Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On night of George Steinbrenner Monument Park tribute, ex-Yankee manager Joe Torre steals day

By Mike Lupica
The Daily News
Tuesday, September 21st 2010, 4:00 AM

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Former manager of the New York Yankees Joe Torre (3rd L) walks past the monument of late owner George Steinbrenner with his wife Ali prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 20, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.(Getty Images)

It was not Joe Torre's night, it was George Steinbrenner's at the new Yankee Stadium, this night when they unveiled the monument of Steinbrenner in Monument Park. But Torre was back in the line Monday night at the Stadium, right around 7:15, the line of old Yankees. Torre held the hand of his wife, Ali, as he walked toward the outfield, was cheered when they showed him on the big screen in the outfield above Monument Park, blew a kiss to the crowd then. And in that moment, Torre was officially back. He was a Yankee again. He was in that long line.

The current Yankees walked ahead of him toward the outfield. The Steinbrenner family was taken out to Monument Park in golf carts. Yogi was there with George Steinbrenner's widow, Joan. Bud Selig was there, with his wife, Sue.

Reggie Jackson was in the line Monday night night. So was Don Mattingly, Donnie Baseball himself, cheered as loudly as Torre was at the new Stadium. Big Boomer Wells was there, and later the big screen would show Wells reaching out to touch the monument to Steinbrenner as he walked past it, walked past the great Mo Rivera at the same time.

A long line of New York Yankees, who came to matter again after Steinbrenner bought them from CBS 37 years ago. The new monument to Steinbrenner, in the new Stadium, was huge, of course. So is the place. The Yankees of Boss Steinbrenner always had to be bigger and better than everybody else. And, oh man, sometimes they were.

There was this worry that somehow Torre, and Mattingly, who will replace him as manager of the Dodgers next season, would somehow upstage this occasion because of their presence, because they had accepted the invitation to return to the Yankees on this night. But it wasn't like that. The only ones introduced before the unveiling were the members of the Steinbrenner family and Selig and his wife.

So it was the old man's night all the way. But you better believe that Joe Torre got back in the line Monday night, walked into the new Stadium for the first time. The next time he takes a walk like this out to Monument Park, they will be putting up his plaque out there. And retiring his No. 6.

Torre was the biggest and best manager Steinbrenner ever had. He gave Steinbrenner his best seasons, even better than those first two World Series in 1977 and '78. So Torre was there Monday night because he belonged there, because you can't properly honor George Steinbrenner without Torre being in the house, even if all the winning they did together happened on the other side of 161st St.

Torre didn't have to be the head of the line. Just be back in it.

"I didn't work on that field," he said in the afternoon, talking about the field at the new place. "But it's Yankee Stadium."

So it was about the old and the new at the Stadium on this night. It was about Torre and Mattingly, it was about the members of the current Yankees who made the walk ahead of them to Monument Park. It was the cheers for all of them. For that line that stretches back across the street and across nearly 100 years of baseball.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: New York Yankees Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson walk past the monument to the late owner George Steinbrenner prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 20, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the interview room before the game, across from a Yankee clubhouse that was never their clubhouse, Torre and Mattingly sat side by side. One of the most popular Yankee ballplayers of all time. Sitting there next to the most popular Yankee manager of all time.

Later Torre would say that he doesn't see himself managing again, not with the Mets or anybody else. Torre didn't close any doors, of course, on the Mets or anybody else, because why should he? In the interview room he certainly didn't rule out coming back in a front office job. But in the afternoon, he was talking about the managing job he used to have across the street.

Torre said that he'd gotten a call as they were closing down the old Stadium, asking if there was anything from the place he wanted.

"The memories were enough," he said.

He left the Yankees after the '07 season and went to the Dodgers and wrote a great book with Tom Verducci that hardly anybody around the Yankees, starting with the general manager, thought was all that great. There were a lot of questions about that Monday, for both Torre and Brian Cashman.

But the night wasn't about their differences, or old grudges. Just about the old man. But because this was the first time back for Torre, you better believe it was about him, too. Because of all the winning he and Steinbrenner did together. "George was responsible for the best years of my life professionally," Torre said, and meant it.

Later, getting into an elevator with Yankees PR director Jason Zillo, Torre was asked if he'd had the chance to look across the street, where all the memories for him are, where there is just an empty lot now, surrounded by construction walls.

"Did you see it?" he was asked.

The spot across 161st where there used to be a ballpark. Most famous in this world. Joe Torre smiled.

"I did," Torre said, and then he smiled. "You know what I really saw? That time marches on."

Torre got in step with all of it Monday night, the sense of time and place and old and new at this Yankee Stadium, same as there was at the old one. Jeter always said they'd take the ghosts across the street. Now George Steinbrenner was one of them.

The walk Jeter and Torre and Mattingly and all of them took on this night was about him. It was something, seeing that line of Yankees. Seeing Torre officially back in it. Joe finally made it across the street.

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