By the time he came to the Yankees, Joe Torre had been an MVP player but a loser manager. The back page of the Daily New famously declared “Clueless Joe” on the day Torre was introduced in the Bronx. With a year, Torre had won a World Series. Then he won three more in the next four years. And today he was elected to the Hall of Fame with the fifth-most managerial wins in baseball history.
“I was afforded the opportunity to do something,” Torre said. “When I had the opportunity to do this, I knew I was going to find out if I was worthy of this or if I could do this stuff or not. We’re all judged, and we all judge ourselves – unfortunately – on what the results are. Even going into my first spring training, I remember thinking I had to do something different because what I’d been doing didn’t have the right bottom line attached to it.”
As usual, Torre was full of stories today. He talked about reading a Bill Parcells book the year he was hired, and being motivated by a chapter about believing in yourself. He talked about Darryl Strawberry basically volunteering to come off the bench as an older player, and Derek Jeter taking nothing for granted as a younger player. He talked about crying when he said goodbye to George Steinbrenner in 2007.
“He made my professional career,” Torre said. “I played for 18 years, but the only thing that meant anything to me was the World Series. … (Winning a World Series) is like being an Academy Award winner. It’s something they can’t take away from you. The thing that was sort of surprising to me was that it wasn’t enough (to win the first one). It was a thirst that just continued to be there. It was the greatest time in my professional life, my time with the Yankees.”
Torre was a very good player, but in his own words, his playing career “didn’t reach the standards you need” to be a Hall of Famer. He’s going to Cooperstown because of his work as a manager, and his legacy as a manager absolutely hinges on his time with the Yankees.
“There were some special, special people,” Torre said. “You can’t win the Kentucky Derby unless you’re on a thoroughbred. I had a bunch of them, and the people who came over just fell right into it.”
Torre expressed his disappointment that Steinbrenner was not elected this year. He was also among many to express disappointment that former head of the Players Association Marvin Miller was not elected. Neither will be eligible again until 2016.
“I think they’ll be in at some point,” Torre said. “I hope.”
Obviously Steinbrenner carries some extra baggage that surely impacts the way he’s viewed by members of the Expansion Era committee. Torre, though, had nothing but kind words about The Boss, and left no doubt that he believes Steinbrenner had a Hall of Fame career as the Yankees owner.
“I’ve seen so many other owners try to emulate what he was,” Torre said. “They never live up to it. He was so devoted to his team. He was tough, but he just wanted to win. He felt he owed it to his city, and the fact I was a New Yorker really struck a chord with him. … I don’t think (working for him) was as bad as people were led to believe, at least in my case.”
While there were obvious questions about Steinbrenner, and while there remain apparent reservations about Miller, there was really very little doubt that Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa would be elected today. All three received unanimous approval of the 16-person committee. Twelve votes are necessary for election, and the Hall of Fame announced only that none of the other candidates received more than six votes.
“Sometimes you believe what you hear,” Torre said when asked if he thought he would be elected. “People (would say), ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.” Yeah, well, that’s what they said when I was up 3-0 against the Red Sox (in 2004), ‘Don’t worry about it.’ You hoped, and I saw the committee, and not that the committee is friends of mine, but the committee is baseball people. If it didn’t happen, I respect their decision.”
Major League Baseball and the Players Association have each released statements about today’s election. No surprise, the MLB statement focuses on the people who were elected while the MLBPA statement focuses on a most notable snub.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig
“I am thrilled that these great managers during my tenure as Commissioner will join the legends of our game in the halls of Cooperstown. In careers of consistent excellence and incredible longevity, Bobby, Tony and Joe all left indelible impacts on our national pastime. For decades, these three individuals not only led great ballclubs, but instilled in their teams a brand of class and professionalism that baseball fans admired. It is fitting that Bobby, Tony and Joe will share our game’s highest honor together. Joe and Tony have been outstanding members of our staff at Major League Baseball in recent years. On behalf of all of their colleagues with MLB, it is an honor to congratulate them and their families on this milestone. I look forward to a remarkable day for all of Baseball next July 27th in Cooperstown.”
Former MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr
“In the first half of the 20th Century, no single person was more important to Baseball than was Jackie Robinson. In the second half of the 20th Century, that recognition unquestionably belongs to Marvin Miller. I had the honor and privilege to work with and for Marvin for the last 6 ½ years of his tenure as the MLBPA’s Executive Director, and I know from personal experience the impact he had. I learned from him, and followed his example. The strength and integrity of the MLBPA in the 31 years since Marvin’s retirement can be traced directly to his legacy. All he wanted was to make certain that players were fairly treated. That was his job and his goal, and generations of players — past, present and future – do and will thank him for the fact that they were and are. His positive impact on Baseball simply can’t be overestimated. Marvin should have been elected to the Hall many years ago. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs that he has not been, and continues to reflect poorly on the very organization that has as its purpose recognizing and celebrating Baseball’s best.”
New MLBPA executive director Tony Clark
“Words cannot adequately describe the level of disappointment and disbelief I felt when learning that once again the Hall of Fame has chosen to ignore Marvin Miller and his unparalleled contributions to the growth and prosperity of Major League Baseball. Over the past fifty years, no individual has come close to matching Marvin’s impact on the sport. He proved to all involved in Major League Baseball, and to outside observers, that a healthy collective bargaining environment would benefit all the game’s stakeholders. Today, players, owners, front office personnel, fans and the media owe Marvin a debt of gratitude. Despite the election results, Marvin’s legacy remains intact, and will only grow stronger, while the credibility of the Hall of Fame continues to suffer.”
And here’s a statement from Hal Steinbrenner.
“On behalf of the Steinbrenner family and our entire organization, I’d like to congratulate Joe Torre on his induction today into the Hall of Fame. Joe led our team during one of the most successful runs in our storied history, and he did it with a quiet dignity that was true to the Yankee way. Joe’s place in Yankees history has been secure for quite some time and it is appropriate that he now gets to take his place among the greats in Cooperstown.”
Associated Press photos