Dec 09, 2013
By Mike Lupica
From : NY Daily News
The baseball Hall of Fame, which honored no players last summer, felt like the Hall of Fame again on Monday when it was announced that three of the great managers of all time, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox, were all voted in together, almost by acclamation. Torre won four World Series, La Russa three, Cox one. But we will celebrate Joe Torre, out of Brooklyn, N.Y., first and loudest around here today, because he is ours.
He comes out of Brooklyn and out of the ’50s, and by now you know that he was at Yankee Stadium when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game against the Dodgers in 1956. He was mostly known as Frank Torre’s kid brother in those days, Frank Torre out of St. Francis Prep who was a rookie with the Milwaukee Braves in 1956.
“You knew you were seeing history that day,” Torre said of Larsen’s perfect game. “But what you really thought about was getting down on that field yourself someday.”
Then he was a kid catcher with the Braves, beginning a long enough and honorable enough career that you could look at Joe Torre, Braves catcher and then Cardinals third baseman, and think you were watching a Hall of Fame player. He nearly had a lifetime batting average of .300, was an All-Star catcher four times and an All-Star third baseman twice and hit .363 in 1971 with the Cardinals, 230 hits that year and not one of them cheap because he always ran like he was carrying a sofa on his back.
They will remember him in Milwaukee and Atlanta and St. Louis for the way he played the game. But baseball – and history — will remember him for what he did when he finally did make it down on the field at Yankee Stadium; when he became the most important manager the New York Yankees have ever had, more important than Miller Huggins or Joe McCarthy or Casey Stengel, and not just because his Yankees won their four World Series at a time in baseball when you needed to get through three rounds of the playoffs to win it all.
Torre did not just win. He won with an old-fashioned thing called grace. You couldn’t hate Torre’s Yankees, not the way people used to hate the Yankees, because who could hate a gent like Joe Torre?
He came to the Yankees in 1996, 40 years after Larsen, when Derek Jeter was a rookie and the Yankees won their first World Series in 18 years. It was that magic October in this town when Joe’s brother Frank survived a heart transplant and somehow made the whole story bigger and better.
The late Bill Boyle, once a tremendous managing editor at this newspaper, said at the time, “This isn’t just a baseball story, it’s a Movie of the Week.”
The Yankees were finally the Yankees again. Torre’s Yankees. There were other big guys managing at the time, La Russa and Cox at the top of the list. There were great coaches in other sports. Torre, for my money, was the top top-manager in sports. He did as much for the Yankee image and the Yankee brand as any manager they had ever had. And became the winner he was always supposed to be.
When he was with the New York writers in Florida on Monday he was asked what George Steinbrenner meant to him and Joe Torre said, “He made my professional career. I played for 18 years, but the only thing that meant anything to me was the World Series.”
Of course he had the horses. A horseplayer like Joe Torre knows you have to have them. He had Jeter and Rivera and Pettitte and Posada. But once Torre’s Yankees started winning, the New York Yankees were bigger than they had ever been, more popular than they’d ever been, eventually were drawing four million fans a year to the old Stadium.
He was No. 6 of the Yankees, and if that number isn’t finally retired this season on a fine summer afternoon at another, newer Stadium, then they should turn the place into even more of a shopping mall than it already is.
Torre’s Yankees never got him another World Series after a Subway Series in 2000 that he appreciated and understood better than anybody in town. They lost Game 7 against Arizona in the bottom of the ninth in 2001, then they didn’t go three games to one up on the Marlins when they had the chance in 2003 and then the whole world knows what happened against the Red Sox the next October after the Yankees were ahead three games to none.
Finally he was managing the Dodgers – the Brooklyn kid doing that — at the end of his career, thinking he would make it to one more World Series with them. Now he and La Russa are both working for Major League Baseball, are at the winter meetings this week talking about instant replay, both of them still honoring baseball with perspective and intelligence and love of the game, doing that again Monday, the day when they both had tickets punched to Cooperstown.
La Russa talked Monday, and eloquently about how Torre taught everybody how to win and also how to lose. They used to say the same about Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 major championships but also finished second 19 times, who lost with great style the way he won with great style. Torre was like that, exactly.
There are so many moments to remember with Joe Torre, so many times he showed you a kind of grace you either have or do not. Maybe the one I remember best is the walk I took with him down the hallway at the old Stadium, from the Yankee clubhouse down to the Marlins, after Game 6 in 2003, after Josh Beckett had shut the Yankees down and won the World Series for his team, and his manager, old Jack McKeon.
“I know how much this means to him,” Torre said that night, walking on old ruined catcher’s knees, “because I know how much it meant to me.”
There have been others who managed the Yankees and won. Not one of them was more important than Torre was. A good day in baseball Monday morning. No, make that a great day. The Yankees were Torre’s Yankees one more time. The kid from Brooklyn, from the cheap seats that day watching Larsen, finally makes it upstate to Cooperstown.