Joe Torre reflects on the 'greatest day' of his Yankees career
Having your number retired by the New York Yankees may seem like "only" the single-team equivalent of the game-wide Hall honor, but to newest Monument Park resident Joe Torre, it actually means more.
"You're talking about the Yankees, and to get recognition like this? The Hall of Fame no question is the top of the hill, but the New York Yankees, whether you love them or hate them, are respected for what they represent," the four-time World Champion ex-Yankees skipper said Saturday moments after joining 17 others in the pantheon of pinstriped elite. "When you know the neighborhood you're in out there, it's pretty cool, and it's unbelievable."
In advance of the ceremony, Torre laughed about how he had not cried during his Hall acceptance speech but probably wouldn't be able to on Saturday; he turned out to be wrong, although it was quite close at times.
"I held it together better than I thought, but when I saw Soot (Don Zimmer's widow, Carol Jean) come out of the dugout and I saw my players, I got choked up; I couldn't help it," he said. "But today was every bit as special as I thought it would be."
In his speech, he thanked many people, including the New York fan base, who to this day still remind Torre what a special place he holds in the collective heart of the Bronx.
"The fans are special here, and they're smart; they know what they want to see in their baseball team, and they embrace you," he said. "Of course, they can be abrasive if they're not liking what they see out there. I remember that Don Mattingly always used to say playing here kept him on edge, and there's nothing wrong with that!"
He also thanked all of his former coaches and players - a segment of his speech that included personal anecdotes about every single one of the handful that were in attendance - for being, as he put it, the shoulders that carried him on the "long journey from the field to Monument Park."
"You see the players, and it always gets me knowing how all they did was the best they could, but they just never looked back," Torre said. "I never dreamed in a million years we'd win four World Series in five years, because that wasn't even on the radar screen, but it kept happening, and it was very special."
But one person he thanked most was a man he didn't even know he'd get along with: iconic owner George M. Steinbrenner, whom he said gave him "the greatest opportunity of his professional career."
"I'm not sure I was George's first choice, and I can understand that, because I had no credentials to prove I should be his manager," Torre said. "And if we didn't win the first year, I know George's reputation. My brother Frank, he said I was crazy because he knew how many managers George had fired - but it was his fault (I took the job); I watched him in two World Series while I was a teenager, and that was the only thing that was important to me. I knew if I was going to get there, this was it."
And, as he recalled those first moments on the job, he laughed about the good fortune he had come into, both personally and professionally.
"I inherited a ball club that would've gone to the postseason a couple years in a row, but we had the work stoppage in 1994 and they were knocked out by Seattle in 1995," he said. "That didn't bother me a bit, because I may not have been here if that was not the case. But, I had the opportunity to come in, and I was sitting in spring training watching David Cone and Doc Gooden and a kid named Pettitte I never really knew much about and I thought that was pretty cool, because I knew how important pitching was."
Not quite two decades later, those three guys and a whole slew of others are responsible for not only Torre's four World Series rings, but also the brand new 14-karat gold bling he received from the Yankees as part of Saturday's celebration - and that means the world to Torre, who was wearing his 1996 World Series ring as a reminder of just where this all started.
"I realized after I started wearing the first World Series ring that it's more about what it represents as opposed to having to wear it, and that means a whole lot to me," he said. "And this one always will, too."
And for a kid who grew up in Brooklyn and played and managed in Queens before finally crossing the bridge into immortality, the whole day was one that made him finally look back and realize how he had come full-circle from fresh-eyed rookie to revered legend and back again.
"I remember the first time I saw Mickey Mantle step in the batter's box. I was a 20-year-old kid catching in Spring Training, and when I looked up, he looked about ten feet tall and I had goose bumps the size of mountains. To be out there with him and everyone else now…it's just amazing."