No average day for this Joe

Torre tours Hall of Fame in advance of July induction

March 25, 2014
Hall of Famer Joe Torre takes a moment with some Yankees artifacts during his Hall of Fame Orientation Tour. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF)

With a media throng following his every step, Joe Torre visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time since his recent election. What three camera crews, a half-dozen sportswriters and a couple photographers saw was a man enjoying the experience of being one of the sport’s newest immortals.

“I can’t walk out in the rain now,” Torre joked as technicians hooked him up with tiny microphones at the start of his Tuesday afternoon tour, part of the orientation visit he and his wife Ali experienced in Cooperstown.

Word of his arrival had reached some fans, too. Gracious and smiling, Torre signed every baseball and ticket stub he was presented with before heading up the Museum’s Grand Staircase and onto the tour.

After watching “The Baseball Experience,” the Museum’s 12-minute multimedia presentation in the Grandstand Theater, the longtime player and manager embarked on a trip down memory lane, having spent most of his adult life in the game.

This year’s Induction Ceremony, to be held 1:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 27, will feature Baseball Writers’ Association of America electees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas as well as Expansion Era Committee electees and fellow managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Torre.

As a player, Torre was a nine-time All-Star, the 1971 National League Most Valuable Player, and totaled 2,342 hits in 18 big league seasons; in 29 seasons as a manager, he led the Yankees to six pennants and became one of only five skippers to win at least four World Series titles (1996, 1998-2000). As manager of the Mets (1977-81), Braves (1982-84), Cardinals (1990-95), Yankees (1996-2007) and Dodgers (2008-10), Torre finished with a record of 2,326-1,997, the win total ranking fifth all time.

“Ali says I don’t really like museums because every time she wants to go to a museum I say, ‘That’s all right,’” Torre said during the tour. “But this museum I can go back in time and think about facing [Bob] Gibson, which I didn’t care for.”

As Torre’s tour wound its way through the second-floor Baseball Timeline, the 73-year-old, dressed casually in a magenta sweater and corduroy pants, often commented on an exhibit or artifact that had special meaning to him.

“I hated the Yankees and the Dodgers and I wind up managing both of them,” said the childhood fan of the New York Giants when checking out an exhibit of the great Yankees teams of the 1920s.

The man with more postseason victories (84) than any manager in big league history also talked about his early days managing the Yankees.

“When you walked out on the field you knew who was there before you in the pinstripes,” Torre said. “I remember Yogi [Berra] saying to me when we went into the World Series in 1996, ‘When you get introduced and go out to the first base line it will be something you never forget.’ And he was dead right.

“Trust me, after you’ve been fired three times and then you get hired by the Yankees, that was a good sign,” he added. “That first year (1996), even going into the World Series, I didn’t feel any pressure until Game 6. It was crazy because it was sort of a bonus for me. We were underdogs everywhere we went that year. But after that there was a lot of pressure but still it made it more satisfying.”

Torre also talked about his early playing career with the Milwaukee Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, when he was a hard-hitting catcher turned third baseman.

“I was catching. It was probably spring training 1961 and you’re down in the crouch and there’s Mickey Mantle,” Torre said. “Even though I wasn’t a Yankee fan, you certainly knew what they represented.

“That spring I hit a home run off Whitey Ford and the interesting part about it, the thing that still is a vision for me, is Mantle looking up at the ball going over the right-center field fence at Bradenton (Fla., the then-Spring Training home of the Braves). Now this was ’61. I win the MVP 10 years later and I’m sitting next to Mickey on the dais (at a postseason banquet) and he reminded me of the home run I hit in spring training.”

Torre also shared his thoughts on Hank Aaron, his one-time teammate and future opponent.

“The first time I saw Hank Aaron in person I was a 16-year-old – I went to visit my brother Frank in Milwaukee in ’56 – and I was sitting behind the third-base dugout,” Torre said, referring to Frank Torre, a Braves first baseman. “It was a right-handed pitcher and I saw him hit a ball over the right-field fence. I remember the ball being past him. His wrists were amazing.

“Then when I played third for the Cardinals and he was hitting, he could undress you. It just like he was going to hit it and all of a sudden the ball would just scoot past you.”

With the tour over, and after soaking in the game’s history, Torre remarked, “Baseball has been my life. The only thing I ever wanted to do was play baseball.

“When it’s over, I think guys don't understand the opportunity they have when they play this game. You don't play the game to get to the Hall of Fame, but it's humbling to get here.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum