LOS ANGELES (AP) — Joe Torre is grateful he can leave the Los Angeles Dodgers on his own terms and schedule.
That’s something the New York Yankees didn’t exactly allow their beloved manager to do three years ago, but a revitalizing stint with the Dodgers permitted Torre to put the proper finish on his career.
Torre said Friday he will retire at the end of the season, although the 70-year-old skipper couldn’t say with certainty that he’ll never manage again. The Dodgers immediately announced hitting coach Don Mattingly will replace him in 2011.
Torre became one of the most famous and respected coaches in American sports during 12 winning seasons that included four championships with the Yankees, but he reluctantly walked away from the club following the 2007 season, New York’s fourth straight without a World Series appearance. The Yankees made a lowball contract offer that insulted Torre with its bonuses for advancing in the postseason, effectively forcing Torre to depart with his pride.
“I managed 12 years in New York,” Torre said. “The last three of that were very tough for me. It wasn’t a lot of fun. The last few years, I was just very stressed out. I didn’t think I was going to be managing any more at that point in time.
“It’s a whole different circumstance this time. I’m still excited about it. I’m certainly not washed out. I just feel in this situation, the ballclub will be better off with Donnie.”
He thought he was done in the dugout, but a call from the Dodgers persuaded him to return to the National League, where he spent his entire playing career. Although he never matched his Bronx success in Hollywood, Torre still revitalized the Dodgers while reaching the NL championship series twice.
Torre shed no tears at a news conference in Dodger Stadium before his club opened a six-game homestand against Colorado and San Diego, which have both blown past the fourth-place Dodgers in the NL West standings this season.
“Baseball has been my life, and hopefully will continue to be my life in some capacity,” Torre said. “When I came out here, it was just to find out if managing can be fun again, and it’s been fun. … But you have to make some decisions by instinct, and my instinct tells me it’s time to go.”
Torre suggested he’ll accept another job with the Dodgers, saying he plans to speak with general manager Ned Colletti next month about a role. The Brooklyn native plans to keep living in Southern California with his wife, who has run their charity foundation from the West Coast.
Torre also is almost certain to get quick admission to the Hall of Fame: Every manager with at least four championships except him already is in Cooperstown.
“Three years have gone by very quickly,” said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, whose highly public divorce trial resumes Monday. “You’ve done some marvelous things for this organization. I know this year was a disappointment, but what you achieved is something that hasn’t been achieved here in 32 years.”
McCourt referred to the Dodgers’ back-to-back playoff appearances and NL West titles in 2008 and 2009. Los Angeles lost to Philadelphia in the postseason both times.
Torre has a 2,318-1,991 regular-season record in 29 major league seasons as a manager that included stints with the New York Mets, Atlanta and St. Louis. He was assumed to be leaning toward retirement after he walked away from talks on a contract extension during the spring.
“I know that he had talked about (retiring),” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who played for Torre in New York. “It’ll be interesting to see how he feels in December — if he stays retired. Joe has been doing it a long time, and I’m sure there’s other things Joe wants to do with his life. Am I surprised by it? I don’t think I would have been surprised either way, because I know how much he loves to manage, but I also know how much he loves his family.”
Torre could be interested in returning to the broadcast booth — or even in owning a team — but he claims to be fairly certain he’s done managing.
“If I say I never want to manage again, it closes a door, and then it makes me feel old,” Torre said. “I don’t anticipate managing again, but I’m certainly not going to not listen to somebody if it sounds intriguing. But this is a great place to manage, and it’s a pretty great place to live. I don’t think I ever say I never want to do anything, but I certainly don’t have any visions of that being the case, that I’m going to manage.”
Torre said his 70th birthday in July cemented his desire to walk away, even though he still doesn’t “feel old.”
“I’m talking from a different generation,” Torre said. “Even though the game hasn’t changed in the way you win it, the players have changed.”
Torre now will lead the unusually large parade of famous managers ending their careers this season. Lou Piniella walked away from the Cubs in late August, while Atlanta’s Bobby Cox and Toronto’s Cito Gaston also plan to hang up their caps next month.
“I’m happy that (Torre) gets an opportunity to do it when he wants to do it,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “(Mattingly) worked hard and put in a lot of time and effort being a coach and hitting coach for a long time, and now bench coach. Now he’s got a chance to manage, and I’m happy for him.”
Mattingly was Torre’s bench coach with the Yankees, but lost out to Girardi for the top job three years ago. He then followed Torre to California, and has long been assumed to be the heir apparent — an arrangement confirmed Friday by Colletti, who said he told Torre three years ago that he wanted Torre’s successor to be on his staff.
Colletti said the Dodgers received permission from Major League Baseball to hire Mattingly without interviewing any minority candidates.
Mattingly, the former Yankees first baseman and 1985 AL MVP, plans to manage in the Arizona fall league. “Donnie Baseball” thinks he’s more prepared for a top job than he was three years earlier in New York.
“It’s baseball, and I’ve been around the game a long time,” Mattingly said. “In my heart, I know I can do this. It’s a belief in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to.”
The Dodgers’ tumultuous front-office status likely helped Torre make up his mind to leave, with owners Frank and Jamie McCourt mired in a messy divorce that has affected the team’s entire operation, including its payroll.
Los Angeles’ opening-day payroll was down more than $36 million from 2009. The Dodgers then allowed high-priced slugger Manny Ramirez to leave on a waiver claim by the Chicago White Sox last month, effectively surrendering the season.
“Am I going to miss it? Sure, I’m going to miss it,” Torre said. “I just felt this ballclub needed a different voice, a younger voice, and there’s nobody I feel more secure about turning it over to than Donnie.”