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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

(continued from page 1)

Clubhouse attendant Nick Priori comes in, followed by trainer Gene Monahan and general manager Bob Watson. Torre introduces them all. Monahan and Watson are a couple of recent smoking converts. What does Watson smoke? "Whatever he gives me," Watson says, motioning to Torre.

"When we won the division title against Milwaukee, I came in here and I realized that they had raided my cigar collection," says Torre, pointing to the humidor behind his desk. "Every player had a cigar in his face. I remember Kenny Rodgers coming in here and asking [bench coach Don] Zimmer, 'Which ones are the good ones?' He made sure he got a good one. So they depleted my supply.

"When my daughter was born a year ago, I gave out The Griffin's, a very nice cigar. For some of my cigar enthusiast friends I also had some Montecristos--those torpedoes. Strong and long." Then he swings around to show the rest of his stash. "Look at what somebody gave me the other day. A Savinelli. Look at these. I'm smoking these now," Torre says. "I'm going to send a bunch of these to Cecil [Fielder] and just have him go bananas. And if he still wants to be a free agent, well...

"That is a nice smoke," he says, taking another puff of the Sancho Panza. "Mild, right?" Some Cuban cigars can "make your eyes cross," Torre adds. "I'll smoke some of this, smoke some of that. I'm pretty good at diversifying. George Steinbrenner gave me this one," he says, pointing to a Por Larrañaga Havana. "Of course, George came in here and said, 'This is the one you have to smoke,' and he hands me an 18-inch cigar shaped like a baseball bat with a knob on the handle. It's so wide you'd need a hacksaw to clip it.

"It's been crazy but I love it," Torre says, still catching his breath from the World Series spin he's been in. "When I think that Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones won the World Series in their first year, these guys think it happens all the time. Derek's been going at it a hundred miles an hour in the off-season, going here, going there, being fawned over, which is deserved. Being 56 years old, I'm walking through this. And I'm not going to jog. This is enjoyable. It's exhausting, but it's terrific.

"I hired an agent in June 1995. Because after I was fired from St. Louis [in 1995], I was going to go into broadcasting. That was going to be it. So I hired Bob Rosen of RLR Associates. All of a sudden my agent is handling all my engagements, my book." Torre's autobiography, Chasing the Dream, written with Tom Verducci, recently came out. "This is stuff I never dreamed about when I hired him. And of course, when you're involved in the World Series, the last thing on your mind is what the Series is going to bring you, other than the World Series ring. You're really in this foxhole the whole time you're in the postseason. Then all of a sudden, when the thing was over, I discovered that I was a hero."

At the Yankees' victory parade in lower Manhattan, broadcaster Michael Kay said that "the Yankees turned the city of New York into a small town." Torre's life has proved it. "I'll just walk by and people are thanking me," Torre says.

When the Yankees won, everyone seemed to celebrate with him. "Even the Red Sox fans like us," Torre says with surprise. Now that is a sure sign that something is amiss in the baseball universe. "I think a big part of that is that I'm a native New Yorker and the fact that during this whole thing, my brother Rocco had passed away, my other brother, Frank, was ill and then got a heart. It's really humanized this whole game of baseball for a change." It was a national story, too. "I spent two weeks in Hawaii with my wife, Ali, walking down the streets of Maui." Naturally, people recognized him there, too. This was the best chapter of the Torre story, a story that began more than 4,000 games and 56 years before, in Brooklyn.

Joe Torre was born on July 18, 1940, in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn. "My sister, Rae, still lives in the house I was born in on Avenue T and 34th Street. She's retired from the telephone company. She's the one who doesn't get any attention--because she's not a nun, she's not a player and she didn't have a transplant. But she's been the stable one in the family. In fact, Ali and I named my baby after her--Andrea Rae.

"I played with a sandlot club, the Brooklyn Cadets. We played about 100 games a year, five games on weekends, a couple of nights during the week, sometimes three games in one day. We usually played at the Parade Grounds in Marine Park. And I played high school ball my last two years at St. Francis Prep in Williamsburg.

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