10/01/08 5:58 PM ET
Joe Torre pregame interview
Team is pretty much ready for anything at Wrigley
By / MLB.com
JOE TORRE: They really don't. If we had someone injury wise, then I guess we have to consider those conditions, if it was the pitcher. Usually the player, once he gets going, he usually stays pretty warm. The pitcher when he comes in and sits and has to get up and go back out there, it's sometimes an issue. But as far as this club out here, I don't think I have any issues.
You've got a lot of experience in this park managing. As a matter of fact, if I remember correctly, you managed your first game here?
JOE TORRE: No, my first game was in New York, Shea. Although when I was with the Cardinals I was accused of managing (laughter).
Obviously there's no surprises here for you weather wise or how this ballpark plays.
JOE TORRE: No, not at all. And I think that's probably what you're alluding to as far as play big, play small in this park. You know, I'm a little reluctant to do some things in this ballpark with players that aren't used to doing it. Our ballclub right now is pretty versatile. I think we've had everybody -- a number of these players, you've got Loney, we've had Ethier, we've had Matt Kemp, Casey Blake, all these guys have laid down sacrifice bunts. So we're pretty much ready to do anything, and it could be that the conditions will dictate something like that.
Could you talk a little bit about Chad Billingsley, what he brings to the table for you, and does it help him that he's pitched once here this year?
JOE TORRE: You know, it was interesting, when I first came on board here and went to Vero Beach, I heard a lot about Chad, just about the type of competitor he was. I saw the competitiveness in Spring Training, but I didn't see everything about him. He didn't have a good spring. He threw the ball all right. He had a little leg issue early, which probably never really went away. But once he sort of got going, he's been pretty special.
And sure, I think it helped that he pitched here early, and probably conditions are about the same as they're going to be here because it was pretty cold when we played that three game series.
But once he got his confidence -- he had maybe a bad game, but for the most part he believes he can do a lot of things. The most important one is go out there and compete on a regular basis.
Again, you take him out of the game because of his pitch count, and he still wants to go out there and finish it, because that's what he's made of. He's living up to all the previews that I heard about before Spring Training. He's a special young man. He certainly has a No. 1 mentality the way he goes out there and takes the responsibility.
Can you get into a little bit the Troncoso McDonald flip?
JOE TORRE: Yeah, you know what was interesting was, we're going to take 11 pitchers, and initially I had told Troncoso when we were in San Francisco that he was going to go to Arizona. Then we started thinking, while you're going through this process, you're thinking about all the pluses and minuses, and what Troncoso obviously brought to the table was, yeah, he can get a ground ball plus the fact that you can warm him up, you can sit down, you can warm him up. So we started thinking a little bit about that and asked him to come with us here. And then we talked early yesterday in our meeting, and we were going to have more discussion here.
You know, I jumped the gun basically. Nothing had been decided, but I was assuming it was decided, so I had told McDonald that he probably wasn't going to -- and I said, you're not going to make it at this point, and then I called him back about five minutes later -- when I saw called him back, we were all at the clubhouse. I said, we're still talking about this stuff, so just keep it under your hat.
And then we revisited and basically came down to the point that, taking nothing away from Troncoso, but what McDonald brought to the table was a variety of stuff. Yeah, he's inexperienced, he's 23 years old, but the fact that he could throw a fastball in the 90s, he has a good breaking ball, a good change up, size wise, and he probably pitched five or six times for us. I knew nothing about him before really seeing him because he came to Spring Training, but he got hurt early on and I didn't get a chance to see a lot of him.
And we just decided that we felt that he could handle it emotionally and wanted to probably include his stuff into our group as opposed to Ramon.
New team, of course, this season, but so many times in the postseason, is it still a fresh and exciting thing to be in the playoffs for you?
JOE TORRE: You know, what's really weird, I mean, I had all this playoff experience, but hell, it didn't start until I was 56 years old (laughter). I had a little bit of a taste of it in '82 when I managed the Braves, but to come into Wrigley Field, I've been in the American League now for 12 years, to come into Wrigley Field for a playoff game, this is pretty cool. I just hung up from Zimmer because every time I come into this ballpark I think of him.
It's pretty exciting. Obviously, we all know the history. I played with the Cardinals for six years and managed them for another five, so you certainly know what the Cubs are all about. But this is pretty exciting to me.
Again, even if I was still with the Yankees, it would still be exciting even though it would have been the 13th time. It never gets old. That's one thing you know. It never gets old, because it's always different in some way every year. There's always a different reason you got there, and hopefully you can move on and all that stuff.
But being in Wrigley Field is pretty exciting.
A two part question about Russ Martin. One, can you quantify what he brings to your team defensively and then offensively? And two, how he stacks up with other catchers that you've been associated with over the years?
JOE TORRE: Well, Russell, first off, before I got a chance to know a lot about him, I was sort of given some advance notices on him about his ability, and I've seen that. He hasn't had the year that he wished he had. He's a special competitor.
Again, I think he gets a little emotional at times, but he doesn't lack confidence. He's got great tools behind the plate. You know, he's still working on making sure he's there for every pitcher that he catches. He's got great release time with his throws to second base.
Hitting, he's got the ability, I think, to hit .320 plus in this league, or in any league, because of his ability to use the whole field. He'll hit some home runs. He'll probably hit 20 plus because he hits the ball so hard so often. But again, this year you didn't see that from him, but I have a great deal of confidence that if he stays healthy that he's going to be a special catcher for a long time.
You talked last week about not wanting your players to feel the baggage of the 20 years without a postseason series win and all that stuff. How much do you think the pressure is on the Cubs? Because of their history, do you almost feel like they're the ones that have the pressure as opposed to you guys?
JOE TORRE: I think the pressure is on the Cubs. We're playing in their ballpark. They're among the few teams that really dominated the league this year. You have Tampa, you have the Angels and you have the Cubs. I know I mentioned earlier, I maybe missed somebody, but those three teams got my eye this year that they never wavered. They went from out of the gate right to the finish line and really stayed right there.
Sure, having been with the Cardinals for as long as I was with the Cardinals, we certainly knew about the Cub legacy and the players. But I think the fact that the Cubs are a good team, I think takes really center stage over the fact that they haven't -- the organization hasn't been to the World Series in a long time.
What do you remember about Alfonso Soriano? And what do you think of the player he's become since he left you guys?
JOE TORRE: Sori, he was terrific. We didn't do him any favors. We brought him to the big leagues with the Yankees. We played him third base a little bit, switched him back and forth. Told him he was going to make the club as an extra player. Wound up being an outfielder, you know, playing second base. We had him at outfield at first, played second base. Shortstop was his original position. But he always took it and never seemed to have it bother him.
To me he was a special talent. I thought he handled pressure extremely well, not very disciplined at the plate, but again, he's one of those guys that has fun playing the game.
It used to be the running joke he'd walk twice in one game with the Yankees, and that was something he bragged about at the time (laughter). As I said, the big key to him, aside from his ability, and I think we all know what he's capable of, the fact that he enjoys playing the game, and obviously that body stays in shape pretty well. He's dangerous. He's really dangerous because he's so unpredictable on where to pitch him, that he won't be able to hit the ball. He beat us a ballgame here earlier this year, I think the ball was about three inches off the ground, and off the plate outside, and he pulled it down the left field line.
So he's very difficult to, first off, try to pitch around. Not to say I won't try to do it maybe a time or two. But as far as his makeup and having him as a player, I really enjoyed the heck out of him.
Can you talk about managing against Lou. And you're faced each other so many times. At this point you kind of have an idea of what the other is thinking?
JOE TORRE: Well, the thing is Lou is emotional, and he shows it more than I do. But the fact that he's had the experience, he's won championships, he's been down this road a number of times, he knows baseball. Lou knows baseball. He was a great competitor when he played, and he knows how to win.
What can I say? I don't think there's anything predictable about Lou. The fact that he basically manages -- from what I've seen, he manages for right now. If there's something he doesn't like, he changes it or will make a change because that's the way he believes and that's the way he's pretty much managed the whole time.
I did run into him last night at a restaurant, and I felt pretty good about it because I said, if you're here, it must be a pretty good restaurant.
You talked about talking to Zimmer before. Is there any part of the conversation you can share?
JOE TORRE: Well, just Ned Colletti and I were sitting in my office, and we both go back with Zim, just to see what he was doing. I knew they didn't have a game today, so he was relaxing. I'll just say he was relaxing, and you people who know him know what he was doing (laughter).
We just chatted a little bit, and I put him on the phone with Ned. But he's a friend. A lot of managers will hire friends to be coaches. When I took the Yankee job in '96 I hired a couple guys for coaches, to be coaches, that became very dear friends, and it's both Zim and Mel Stottlemyre, and we continue those relationships. But he sounded great. He's got the best job of his life now. He's living at home and now he has a part of postseason with that Tampa club.
The decision to take Maddux with you, anything to do with Wrigley Field and that he's pitched here before?
JOE TORRE: No, I think it just has something to do with him. The only hesitancy I had early on was knowing there's a possibility we'll go with three starters in this series because of the second off day, and how he would take to the bullpen. It didn't really surprise me that he's here for whatever we need him to do. He's a special person.
I was telling somebody upstairs that here's a guy that when I was managing against him, I never wanted to see him pitch, but I always loved to watch him do that. It was sort of a double edged sword because he was such an artist, he is such an artist in how he goes about it, and what I'm witnessing now is how great he is to be around. He's really a class act and calm. He always appeared that way. Every once in a while there would be an expletive out there. But he was always very calm.
I see that, and a lot of our other players have benefitted from that.
When you said you didn't know how Greg would take to the bullpen, does that mean how he would handle the news or how he would pitch?
JOE TORRE: Well, both. Well, not pitch. I didn't worry about the pitch part because he pretty much can will himself to do anything he wants. I certainly didn't want to slight him.
I mean, I respect him too much for what he's done and who he is. But before I even forgot to seriously ask him that question, he made it clear through my pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt, that that would be no problem.
Courtesy of FastScripts by ASAP Sports.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.