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Torre changes the culture

Posted: April 1, 2008 2:37 a.m.
Updated: June 2, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
LOS ANGELES - With 25 reporters surrounding him in the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout Monday morning, manager Joe Torre proved to be the main attraction at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.

Torre, still looking unfamiliar wearing a blue jacket with Dodgers in cursive shielding the chest, still keeps his ties to the New York Yankees.

He called his replacement with the Yankees Joe Girardi the night before and wished him good luck.

He exchanged text messages with some of his former players.

Torre even well-wished Yankee legend Yogi Berra and received a note on his desk from Yankee superfan Billy Crystal.

For all intents and purposes, he admits, the last game he managed for the Yankees was supposed to be his last game as a manager.

"The last few years in New York, it was something more than baseball," he said. "It just wasn't a whole lot of fun."

Torre wasn't so much as brought in to become the Dodgers manager as he was convinced.

With a well-documented strife between the older and younger Dodgers, Torre's immediate purpose was to become the leader and somewhat of a diplomat.

His role, it seems, is to be father-like.

"He has a lot of knowledge. He's going to keep feeding us that knowledge and we're going to get better every year," said 23-year-old Dodgers right fielder Matt Kemp - the brunt of many of the veteran complaints in 2007.

Torre said it won't be until June that the Dodgers establish their 2008 personality.

"I think I've seen enough of it to see the upside's very high," he said of the team. "The young kids are progressively getting better. That's the one thing about them. When you see young kids, they're going in this direction (as he raises his hand)."

Torre has already made one important decision.

He decided to go with Andre Ethier, one of the kids, over high-priced, light-hitting Juan Pierre in left field.

He plans on sticking with Ethier for the time being and doesn't want the 25-year-old to peer over his shoulder.

"I don't know if it's circumstances or him necessarily being confident, maybe it's him still seeing what I can do and the possibilities of what I add to the lineup," Ethier said. "It's a nice honor to be tagged the starter for Opening Day, but at the same time, (I've) just got to come out and prove it. That's what he's been saying all spring."

Torre's made a career out of bridging the gap between the younger players and veterans.

He established that reputation in 1996, winning a World Series in New York with a mix of veterans and rising stars.

Torre, though, said there aren't many parallels between that Yankee and this Dodger team.

But he's maintained an ability to manage in a highly-respected way, despite his embattled final years in New York.

"You make sure where you may have assumptions with veterans because they've had enough lines in that press guide.

You know what you're going to get right now," Torre said. "You're trying to help the players by your experience. It's like telling your kids not to play with matches. Do what you can and then you turn them loose because the game is theirs. You're going to have to let them play at their speed."

Torre's had instant impact.

It was what owner Frank McCourt wanted when he hired him.

"There were a couple of impacts. First it showed that we were very serious about winning, but it also sent the signal that we want to win in a certain way and he's a classy guy," McCourt said. "He's a leader and I think with the Dodgers it's more than just winning, it's winning in the right way. Doing the best things as far as the fans are concerned and doing the right things in the community and so on. Joe has those attributes as well."

The feel was certainly different at Dodger Stadium Monday - whether Torre had anything to do with it is arguable.

But at least one player felt a difference.

"This was a different feel coming into Dodger Stadium today," Kemp said. "(The fans) were really excited and hopefully we'll give them more."

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