7/24/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Humble Torre preparing for ultimate honor
Fifth-winningest manager savoring 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' in Hall induction
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- For Joe Torre and his five fellow inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the months of anticipation will end on Sunday.
Torre will stand on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center, and after the inscription on his plaque is read by Commissioner Bud Selig, he'll stop for a moment to soak in the sea of fans on the meadow in front of him before moving to the podium. He'll then deliver a speech that has been months in the making.
It's a place Torre never imagined he'd be standing.
"I think it's going to be a pretty nervous time for me," Torre said. "I'm going to be more nervous leading up to it than when I get up there to do it. I'm hoping that's the case, anyway, because I don't want to make a complete fool of myself. I want to be able to deliver a message that I believe is necessary. Anything that means a great deal to you, I think there's a lot of anxiety that's attached to it. Then, when the time comes, you hope that you can speak from the heart, say the right thing and say it in the right way."
Torre will be inducted on Sunday with Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, a trio of the greatest managers of all time, all elected late last year by the Expansion Era Committee. They'll be joined by 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas -- elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in January -- to form one of the most august Hall of Fame classes in history.
Hall of Fame coverage begins at noon ET with MLB Tonight live from Cooperstown on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com and the At Bat app, with the induction ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Currently Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, Torre is fifth all-time in managerial victories with 2,326, behind Connie Mack (3,731), John McGraw (2,763), La Russa (2,728) and Cox (2,504). Torre's 84 postseason wins are by far the most in history, and his four World Series victories with the Yankees represent the same number achieved by Cox and La Russa combined. La Russa won three titles with the A's and Cardinals and Cox won one with the Braves despite a record 14 division titles in a row.
Torre was hoping that he, La Russa and Cox would hit the trifecta and that all three would be inducted together. From the moment he received the call in December and walked into a news conference at the Winter Meetings in Nashville and saw the other two there, Torre knew that this weekend would be something special. They were all elected unanimously by a 16-member committee.
"It felt so good the way it happened," Torre said. "My preference was to have everybody elected, if that was practically possible to be the case. Since that morning in December, it has been a whirlwind for me. I never let myself think about the Hall of Fame very much. You always knew what the Hall of Fame represented. It always got my attention when I was in the company of a Hall of Famer. And then in a short period of time, I get a phone call, and all of a sudden I'm in a different place. It's been hard to describe.
"The one thing I have to keep reminding myself -- because if I think about it too much, I get stressed out -- I just have to make sure I take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, drink it all in and enjoy every bit of it."
Torre's life has been one of dichotomies. He was raised in Brooklyn and because of family proclivities grew up rooting for the New York Giants rather than the Brooklyn Dodgers when both National League teams still inhabited New York. Unlike the marginal Cox and La Russa, Torre was a near-Hall of Fame player in his own right. He came up in 1961 as a catcher with the Milwaukee Braves and won an NL batting title with a .363 average in 1971 as a third baseman for the Cardinals, one of five teams he'd eventually manage.
Torre, a .297 career hitter, saw his playing career end abruptly a few months into the 1977 season shortly after the Mets made him manager just weeks before Tom Seaver was traded to the Reds at the dawn of MLB's free-agency era. It took rocky managerial tenures with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals before he replaced Buck Showalter as skipper of the Yankees in 1996. Torre, a candidate for the job of general manager, was not a solid choice to manage the team by late principal owner George Steinbrenner. Even after naming Torre, Steinbrenner almost brought back the dethroned Showalter at the last minute.
"What I learned from every managing job is that there are certain things you don't care for in the job that you have to do; it's just learning how to do it," Torre said. "I don't like confrontation. Probably from my childhood, it was something I never looked forward to. But I realized in this job it was necessary. I always tried to find a positive way to be critical of a player, at least get a message across to a player. I had to learn to hone my communication skills. You learn a lot by having to address the media every day, and when you do it in New York, as Sinatra says, 'If you can do it there, you can do it anywhere.' I believe that to be the case. It's a good test."
Torre would be tested every day, although his Yankees won the World Series four times and the American League pennant five times in his first six seasons as their manager. Such was life under the man they called "The Boss." Torre was elated to finally win a World Series, a goal that eluded him as a player, but even then, he was struck by personal tragedy. His older brother, Frank, also a former Major Leaguer, underwent a heart transplant just before the Yankees defeated the Braves in 1996. And Torre himself was struck by prostate cancer in the spring of 1999, not long after leading the Yankees to a sweep of the Padres in the 1998 World Series following a record 125 wins between the regular season and postseason.
Such are the vagaries of life. But miraculously, the transplant took and Frank, now 82, is very much alive. More than a decade later, Torre, at 74, is a longtime cancer survivor. By 2007, following 12 consecutive trips to the playoffs, Torre sensed that his time with the Yankees had come to an end. After losing in the AL Division Series to the Indians, the Yankees offered Torre a one-year contract at far less guaranteed money than he had been making. Recognizing a lack of support from upper management, he walked out and joined the Dodgers, with whom his personal run of reaching the playoffs stretched to 14 consecutive seasons, before he retired from the dugout in 2010.
Torre's relationship with the Yankees after he left began as occasionally tenuous, but recently he has been back in pinstripes from time to time. The Yankees are teaming with MLB to conduct a party in Torre's honor this weekend, and almost seven years after departing, his uniform No. 6 will be retired in a Monument Park ceremony at Yankee Stadium later this summer.
Right now, life for Torre is good. He is on the brink of induction, and what was once unimaginable is about to become reality.
"Once you get that phone call, it changes you," Torre said. "As far as it sinking in, it makes you feel totally different, in a positive way. And the time I spent up in Cooperstown for the orientation [in March], it just didn't seem real. I look forward to this coming weekend, because I have no clue how I'm going to feel and no clue about how I'm going to start my comments. But I have a feeling by the time Sunday rolls around, I'll have a pretty good idea."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.