2003). In his first year in LA, as we’ve said many times, the division title he won owes an enormous debt to the complete ineptitude of the rest of the NL West.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m completely anti-Torre; not at all. The outfield situation alone had the potential to be a disaster of epic proportions, and that’s even before Manny showed up. How do you juggle a foursome of two talented young players, one expensive mediocre veteran, and one Hindenberg – both in terms of size and how badly he flamed out? It didn’t always work out smoothly (early in the year we had our disappointments about the lack of playing time at various points for both Kemp and Ethier) but when Kemp and Ethier end up first and fourth, respectively, in at-bats for the team I can’t really complain all that much about it. I especially give him credit for eventually realizing that Juan Pierre just was not one of the three best outfielders and finally showing him the bench without it becoming a team-consuming issue, though I imagine much of that is due to Pierre being a professional (mostly) about it.

In addition, we were all worried about what would happen once Torre got his hands on talented young relievers like Jonathan Broxton, given his propensity for running relievers into the ground in New York (which finally caught up to former Yankee Scott Proctor this year). While we have some pretty big issues with his bullpen usage, overuse wasn’t really a big problem. No full-time reliever went over 71.1 IP (Wade) or 71 games (Beimel), and that’s not that bad.  There were definitely things to like about Joe Torre in 2008.

But here’s what else we got with that. We had to have Mark Sweeney wasting a spot on the bench all year long. Once Furcal was out injured, we had to have Pierre leading off every single day despite overwhelming evidence that it was hurting the team. We had the bizarre usage of young ace Chad Billingsley in his first outing, which ruined his April – and fortunately nothing more serious than that. We had Jeff Kent continually slotted into the cleanup spot despite it being completely obvious he couldn’t handle it anymore. We had the abuse of Russell Martin and insane usage of him at third base on his “days off”, and we had Andy LaRoche never getting a chance to play despite the clear need for him. Possibly most infuriating of all, there was the insistence on using the lousiest pitchers in the bullpen in the toughest game situations.

Finally, we had the most face-blowing quote of the entire year:

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said.

It took me months of intensive therapy to get over that one, friends.

All in all, Joe Torre wasn’t terrible. It’s just that with all the glowing lights and heavenly music that accompanied him, “wasn’t terrible” isn’t exactly what we were hoping for.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg