"We didn't hire Joe Torre to finish .500," said general manager Ned Colletti.
Torre knows well about expectations, having won four World Series for the Steinbrenner family, having left the Yankees less than a month ago when his Hall of Fame resume and 12 consecutive postseason appearances could do no better than gain a one-year, lame-duck contract offer to continue. Now he comes to a club that hasn't won a World Series since 1988.
"You can talk all day long," said Torre, who just about did Monday. "You have to prove it out here."
He accepted a three-year, $13 million contract at age 67, making him the oldest managerial hire in franchise history.
"Jack McKeon was 72 when we won the World Series in Florida," said Brad Penny, the only current Dodgers player attending the function.
Torre said he doesn't know much about his new team after spending the last 12 years in the American League. He'll read briefings by club officials, but won't really know what he has to work with until Spring Training.
He dismissed suggestions that there was friction between him and free agent third baseman Alex Rodriguez, whom the Dodgers are likely to talk to -- but not likely to sign because of an estimated $350 million asking price.
"We have a good association," Torre said. "So much was made about me hitting him eighth [in the playoffs two years ago]. I don't know what we'll do, but our relationship is fine. I think he's comfortable with me and I'm comfortable with him, and I'm sure he'll do what's best for his family."
Torre said he will bring coaches Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa with him, but the rest of the staff is to be determined. The fiery Bowa will coach third base. and Mattingly likely will be the hitting coach while Torre and Colletti search for a bench coach. Mattingly, whose son is an infielder in the Dodgers farm system, also could wind up as the bench coach.
Torre said he's only talked to a few current Dodgers, but one of them is Jeff Kent, who has been non-committal about returning for 2008. Torre and Colletti said they expect Kent to return.
Torre has been briefed at length about what went wrong down the stretch, as the Dodgers collapsed while their clubhouse fractured between young and old.
"It's all about wanting the same thing between the lines," Torre said. "It's important everybody's on the same page. My job in Spring Training is to make sure they have the direction to go in. It's not unusual at times for people not to get along. You must be mindful of what's important."
Despite describing the last month with words like whirlwind, emotional roller coaster and surreal, Torre said he still wants to manage, and the Dodgers were one of the few clubs he would have been willing to join.
|»» LA JOE: TORRE TO DODGERS ««|
|ALL-TIME WINNINGEST MANAGERS |
|1. Connie Mack
|2. John McGraw
|3. Tony La Russa
|4. Bobby Cox
|5. Sparky Anderson
|6. Bucky Harris
|7. Joe McCarthy
|8. Joe Torre
|9. Walter Alston
|10. Leo Durocher
"If I was sitting home and still had the urge to manage, I'd really be missing something," he said. "I'm still excited about it."
While describing managing in the National League "a lot more complicated" because of double-switches and no designated hitter, he said Interleague Play provides "plenty of practice."
He recalled his days as a child in Brooklyn, but admitted he grew up a Giants fan ("I apologize for that right now," he said). As his Major League career evolved, however, he learned to appreciate the class of the Dodgers franchise. He rattled off the names of the legends -- Robinson, Reese, Snider, Hodges, Koufax, Drysdale -- saying the Dodgers were always viewed with part jealousy, part admiration.
Torre replaced Grady Little, who resigned last week after weeks of indecision whether he wanted to return. Torre said he has not spoken to Little, but did not enter into negotiations until he was convinced that Little had decided not to return.
The chronology is a little fuzzy, because all sides agree that Torre met with Frank and Jamie McCourt and Colletti two weekends ago, before the announcement that Little had resigned. Little, apparently, first told Colletti he was thinking about stepping down even before the season ended.
Torre said he is sure the Dodgers are the right team at the right time for him.
"I am convinced the McCourts are determined to bring a championship here," he said. "Will it happen right now? You put the building blocks in place to build a foundation, but does it mean you can't win this year? No. There is a commitment to bring the Dodgers' name and franchise back to the stable organization and wanting to win every year.
"The way they talk about the ballpark and the fans, they have an obligation to put a club on the field they are proud of. It's not just lip service. I don't know them very well. But I felt they were sincere people. I just felt good about them."
Torre slipped on a crisp, white Dodgers uniform with No. 6, recalling "vividly" that it was the number worn by Carl Furillo. It also was the number worn by longtime Dodgers great Steve Garvey, who attended the function.
"I hope he's able to bring stability to the organization and continue his postseason streak and hopefully take us to the World Series," said Garvey. "We've got to find stability somehow. We, as an organization, have been successful only when we've had continuity and stability and leadership. The old Dodger way to play baseball was perpetuated through Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda and Al Campanis and the O'Malleys. It's the heritage of the organization."
But it's still elusive. Torre is the Dodgers' third manager in the last three years and the sixth since Hall of Famer Lasorda resigned because of health reasons in 1996.
Torre said he was influenced as a manager by Red Schoendienst, for whom he played in St. Louis, but also dropped the name of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and gave Lasorda credit for bringing the hug into MLB.