On the day when they retired Joe Torre’s number at Yankee Stadium, on the other side of 161st St. from where he managed the last Yankees dynasty, he talked about how short the distance was from the place where the old Stadium once stood, but how long the journey was from the field to Monument Park.
The man who wore No. 6, that number now retired along with Ruth’s 3 and Gehrig’s 4 and DiMaggio’s 5 and Mantle’s 7 and Yogi’s 8, then spoke of being carried out to Monument Park, where the most famous Yankees are honored and remembered “on the shoulders of some very special players.”
Some of them were on the field with Torre for one more summer afternoon. David Cone, who saved the Yankees by winning the third game of the 1996 World Series, the first that Torre’s Yankees would win, was there. So was Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, who pitched the game of his life in Game 5 that year, a 1-0 victory over the Braves in Atlanta.
Paul O’Neill was also on the field with Torre on Saturday, he sure was. It was O’Neill, running on a bum leg, running really on heart that night, who ran down Luis Polonia’s ball for the last out of Game 5. That one put the Yankees ahead three games to two. They came home and won the Series on a Saturday night at the old Stadium. And Torre, the Brooklyn kid who had never made the Series as a player and never came close in the other places he had managed, had finally won it all.
When it was over that night, some of the ’96 Yankees really did carry him on their shoulders near home plate. The Yankees were finally back on top, and Torre was on top at last. Now it becomes official that he is a Yankee immortal. There were other Yankees managers who won more World Series, but there has never been a better or more important Yankee manager than the man Derek Jeter has always called “Mr. Torre.”
“It feels like the World Series all over again,” Torre said in a text to Yankee broadcaster Suzyn Waldman before making one more trip up to the Bronx on Saturday, to be honored by the Yankee fans the way the team honored him.
The old Stadium is gone, of course, even though the best memories are on that side of 161st, for Joe and Jeter and just about everybody else. And it is not just the memories, it is the sound you remember from the place, and what it felt like when one of Torre’s Yankees would get a big hit or get a big out and you were sure that the sound of baseball was drowning out the sound of the 4 train.
There are still ballfields over there, in the new imagining of Macombs Dam Park. There is the frieze from the old Stadium. One home plate that sits right where the real one used to sit. And there are those memories, for the players and fans and the city and a child of the city, like Torre. There are all the moments we remember with such clarity, when Torre’s Yankees would do something, in the words of an old October hero named Scott Brosius, that would make the ground shake.
There were games being played on all the fields Saturday as the cheers for Torre came across the street. There were official games and pickup games and in one baseball corner of the Bronx, where big things happened once for the Yankees, a team in black uniforms from the Best Value Home Center was playing the International Baseball Reds, in their red uniforms.
Somehow, it seemed right, that there was the sound of baseball over here, too, on Joe Torre’s side of 161st, on the day when the Brooklyn kid who was first here watching the Brooklyn Dodgers play the Yankees in the World Series made a little more history for himself — in the summer when he was just inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame — uptown.
“When you get to this ballpark,” Torre said, speaking directly to Yankee fans once more, finding the right words as always, “you can feel the heartbeat.”
They cheered him again then, the way they used to, the sound of the heartbeat of the place. And then this day was the night of that first World Series all over, and the Yankees were on their way to being as big as they have ever been, and he was on his way to Monument Park. We just didn’t know it at the time.
We knew we were in the presence of old Yankee values even then, and grace. We just didn’t know we were in the presence of this kind of greatness from No. 6.