Dec 09, 2013
By Tyler Kepner
From : New York Times
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The cuffs on the sleeves of Joe Torre’s dress shirt Monday were monogrammed with his signature — just Joe, no last name needed, a symbol of his status. But the championship ring he chose for his career valedictory suggested something deeper.
On the day he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Torre wore the Yankees’ 2003 ring, recognizing an American League pennant from a season that ended with a World Series loss. Torre’s preferred ring, from the 1996 championship, needs to be resized. But he had other choices. He picked 2003.
Torre, 73, was unanimously elected by the expansion era committee, with his contemporaries Bobby Cox, 72, and Tony La Russa, 69, and will be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 28. The three men rank 3-4-5 on the career list for managerial victories (La Russa is third with 2,728, then Cox with 2,504, then Torre with 2,326). Only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763) won more. The trio also won eight championships.
Torre won half of them, with the Yankees from 1996 through 2000, but he waited longer than the others for his first. His older brother, Frank, a former player, had advised him against working for George Steinbrenner.
“My brother said: ‘Well, I know one thing — he wants to win, and that’s the one thing I want, is to win. Whether I last a long time or not isn’t important. At least I have a chance,’ ” Frank Torre, 81, said after a news conference at the winter meetings. “I said: ‘Well, if you look at it that way, I guess you’re right. You should take it.’ ”
Torre saw the Yankees as a chance to validate a managing career that began with the Mets in 1977, when he was still an active player, and continued in Atlanta and St. Louis. He won his first championship in 1996, realized he thirsted for more, and kept winning. He last managed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010.
The World Series victories made Torre a celebrity. He attracted famous friends, like Billy Crystal. Coaches from other sports, like Bill Belichick, would drop by to watch the Yankees practice. Torre endorsed sunglasses and insurance and green tea, and he has used his platform for a personal cause, helping victims of domestic abuse.
But he came to realize that October glory only confirmed what was already true. He was a winner, even without playing or managing in a World Series in his first three decades in uniform. The hallowed John Wooden, the wizard of the U.C.L.A. basketball program, confirmed it for him.
“He admired how our Yankees played, and it wasn’t the winning part,” Torre said. “It was about the effort, running hard and stuff like that. I know he won the 10 championships, but he said the team he was most proud of was the less talented team that worked the hardest.
“It carries over into what you’re doing, whether you’re working 9 to 5 or doing something in baseball — or in my case now, I’m in charge of the umpires — do the best you can. I mean, that’s what we tell our kids. Do the best you can, and don’t worry about it. If you do the best you can, you never have to look back.”
Torre would refer to this often in his later years with the Yankees, when his pitching was not quite good enough to push through October. Control the effort. That was the message, and a major reason his teams won.
Steinbrenner’s payroll gave Torre great players — a fact he readily acknowledged Monday. But Torre’s calm and reassuring demeanor fronted a burning competitive drive that his players shared. The Yankees never missed the playoffs in Torre’s 12 seasons, and almost always lived up to higher ideals.
“I really believe this: Joe taught a lot of us about how to win the right way and then lose the right way,” La Russa said. “Tip your cap when you get beat, but when you win, you don’t show anybody up.”
Torre had a losing record as a manager before joining the Yankees, a fact that Steinbrenner, who was not elected Monday, often pointed out. But success was relative. Less than a month into Torre’s managing career, the Mets traded Tom Seaver.
Torre was only 36. He never made the Mets winners, but he made progress. That will not be etched on his Hall of Fame plaque, but it helped him get one.
“I think that the best year he ever managed was the year he got the Mets out of last place,” Frank Torre said, referring to 1980. “They had absolutely nothing, and they got out of last place. The kind of games he won, I thought he did a superb job, but it went completely unnoticed because if you don’t win, you don’t get credit. He was so bent on winning.”
La Russa, who finished his career with a victory in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series, spoke of the all-consuming nature of the job. He would spend 12 hours a day at the ballpark, and 12 hours at home thinking about the game.
Torre, seated next to Cox, to La Russa’s left, smiled and nodded knowingly to his wife, Ali, seated a few feet away. She smiled back.
Torre’s managing life is now over. His legacy, as of Monday, is forever. Torre needed the victories to get there, but he never let his rings define him.