Little, Dodgers have parting of ways
Skipper bows out with one year left on three-year contract
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers Manager Grady Little ended a month of intrigue Tuesday by resigning with a year left on his contract, paving the way for the hiring of former Yankees manager Joe Torre as his replacement.
"I have a combination of a lot of reasons, and I'll leave it at that," said Little, disputing that he was forced to resign or that he was treated unjustly. "I've got my own, personal reasons. It's a mutual resignation. I know this is the best way to go. It's not an easy decision, as anyone might suggest, but it's final."
The New York Post reported late Tuesday night that Torre had agreed in principle to a three-year deal for $14.5 million and could be introduced Thursday. The Post report said the Dodgers are denying a deal is complete.
The anticipated addition of Torre has already sparked speculation that free-agent third baseman Alex Rodriguez and bench coach Don Mattingly would follow him to Los Angeles. Scott Boras, Rodriguez's agent, told 710 AM ESPN Radio that Rodriguez and Torre had "a very solid relationship" in New York, and Rodriguez would have no problem playing for Torre again.
Tuesday's announcement came in a conference call with Little and general manager Ned Colletti, who hired Little almost two years ago to replace Jim Tracy. Little managed the club to a 17-win improvement and a postseason berth in 2006, but the Dodgers followed in 2007 with a late-season collapse into fourth place and a clubhouse divided. He went 170-154 in two seasons.
Little and Colletti insisted that Tuesday's decision was made by Little, and that he could have remained manager if he had so chosen. On the last day of the season, Colletti and owner Frank McCourt said that Little would return for 2008.
"I wanted Grady Little back," said Colletti. "We discussed a lot of things, how he felt and how I felt, and we just felt it was best for everybody that this is where it ended up. I encouraged him a handful of times to think it through, that I wanted him back."
On the last Saturday of the season, when asked if he was thinking about resigning, Little said he would return in 2008 and "see this thing through to the end."
But having taken an inordinate share of the blame for a season gone bad in many ways, Little privately voiced to Colletti that he had doubts whether he wanted to manage as a lame duck, lacking solid support from the front office and being increasingly unpopular among fans.
The doubts Little expressed prompted Colletti to contact possible replacements like Joe Girardi and Torre.
"We have talked to other people a little bit to gauge their level of interest, because in talking to Grady the last few weeks, I wasn't sure he was coming back," said Colletti. "It was incumbent upon me not to get caught with nothing at the end."
Little said he was not offended, nor was his decision influenced, by Colletti's pursuit of replacements before he decided to resign.
"I respect the job Ned has to do," Little said. "He's got to be ready for anything that happens."
Little, 57, had previously managed the Boston Red Sox for two seasons and came to the Dodgers with a reputation for folksy charm and being a "player's manager."
But the reputation took a hard hit when veteran Jeff Kent criticized the attitude and approach of the team's young players. Kent's comments were evidence of a growing clubhouse rift that developed as the organization's youth movement jeopardized the playing status of veterans.
As the manager, Little received much of the blame for the turmoil and said he would handle things differently next year. He called the just-completed season "the toughest of my life."
The Dodgers apparently will pay Little at least a large chunk of the estimated $750,000 he was due in 2008 (he also had a 2009 option). Little's salary was in the bottom third of all managers.
There are media reports that Torre will sign a three-year, $14.5 million contract with the Dodgers after rejecting a one-year deal at $5 million (plus incentives) from the Yankees two weeks ago.
"That's not accurate," Colletti said of a completed deal with Torre. "We haven't hired anybody. We're talking to some people. We'll get into that at a later period of time."
Despite the reports on Torre, under Major League guidelines the club is mandated to conduct a search that includes interviews with minority candidates.
Little's coaching staff members were told at the end of the season that they could pursue other opportunities. Their contracts expire at the end of the year and they have spent the past month in limbo.
"That happens sometimes in the game of baseball every once in a while," said Little.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.