Fitting tribute to Boss' epic stature
Torre's presence a sign of event's magnitude
The "M" is for Michael. Not too many of us were aware of that. It stood there for 80 years, a broad, bold, uppercase letter between George and Steinbrenner. And rarely, if ever, did you hear the name. Michael Jack Schmidt, Lawrence Peter Berra, Joseph Paul DiMaggio, George Thomas Seaver. Even Lynn Nolan Ryan. But never George Michael Steinbrenner. It didn't work nearly as well as George M. Steinbrenner.
The middle initial and the III following the surname afforded the name a sense of regality that the man reveled in. "Some things," Steinbrenner once said, "are better left unsaid."
The M could have stood for something else, of course. Dallas Green suggested it stood for manager. Syd Thrift, one of the Yankees' general managers, said GM Steinbrenner was appropriate, too. And at 7:15 ET on Monday night, when all eyes at Yankee Stadium were fixed on Monument Park, the M could have stood for monument, a noun not to be confused with monumental, the adjective often used to describe the man's ego, his bankbook and kind of pain in the patoot he often was.
On this baseball evening, though, the M stood for magnanimous. George Magnanimous Steinbrenner.
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre was back in town, back in the Bronx to attend the unveiling of the large Steinbrenner plaque beyond center field. And he was there primarily because of Steinbrenner. It was the magnanimous thing for the Yankees to do, to welcome Torre to the park he had never visited. And the Yankees did it because that's what GMS would have done.
The phrase familiar to every manager is, "Managers are hired to be fired." In the case of Steinbrenner, there was a rejoinder that spoke to his magnanimousness -- "Yankees managers are fired so they can be brought back." Not necessary rehired, just brought back.
Billy Martin, Bob Lemon, Stick Michael and Lou Piniella served multiple tours. Clyde King always had some title. And let us not forget that after Steinbrenner had hired Torre to replace Buck Showalter, he tried to bring Buck back for a "just in case" position. A manager on retainer, sort of. And Yogi came back after too long an absence.
Now Torre is back, if not by Steinbrenner's own hand, then by his legacy and the values he implemented. General manager Brian Cashman used the phrase "back in the family" when he spoke of Torre on Monday.
And Torre's sidekick, protégé and Los Angeles successor, Don Mattingly, took advantage of the Dodgers' off-day to attend the unveiling.
Lonn Trost, one of Torre's allies near the end of the manager's Yankees tenure, extended invitations to Mattingly and Torre on Friday, shortly after he learned Torre would not return to the Dodgers' dugout next season.
It was the right thing to do. Cashman said so, even though Torre's second book, "The Yankee Years" had chilled his relationship with the co-author. It was good "divine intervention," Cashman said, that the Dodgers were off on the day the Yankees had chosen to salute their late owner.
Interestingly, the book had been a wedge between Cashman and Torre, and after the two had met privately on Monday, Cashman said several times that they had "turned the page." The book had been a page turner, too. The relationship may or may not be repaired. And who knows how Torre's relationship with the Yankees in general might change if the other New York team were to bring him back, too? Torre said he'd listen if he were called, if a chance he could return as the King of Queens developed.
On this night, though, he was comfortable in the Bronx. Different setting, largely different personnel. But Torre noted that "George is responsible for really the best years of my life professionally. I was happy the schedule provided the opportunity."
He and Mattingly felt welcome to the degree that each signed the logo outside the manager's office where other former Yankees had signed.
"I'm here because of the tribute to George," Torre said. "I had been leaving messages all over the place. 'Somebody let me know if it's going to take place and when it's going to take place.' ... Did we get along always? No, but it never lasted very long. You can't be with somebody that long without disagreeing. I always felt we had a special relationship."
If some folks in the House the Boss Built were put out by Torre's presence, they concealed their feelings by applauding for the dignified ceremonies that preceded the Yankees' game against the Rays.
Torre and his wife participated, as did Mattingly, Michael, Berra, Reggie Jackson, David Wells, Roy White, Tino Martinez, all of the current Yankees and Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig. Each time Torre's likeness appeared on the monumental scoreboard above Monument Park, the full house hailed the former leader. Torre was gratified. Mattingly was embraced, too. He had never been exiled to the same degree as Torre, though he departed with the former manager.
If the program was lacking in any way, it was because Steinbrenner himself hadn't planned it and perfected it. Folds and wrinkles were visible in the sheet draped over Steinbrenner's plaque. The Boss would have had it pressed. The players casually walked from the dugout to center field. The Boss might have demanded lockstep. And he would have had Challenger, the eagle, swoop down. Frank Sinatra Jr. sang the national anthem. George would have tried to get the singer's old man.
"He was the master of ceremony and celebrating others," Cashman said of his late Boss. "When he wanted to honor someone, nobody could do it better."
And that's what Torre appreciated about George Michael Steinbrenner. Everything was top shelf. As it turned out, the Boss' choice of manger in the fall of 1995 was top shelf, too.
Torre had planned to return and turn some pages before so much time had passed.
"I remember when they were moving home plate a couple of years ago; I was going to come to that," Torre said. "Lonn Trost had asked me to. Unfortunately, we had our [Safe at Home Foundation] dinner the night before and were having brunch and I couldn't come. I was going to come that day.
"I'm not shying away from being here. In fact, I worked like hell to try to get us here last October."
But the Phillies got in his way.
Now, Torre won't need an invitation. The next time, he can walk in unannounced, but no longer unappreciated. He might walk out to center field and pay his respects, as he did on Monday night. And now that the chill is off the relationship, there is every reason to think Torre will return one day -- by invitation -- and walk out there again to see his own plaque.
George M. Steinbrenner III would want it that way.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.