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09/29/08 6:16 PM ET

Man of the people: Torre revered

Folks behind scenes affected by LA manager's genuine nature

As the playoffs begin, MLB.com gives you a look at what drives the eight managers looking to guide their clubs to a World Series title.

CHICAGO -- Don't judge a manager by the words of his superstar players. Judge him by the words of those who do the superstars' laundry.

Usually, the people behind the scenes of a baseball team prefer to stay there. Ask them to talk about the bosses and they beat a hasty retreat for some random chore undone. Keep your head down and your name out of the media.

For Joe Torre, though, they line up to give testimonials.

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"The man cares. He takes interest in you, and it doesn't matter who or what you are," said Mitch Poole, the Dodgers' clubhouse manager in his 24th year with the club. "This past week is proof he knows what he's doing. He took a team that finished 14 games back and he made the playoffs. What does that tell you?"

It tells you he can manage a ballclub. But the occasional dugout shots that capture his 68-year-old stoic gaze are no measure of the man. For one thing, he knows how to enjoy himself. He likes fine wine, fast horses and fearless pitchers.

But he also likes to treat people the way he'd want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

"I get an opportunity to see it first-hand every day," said Chris Romanello, Torre's personal assistant. "I've worked for Mr. Torre since 2003. The way he treats people, he's a great role model. I grew up a Mets fan, so I hated the Yankees, that's what you're supposed to do. He hired me anyway. People think he's all grumpy in the dugout, it's because they don't know the man. When he asked me if I would move to California, I didn't even think about it. I immediately said yes. Every day working for him is great."

Eight Men In

Scott Akasaki is the Dodgers' traveling secretary.

"I've had the opportunity to eat a lot of postgame meals with Joe, and what I've taken away from those times with him will help me in life as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather," said Akasaki. "It's not just the baseball person. His life experiences are tremendous. Championships. Cancer. Family life. His foundation [Safe at Home].

"I always saw him on television during the postseason, he doesn't show any emotion. Then you get the chance to talk to him, and he's so down to earth. He's sophisticated and refined, yet easy to talk to. He's very polished, the way he talks to people is tremendous. He talks to all people with class and dignity, no matter who they are. He's genuine."

Of course, Torre could be a saint and at this time of year it wouldn't matter in the baseball context if his team wasn't still alive, but for the 13th consecutive season, it is. That's one shy of Braves manager Bobby Cox's all-time record. Torre has more postseason victories (76) than any manager in Major League history. He has finished in first place 14 times as a skipper -- once each with Atlanta and Los Angeles and 12 times with New York -- the second-most all-time behind Cox (15). And the Yankees? They're done playing baseball for the year.

"He's sophisticated and refined, yet easy to talk to. He's very polished, the way he talks to people is tremendous. He talks to all people with class and dignity, no matter who they are. He's genuine."
-- Scott Akasaki, Dodgers traveling secretary

"You listen to them talk, and I don't think they realized what Joe did for them for so long, how special he is at what he does," said Don Mattingly, who followed Torre to Los Angeles as the hitting coach after being bypassed to replace Torre as Yankees manager.

"I think they sort of took him for granted, didn't realize all the things he brings to the table as a manager. You've seen it here with the Dodgers this year; how he keeps the ship going the right way, keeps things on track when it looks like things are getting ugly."

This year, Torre did it after his awkward uncoupling from the Yankees, with skeptics wondering if the fire still burned at his age to take over a young club he barely knew.

"When I left New York, I was more concerned with how I'd be able to do out here," said Torre, who turned 68 in July. "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."

He did it despite, at various times, losing his Opening Day starter, closer, leadoff hitter/shortstop and cleanup hitter. He did it with a club that had an offense that won a game without a hit; a club that lost eight straight in August.

But unlike last year's team, this year's team and its new manager held together and rebounded by winning 14 of the next 16 and poured it on with 17 September wins, its most since 1995.

"Joe's mannerisms and the way he handles life and the team, it's a great study," said general manager Ned Colletti. "He knows what he's doing. He's got a very even-keel disposition. That was part of the reason we ended up going with Joe. His mannerisms, for a team like this with a lot of youth still trying to figure it out, you need somebody who can smooth out the process."

And even though Torre reaped the benefits of Colletti's acquisition of Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez, at the time, Ramirez was considered a crapshoot, having forced his exit from Boston. Torre dealt with the ego, sidestepped the dreadlocks deadlock and changed the rules to let Manny be the clubhouse deejay, keeping the peace and the joint jumping. All the way to Chicago.

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