By Jon Lane
I spent yesterday afternoon at Citi Field working on a feature running tomorrow here on YESNetwork.com about how, from a certain point of view, the Los Angeles Dodgers have become Yankees West. You have, of course, Joe Torre as manager and a coaching staff that includes Yankees alumni Don Mattingly (hitting coach), Larry Bowa (third base coach), Mariano Duncan (first base coach) and Mike Borzello (bullpen catcher, also Torre’s godson). Also in Dodgertown are former Yankees players Jeff Weaver (active pitcher), Doug Mientkiewicz (on the 60-day DL with a dislocated shoulder) and 2000 World Series Game 1 hero Jose Vizcaino (special assistant).
By the time Torre took over as Yankees manager in 1996, the rebuilding plan constructed by Gene Michael and Bob Watson had bore fruit. The Yankees contended late in the ’93 season, were in first place before the strike of ’94 and earned their first postseason berth in 14 years the following year.
Four seasons ago, the Dodgers finished 71-91, fourth in the NL West, plummeting from a 93-win season the year before, and have been rebuilt into a contender through homegrown players (Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Jonathan Broxton, James Loney, Russell Martin), stealing Andre Ethier from the A’s (for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez) and dealing for some fruitcake with long dreadlocks who carried the Dodgers back to the postseason, yet also one whose reputation as being one of the game’s greatest pure hitters is tarnished. Torre’s first Yankees team had more experience, but like the young Dodgers also learned by losing in the playoffs. The 1995 Yankees dropped a heartbreaker to the Mariners in the Division Series, the Dodgers fell in five games to the eventual champion Phillies in the NLCS.
Still, there are a few parallels which you’ll read about tomorrow. And while loving life in L.A., a piece of Torre’s heart remains in New York. Speaking before yesterday’s game against the Mets, Torre addressed various topics with the media, starting with Hideki Matsui’s contract status. It was just like old times.
On Matsui playing in final year of contract and what lies ahead: “The one thing about the Yankees is that they have to make a lot of tough decisions when these high-profile people run out. (Johnny Damon’s pact is also in its final season.) It’s not always a popular decision they make, but they have to do what’s best for the organization. He’s been a special player and it’s not affecting his play, so he’s not worrying about it now.”
On Matsui’s early struggles (Matsui is batting .455 with three homers and 11 RBIs in July. His average has climbed 20 points since June 30.): “You’d never know it by being around him. He’s a pro. I respect him a great deal and I miss a lot of those guys, there’s no question.”
On the time Matsui took him out for sushi: “I told him if I’m going to try it, you’re taking me. I wish I really enjoyed the sushi part; my daughter does and my wife does. I ate everything they put in front of me and [Matsui] was kind enough to order a couple of bottles of champagne, which helped the medicine go down. It was an enjoyable evening.”
On whether he’ll visit the old Yankee Stadium before it’s torn down. He’s been asked by the Yankees if there’s anything he wants from the old place. He told them he made arrangements for a couple of seats, which will add to his collection from his other stops in Flushing (Shea Stadium), Atlanta (Fulton County Stadium) and St. Louis (Busch Stadium): “When I left there I knew it was going to be my last time. I took everything in. I had so many great memories there and really sadness. Everything that went on there was enough for me, it really was. It was a very special place when I used to go in there playing in the Mayor’s Trophy Game as a player and a manager. You always knew you were someplace special.”
Torre won’t be seeing the new Yankee anytime soon – the Dodgers are playing the Yankees next season, but at Dodger Stadium – that it unless special circumstances dictate otherwise:
“I wouldn’t mind seeing it in October,” Torre said. “To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing any ballpark in October. I remember people saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this team and this team …’ I said, ‘Let’s just pull for the one side, that’s all.'”
Torre’s Safe at Home Foundation also raised $450,000 (before expenses) at its sixth annual golf classic on Monday.