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New league, but Torre in familiar place

New league, but Torre in familiar place

LOS ANGELES -- For Joe Torre, it's not about what the Yankees couldn't do this year without him.

It's about what the Dodgers did do this year with him.

"The only satisfaction, after being in one place so long and you go somewhere else, you don't know how you'll be received," Torre said Thursday, after Arizona's loss to St. Louis clinched his first National League West title as manager of the Dodgers.

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He was received, it turned out, like a conquering hero before he had conquered anything or his team had done anything heroic. His face was plastered on billboards, he did a commercial on a surfboard. He was Hollywood. Was he still a winning manager? Did he, at age 67, still have the fire in the belly?

Apparently so, and it wasn't easy. After guiding the Yankees to 12 postseason appearances before a sour ending, he took over a group of strangers, predominantly young and green, in a league he had to relearn.

He struggled through a screwy Spring Training conducted in three states and on two continents. The first half of the season was bogged down by injured key players and an impotent offense and as recently as Aug. 29 the team trailed by 4 1/2 games. He kept the thing afloat until Manny Ramirez ignited the offense and the D-backs collapsed.

"When I left New York, I was more concerned with how I'd be able to do out here," he said. "A new environment, being 67 or 68 and starting over. I'm very proud of this team. Winning never gets old. My whole career as a player, I never got to the postseason. Now, it happens 13 years."

Torre reported to Dodger Stadium early Thursday, but not for an anticipated clinching. The Samsung Corp. was presenting his foundation, "Safe at Home," with a donation check. He excused himself during the meeting to catch the final inning of the D-backs game in his office with his wife, Ally, owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, general manager Ned Colletti and vice president Charles Steinberg.

He didn't apologize for winning in the office rather than on the field.

"Fine with me," he said.

Soon, the phone calls and text messages from family and friends rolled in. One call he answered came from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. He received a text message from Arizona manager Bob Melvin.

"Doesn't surprise me," Torre said of the Melvin message. "Class act."

Takes one to know one, some would say. While Yankees ownership has taken a sideswipe at the Dodgers' achievement because of the division weakness, Torre bit his tongue and spun his response to generalities. He also deflected a question about the irony of the Dodgers advancing and the Yankees not.

"I don't know how ironic that is," he said. "It's surprising the Yankees are not in it, but they've had a lot of bad luck, a lot of injuries. We got fortunate that we didn't get far out and ran into a hot streak."

Torre said he always felt that Yankees patriarch George Steinbrenner appreciated his work. He couldn't say the same for Steinbrenner's sons, who prompted his departure by insisting on incentive clauses in contract talks last winter.

"It was nice to come here and have the owners commit three years [$13 million], hoping something good would happen, but they didn't really know," he said. "It's a different league, a young team. It made me feel like I was earning my money. I have a job to do -- win.

"[In New York], certain people felt if I was motivated with money, I'd manage better. That didn't sit well with me. It's nice not to have that concern here."

Colletti said he suspects Torre is plenty satisfied personally.

"He's not doing it to have something to do. He's got pride," Colletti said. "To go through what happened in New York, it's human nature when something doesn't end on your terms to get an opportunity to do it again and prove to whoever, including yourself, that you were right. You want to do that.

"He kept steady through everything we've been through. Without that leadership, I don't know we'd be sitting here talking about this. He's as steady as can be."

Now that he's reached the postseason, however, there is the baggage of Dodgers history to deal with. They've won one postseason game since they last advanced beyond the first round (1988).

"If you're ready to play, you don't want to carry years of history out there with you," he said. "You're supposed to win, but don't let it get in the way of playing the game."

Torre has long been outspoken against the best-of-five first round, saying a team works too hard over a 162-game schedule to get eliminated in a shortened season by a hot team.

"It's not enough -- no question," he said. "Getting this far is the toughest fight. The rest is a crapshoot."

Managers with the most consecutive postseason appearances

Manager Team(s) Seasons
Bobby Cox ATL 14 (1991-2005)
Joe Torre NYY, LAD 13 (1996-2008)
Mike Hargrove CLE 5 (1995-1999)
Casey Stengel NYY 5 (1949-1953)

Managers with the most consecutive winning seasons (since 1900)

Manager Team(s) Winning seasons
Joe McCarthy CHC, NYY 21 (1926-46)
Sparky Anderson CIN, DET 17 (1972-88)
Earl Weaver BAL 15 (1968-82)
Bobby Cox ATL 15 (1991-2005)
Al Lopez CLE, CWS 15 (1951-65)
Fred Clarke PIT 14 (1900-13)
Joe Torre NYY, LAD 13 (1996-2008)

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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