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With Dodgers in disarray, Torre figured out it was a good time to walk away

Joe Torre was never going to stay around long anyway.

His stint out West always had an expiration date, so Torre's decision to ditch the convertible and green tea lifestyle for something more familiar wasn't all that surprising. His contract is up, the Dodgers are broke, and the legal battle the owners are going through in divorce court is far more interesting than the team he's been putting on the field every night.

Torre also had to be weary of making a pretense that things were fine at Chavez Ravine, when everyone in the Southland knew they were not. His sub-.500 team is a patchwork quilt of journeymen, underachievers and wannabes, and it was hard watching as Torre kept a straight face and claimed last month that the Dodgers were still in it even while they were prepping Manny Ramirez for delivery to the Chicago White Sox.

Having spent his entire adult life in baseball, Torre probably thought he had seen it all. He had worked for George Steinbrenner, survived the New York media, and even gotten what he could out of the moody Ramirez.

At the age of 70, though, the prospects of working any longer for the dysfunctional duo of Frank and Jamie McCourt made this decision an easy one.

"You have to make some decisions by instinct, and my instinct tells me it's time to go," Torre said.

Managers come and managers go in baseball, even for a team that had just two in its first 39 years in Los Angeles. And Torre did more than his part to fulfill his $13 million contract, even if he never reached the World Series that has eluded the Dodgers for more than two decades.

He's now left two teams at least somewhat on his own terms, which is two more than most managers are ever able to pull off. And he could still show up in a dugout near you if an opportunity came up that Torre, in his own words, finds "intriguing or exciting."

He wasn't going to find that in Los Angeles. With the McCourts fighting over control of the team, the Dodgers leveraged to the hilt, and not much out on the farm, Torre looked around and figured out quickly that he was getting out while the getting was still good.

Unfortunately for Dodger fans, the wrong person is leaving town.

While Torre brought respectability and stability to the team on the field, Frank McCourt used the Dodgers as his personal bank and has created such disarray that former owner Peter O'Malley stepped forward this week to call for him to sell the team for the good of Los Angeleans everywhere.

"For many years, the Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious institutions in our city and throughout professional sports," O'Malley told the Los Angeles Times. "Sadly, that is not the case today."

Sadly, it's not. While the Dodgers continue to be one of the top draws in baseball, the team is so strapped for cash that it no longer competes for top free agents and did little to help itself this year even after a promising start.

There was a time when Torre could get on the phone and order up a new slugger or starting pitcher from Steinbrenner. With the Dodgers he was forced to rely on whoever they could pick up on the cheap, which is why Ted Lilly was starting for the team down the stretch instead of someone like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee.

The team's opening day payroll was down more than $36 million from 2009, while court documents indicated the McCourts have taken out more than $100 million in loans from Dodger-related businesses to fund their lavish lifestyle.

Into all of this steps Don Mattingly, whose chief qualification for the job seems to be that he has a recognizable name and will work cheap. The Dodgers had a more seasoned candidate at Albuquerque in Tim Wallach, but McCourt seems enamored with celebrity and Donnie Baseball was the man he wanted.

Mattingly was at the helm in a game against the Giants in July — Torre had been ejected — when he visited the mound in the ninth inning with the Dodgers up 5-4. He left, but returned when James Loney asked a question and was called for a second visit to the mound.

That meant closer Jonathan Broxton had to be replaced and the Dodgers went on to lose the game.

"It's going to be a learning process," third baseman Casey Blake said. "I know one rule he knows now is to keep on walking once he leaves the mound."

McCourt probably should have figured it out before he gave Mattingly the job, but he turned to him Friday night at Dodger Stadium and asked: "Are you ready?"

With the team in shambles and the McCourts headed back to court on Monday to arm wrestle over whose team it really is, the better question might have been this:

"Are you crazy?"

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org