By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN – As Hall of Fame Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl pointed to the spot where Joe Torre’s plaque will hang come late July, the former New York Yankees manager spoke in a low tone.
“It’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about,” Torre said to Strohl, “because this is for the elite.”
Welcome to the elite, Joe.
Torre, 73, took his orientation tour Tuesday at the Cooperstown shrine and for a man who’s been connected with professional baseball since 1960, it had to be a trip down memory lane.
He recalled during a packed media conference in the Hall of Fame’s plaque gallery following his tour of hearing the news of Babe Ruth’s death in 1948. Torre was 8 when Ruth died.
During an 18-year playing career, he played with Hank Aaron with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, and he won the National League MVP with the Cardinals in 1971, leading the league in hits (230), batting average (.363), RBIs (137) and total bases (352).
His managerial career included stints with the New York Mets, the Cardinals, the Braves and most notably, the Yankees, where he steered New York to four World Series titles (1996, 1998-2000). He capped his managerial career with a three-year stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers that ended in 2010.
The Brooklyn-born Torre earned election into the Hall of Fame as a manager via an Expansion Era Committee vote in December, when all 16 members voted in favor of him.
“Baseball has been my life,” Torre said. “The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is play baseball and I felt blessed when I was a player. When my brother (Frank) was playing in the major leagues, I didn’t think it was possible for two people in the same family to have that distinction. To wind up in Cooperstown is something that’s surreal to me. When I actually got the call, it still stunned me.”
Induction Day will come July 27 at the Clark Sports Center, where Torre will be joined by fellow electees Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.
“I’m aware I need to mention the people who had a big impact on me professionally,” said Torre, who serves as Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations. “When you start talking about family, that’s when the tears are going to start flowing.
“Hopefully, (my speech), will mean as much to the people who hear it as the guy who’s saying it,” he continued. “It’s really going to come from the heart. Baseball has been my whole life and so many people who were behind me and boosting me to this spot. I know it’s going to be emotional. It’s going to be overwhelming, but hopefully when I get up to the microphone when I say something, I hope it comes out.”
Torre’s the only person in baseball history to amass 2,000 hits as a player and win more than 2,000 games as a manager. He finished with 2,342 hits and won 2,326 games over 29 seasons as a manager, including 286 over five seasons with the Mets (1977-81) and 1,173 with the Yankees over 11 seasons with the Yankees (1996-2007).
The Yankees went to the World Series six times under Torre, winning four with the likes of future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera leading the way.
“To play for (18 years) and to manage for close to 30, it was always brand new for me,” Torre said. “It never felt like something I had to do, it was something I wanted to do and I was blessed with the ability to do it.”
Hall President Jeff Idelson, who spoke to the media before Torre’s arrival in the plaque gallery, said of Torre’s career: “When you look at the way he has led so many organizations in so many different ways, whether it be a player, where you can make a case for him as a Hall of Famer, to being a Hall of Fame manager – he’s now an executive, he was a great broadcaster (from 1985-1990), he’s a great human being, so for him being here today is special for him and for us.”
Torre said when he managed, he wanted his players to know that wearing a professional uniform was a privilege.
“Jimmy Leyland, after we won four out of five World Series, said this stuff doesn’t happen all the time and it was magical,” said Torre, who guided the Yankees to a five-game World Series win over the New York Mets in 2000, capping a string of three straight titles. “I never took it for granted, knowing how tough it was to do.
“I look out at players now and think, I hope they appreciate it,” he continued. “I used to tell my players, this is something you’re just borrowing. You’re going to have to give it back some time. Just make sure when you’re sitting at home, you’re not saying, ‘Boy, I wish I had gotten more out of it.’”
Notes: Idelson said there will be a big change to the Hall of Fame Classic, a seven-inning exhibition to be held May 24 at Doubleday Field. He said one recently retired player from all 30 big-league teams will play.
“You’ll see a much more competitive game,” Idelson said of the Classic, which is in its sixth year. “There will be some great names that will come out in the next couple of days.”
Idelson also said he expects a big turnout for the Induction Ceremony.
“You start to look at tour groups and the general excitement,” he said. “You have players and managers from all over the country (who will be inducted). In Atlanta, you have a presence, Chicago, Oakland, St. Louis and New York. Early tour numbers look strong, which is great. If Mother Nature proves to be the baseball fan we think she is, we’re expecting really, really big numbers.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.