JOE TORRE STORY
...deserves a big cheer
Just once a
becomes a cheerleader
By MAURY ALLEN
This tale goes back
almost 50 years when I was sitting at the end of the bench for
the 1949 James Madison High School baseball team in Brooklyn,
The sports star at the school was a pitcher-first baseman on
the baseball team and star on the basketball team named Frank
I wrote him up a few times for The Highwayman, the school
newspaper so-called because it was near a major Brooklyn street
called Kings Highway.
We graduated that same year from high school. He was soon signed
to a professional baseball contract with the Boston (soon to
be Milwaukee) Braves. I earned a junior varsity JMHS letter because
I never got into a league game and soon turned seriously to writing
at the City College of New York.
I had once heard him mention his kid brother, a chubby youngster
named Joe Torre, a catcher at St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn.
Frank Torre made it to the big leagues in 1956 with the Braves
and often brought the fat kid brother to Ebbets Field for workouts
in the last two Brooklyn years of the Dodgers.
Needlers like Pee Wee Reese of Brooklyn and Warren Spahn of the
Braves made much fun of the kid for his big belly and huge behind.
But he could hit.
Joe Torre was signed by the Braves in 1960 and won a batting
title with a .344 mark in his first season at Eau Claire.
Because I had played with Frank Torre (all right, sat on the
same bench) I had a close interest in the Torre story.
Frank was gone from the big leagues by the time I came around
as a sportswriter but Joe was just moving into stardom. We talked
often about the old Brooklyn days and the fact that he was actually
a New York Giants fan from Brooklyn and I felt proud of the vague
connection when he caught Warren Spahns 300th career win
and went on to an MVP year in 1971 with the Cardinals.
Joe was a third baseman by then and performed one of baseballs
miracles. He lost 40 pounds to play the new position. He has
never put on any weight since.
He was traded to the New York Mets after the 1974 season and
actually was named the teams manager in 1977 while still
Fifteen days later the Mets traded Tom Seaver, the future Hall
of Famer known around Shea Stadium as The Franchise, to Cincinnati
over a contract dispute. Torre stood in a hot, crowded Cincinnati
clubhouse as he faced an angry press. The Seaver trade was as
emotional as the Babe Ruth move to Boston more than 40 years
The Mets couldnt get out of their own way under manager
Torre. He was fired and went on to manage Atlanta, St. Louis
and finally the Yankees in 1996.
When he played he was once described in the press as Chicken
Catcher Torre, and when he became the Yankees manager he
was described as, Clueless Joe. Jim Bouton, in his
iconic book, Ball Four, described an ugly girl as
Joe Torre with tits. He withstood it all.
He had the last laugh as he got into the playoffs a dozen straight
years for the Yankees, won four World Series and established
his credentials as a future Hall of Famer.
Yankee owner George Steinbrenner threatened Torre with dismissal
every year of his Yankee managerial time. Steinbrenners
foppish sons, Hank and Hal, forced him out after the 2007 season
with an embarrassing contract offer laden with incentives he
would be forced to meet. No way, Jose.
In a week he had the Los Angeles Dodgers managerial job at the
age of 68 when most baseball people are counting their pension
money. He took the Dodgers to the Western Division title, beat
the Cubs, looking for their first Series win in 100 years, in
the first round of the playoffs and will fight it out with Philadelphia
for the National League pennant and maybe another chance against
the hated Red Sox in the October classic.
He survived a dozen years as a Steinbrenner foil and he survived
prostate cancer a dozen years ago.
He has overcome much needling for his early girth and his inconspicuous
early career as a manager. Then he started winning with the Yankees
and continued it with his old hometown team, the former Brooklyn
Sportswriters arent supposed to be rooters. No Cheering
in the Press Box, wrote old pal Jerome Holtzman.
Just this one time. I hope you make it, Joe. Theyll be
eating lots of crow in the Bronx.
©2008 by Maury Allen.
The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The Joe
Torre photo is courtesy of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.
This column first posted Oct. 12, 2008.
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