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Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Colletti intent on restoring Dodgers' glory

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

DALLAS -- Once there was a time when you never had to ask, "Who's the manager of the Dodgers?" Not on Dec. 6. Not on July 6. Not on any month of any day of any year.

But of course, that was your grandfather's Dodgers. And your father's Dodgers. The Dodgers who made one -- count 'em, one -- managerial change in 42 years, from 1952 (dawn of the Walter Alston era) to 1996 (end of the Tommy Lasorda era).

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Those Dodgers, however, aren't these Dodgers -- the Dodgers who Tuesday named Grady Little as their fourth manager in nine years.

Not that they don't still talk like they're the Dodgers of Koufax and Snider and even Hershiser, you understand.

Lasorda himself marched up to the podium to be part of Tuesday's festivities -- and reminded the world that Little was "joining the greatest organization in baseball."

Right you are there, Tommy. There probably has never been a better time to bleed away in Dodger Blue ...

Well, except for that 59-89 record the 2005 juggernaut rolled up (or down) in its last 148 games. And the not particularly ceremonious dumping of the previous GM, Paul DePodesta, 20 months into a five-year contract. And the 65 days it took them to hire a manager, during which time they seemed to be interviewing every potential candidate but Vin Scully.

So now here it is, December already. And we've seen a team (the Toronto Made of Green Jays) spend $102 million on two pitchers this winter before the Dodgers could even figure out who was going to manage their team. Which is no way to run an offseason.

Fortunately, however, nobody needs to explain this to the new GM of this outfit, the ever-astute Ned Colletti, who seemed to exude an eminently realistic grasp of the limitations of the team he is handing over to this new manager of his.

"We probably need to find ourselves another outfielder," Colletti said. "And maybe some help at first base. And third base ... Another starting pitcher ... Lefty in the bullpen.

"Other than that," Colletti deadpanned, "I think we're pretty well set."

Insert laugh track here.

And when you're finished laughing, you might recall that those Dodgers of yesteryear were never a laugh-track kind of franchise. Not unless Lasorda was hanging around the cage, reciting the highlights of his latest chicken-dinner speech, anyway.

But these days, the new GM has a ton of work to do to get people to take his once-esteemed team seriously again. At least now that Colletti has shoved a contract in front of a real, live manager, however, he might even get around to doing some of it. If not all of it.

If I wanted to fix things and have half a farm system, I could have done that yesterday. But that's not the plan. The plan is to be better and still hold the course, to develop and win at the same time. That's probably the hardest thing to do in baseball -- develop and win at the same time. But that's what we're trying to do.
GM Ned Colletti
"It's tough to do a lot without a manager," he said. "This was a long process. It took a lot of time. And I wanted to do the proper due diligence. But couple that with trying to keep your hand in the free-agent market. And keeping abreast of trade talks with other teams. And I'm glad this part of it is over.

"It's been a bit of a bizarre time," Colletti pronounced, "trying to be in three places at one time."

And if he thought it was challenging before, trying to clone himself when he had a working cell phone, on Tuesday he discovered it was practically hopeless without one.

You see, the GM awoke to find his last link with the rest of civilization had been shut down without notice. And that's a conspiratorial subplot that might just sum up the insanity of Colletti's life over the last 3½ weeks.

Who turned off that cell phone? Not the phone company. Not his new team. It was, instead, his former team, the hated Giants. And they were able to knock him off the airwaves for good reason.

Because they happen to be paying for that cell phone. Which they handed out to him when he still worked there. Which he hasn't had time to change since the Dodgers hired him. And which he has been using to assemble a team whose main mission in life is to beat the Giants. So, hey, who can blame them?

"Of all the days in the year to have your cell phone shut off," Colletti laughed, "how about this one?"

By dinner time, though, he'd managed to get his dial tone back. Which merely allowed him to turn back to the next 7,500 items on his to-do list.

Did someone say the Dodgers needed a third baseman? There were indications they could be on the verge of signing free agent Bill Mueller -- who just happened, by some amazing coincidence, to jump on the phone the other day to give Colletti a rave review of Little's managerial qualifications.

Did someone say they also needed a first baseman? There were rumblings -- later denied -- that the Dodgers had talked with Texas about a deal that would send hulking 6-foot-4, 240-pound pitching prospect Jonathan Broxton to the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano. L.A. then would have moved Jeff Kent to first and given Cesar Izturis all the time he needs to recover from Tommy John surgery.

Did someone say they needed another starting pitcher? They have talked to the Red Sox about David Wells.

Another outfielder, anyone? The Dodgers have been in on potential deals for Juan Pierre and Tampa Bay's mini-Pierre, Joey Gathright.

Bill Mueller
Mueller is expected to be one of the many new faces at Chavez Ravine in 2006.
The one part of this team's operation that's in great shape, the farm system, will come in handy as Colletti attempts to pull off all this magic. But there are limits to how much of it the GM is willing to plunder for the sake of winning now.

And those limits are known as James Loney. And Russell Martin. And Chad Billingsley. Who are the current poster boys for that system.

"If I wanted to fix things and have half a farm system, I could have done that yesterday," Colletti said. "But that's not the plan. The plan is to be better and still hold the course, to develop and win at the same time. That's probably the hardest thing to do in baseball -- develop and win at the same time. But that's what we're trying to do."

Then again, it also isn't all they're trying to do.

As Colletti looked at the Dodgers last season from his bleacher seat in Northern California, he saw a team that didn't remind him of the Dodgers he was used to waging war with.

"I didn't sense the same confidence and the same drive I saw in the Dodgers who were out there early in the year, or in 2004," he said. "They lacked that. And going forward, we need to help instill that."

They'll try to do that with their new manager, a guy players genuinely love. They'll try to do that with the kinds of players they bring in -- guys like Mueller who could have "character" stitched on the back of their shirts instead of their names.

But they'll also try to do that with the vision of their new GM -- a man who gives the impression there is a lot more he is attempting to restore these days than just the signal on his cell phone.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.