Torre moves beyond Yankees, back into postseason

LOS ANGELES -- As the turnstiles turned for the last time 3,000 miles away at Yankee Stadium, ending an 85-year era of unparalleled success, Joe Torre had other things on his mind -- knowing the Yankees didn't have him on their minds.

Sure, he knew Derek Jeter would have him in his thoughts, since they text one another all the time. The same could be said for Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and a few others who were basically born New York Yankees, grew up as Yankees, and prospered and won championships as Yankees -- and did all that with Torre.

But he also knew the organization probably would veer from showing praise or recognition of the man who guided it to the postseason every year from 1996 to 2007, even if the scene was the final game at Yankee Stadium.

"Do I think about the players?" said Torre, the Dodgers' first-year manager, sitting in his office just days ago, palm trees and 90-degree weather waiting outside and a playoff berth on the horizon. "Of course! Some of those guys are like my children to me. But, you know, I've got some things to do. And one of them is enjoying life, which is exactly what I'm doing these days."

That alone gives Torre a leg up on anyone in New York right now.

Attention, folks! Joe Torre is available to be trampled on no longer. He's not to blame if the Yankees can't run, can't pitch or can barely hit. There are no flights scheduled for Tampa, Fla. No meetings scheduled with one of the Steinbrenners to decide his future. And no need for polls determining whether Torre should stay or go.

He's already gone.

Torre's imminent appearance in the postseason with the Dodgers proves as much, just as the Yankees' omission from next month's baseball festivities crystallizes his absence. But if you're looking for Torre to rub salt in the proverbial wound, to provide that sly wink with "How ya like me now?" written all over it, don't bother.

"That just ain't Joe's style," Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa said. "But don't think a small part of him doesn't feel that way."

Nearly a year after his unceremonious departure from New York, the former Yankees manager's occasional body twitches and stoic demeanor pretty much validate the stinging effect a kick in the backside inevitably leaves behind.

Twelve years … 12 playoff appearances.

Ten American League East division crowns … two wild-card appearances.

Six trips to the World Series … four world championships.

"Then a contract offer that basically implied I needed motivation to win," Torre said, shaking his head at the Yankees' one-year offer. "I was really put off by that. Maybe I always will be."

He wasn't finished.

"I don't miss the situation," Torre said, alluding to his former job security, which in recent years was a constant topic of discussion. "I still talk to a lot of people there.

"But again, we don't compete against them. So I know there's a lot of people who think I'm pleased with the fact that they're [eliminated from the postseason], but I can't feel that way. [Current Yankees manager] Joe Girardi coached for me. I could never root against him or those players. The relationships are just too strong. But still, I think health-wise and peace-of-mind-wise, this is a better situation for me."

Ya think?

Since Manny Ramirez arrived from Boston on Aug. 1, he's played 50 games and batted .398 heading into Thursday's game, with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs. Before his arrival, the Dodgers trailed Arizona by two games in the National League West; now, they're up four games.

Since the start of the Ramirez era, they have the fourth-best record in the NL, 29-21. Andre Ethier, Jeff Kent and others have helped improve the Dodgers' team batting average from .256 to .264, ranking them second in the NL since Aug. 1, behind only St. Louis. And they are on their way to their fourth playoff appearance and second division title since 1996, the year Torre arrived in New York and made an October run an annual affair.

"The players here feel like he's such a father figure," Bowa said. "He just has their pulse. When you have that and a [track] record, you have nothing to prove in this game.

"But Joe did read all the tabloids, calling him some push-button manager who just put guys out there in New York and let them hit. And I think when you're a guy as accomplished as Joe is [seventh all-time with 2,150 victories], it hurts a little bit to hear that stuff. I'm not saying he's gonna say, 'Yeah! I told you so!' if we make the playoffs. But I know he'll feel a little accomplishment, saying, 'I know I can do this.'"

Torre, swearing otherwise, said all he wanted to do was have fun again. The annual rat race, a fact of life for managers in New York, just became too much, even though he wanted to stay.

And now that he's gone, taking on a new life while watching the Yankees do the same, he wanted to depart with the following words:

"When you make a decision to either play or manage for somebody, winning ballgames is the most important thing in the world," Torre said. "It's what truly motivates you. That's why you come to work. You don't look at the clock. You're here early; you leave late. I know I wore a watch, but it wasn't to see how long I stayed there day after day.

"I'm fortunate. I did something as a kid. And now, thanks to the Yankees, I've had a great deal of success doing something I've always dreamed of doing."

Good for Torre. Classy, too.

And much more than can be said about these Yankees, who refused to even mention Torre's name on their final day at the stadium.

Stephen A. Smith is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.