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Grand Yankee

Brooklyn-Bred Joe Torre steers the Yankees to a world championship, overcoming personnel troubles and personal trauma.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

Joe Torre strides into his office in an olive green suit and a broad black fedora. After unburdening himself of a briefcase and a stack of photographs that need signing, he sits back in his desk chair. He checks the phone messages piled on his desk, then clips and lights a small Cuban cigar, a Sancho Panza. There have been plenty of smoking and feel-good occasions for Torre lately. A few weeks earlier, the Yankees had rallied from two games down to beat the favored Atlanta Braves for their 23rd world championship, rocking the baseball world in the process. Torre has been rolling ever since.

"Every time I leave home I come back to 23 messages; I can't dig out of this hole," he says. "I mean, I love it, don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining one bit."

"Will it help if you change your phone number?" public relations director Rick Cerrone cuts in.

"Not until after the holidays," Torre says.

Since that raucous Saturday night in October--a night when Paul O'Neill swears he felt the Yankee Stadium ground shake from the deafening din after he crossed home plate on Joe Girardi's third-inning triple--Torre has made the victor's rounds. He appeared on the Cosby and Letterman shows--then Regis and Kathy Lee and other morning stops. He lit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in Manhattan and has even tried motivational speaking. He walked onto the Radio City Music Hall stage and walked off with an ESPY for "Best Manager of the Year." The Yankees were awarded "Best Team." "It was a big thrill," says Torre, "considering we had to beat out the Bulls and the Packers!" Another accolade came from the Sporting News, which named Torre Sportsman of the Year. When he went to receive the award, "truck drivers and cabbies were yelling," says Cerrone. "He can't go from a car to a door across the sidewalk without people attacking him! The championship didn't happen in a vacuum; everybody related to it." Suddenly, everyone is greeting Torre con amore.

He grew up in New York and now it is his town again. It may be true that Torre's calming influence--as much as any timely hit or strikeout--helped his team to win. "The clubhouse seemed somewhat serene and stable," says Yankees radio voice Michael Kay, "a reflection of Torre."

"This is a tough game to play," Torre says. "It's a tough game to endure; a marathon, not a sprint. You've got to try to eliminate the highs and the lows and just maintain a nice level of play. And I thought that we did that pretty well."

The phone rings. Someone is asking how the family is and what's happening with the Yankees. "My sisters are fine, my brother's fine," he says, referring to older brother Frank, who received a heart transplant on the off day between games five and six of the Series. "Jimmy Key is gone, [Jim] Leyritz is gone and we'll probably lose [John] Wetteland," he continues, updating the caller with the ever-evolving post-Series roster. (Subsequently, the Yankees did lose Wetteland to Texas.)

Half a minute later the phone rings again. It's George. Yes, that George. George Steinbrenner, the one who has presided over 20 managerial changes in 24 years as boss. "You should come down here now," Torre says to George. "Cigar Aficionado is doing an interview and this place is filled with smoke." True enough. The smoke wafts out into the empty clubhouse, where champagne flowed and Torre's eyes welled up with emotion the October before.

Media relations adviser Arthur Richman walks in. Richman and other brass are on hand for a press conference to announce the re-signing of catcher Joe Girardi and the signing of free agent reliever Mike Stanton. "I used to be a cigar smoker," Richman says. "I gave it up. Twice. I used to smoke Berings. I used to stay at the Tampa Terrace hotel which [Bering] owned." Torre hangs up and cuts in. "Arthur, George needs you right now, upstairs." Richman heads out.

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