Joe who?

Born in 1940, a Brooklyn native who graduated James Madison High in 1958 or 1959 (they had mid year turnover in those years) and became an immediate success as a mid-season replacement for injured Braves catcher Del Crandall, Joseph Paul Torre began his career as a Milwaukee Brave, and stayed on as an Atlanta Brave.

Trivia: Some sources claim Mickey Mantle was the first ever to homer at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. (I saw that game on TV, and I KNOW it is true ... but I also know it "doesn't count" in the record books because it was a pre-season game. Mantle similarly did the same at the then new Houston Astrodome.) But the first ever homer that counted at that short lived ballpark was "launched" by Joe Torre!

Sadly for Joe, he is also one of three MLBers and the only NLer to ever ground into four double plays in one game!

I would guess Joe liked low uniform numbers because a. it usually signified an established player and b. on any other team but the Yankees, it was certainly more available. So Joe came wearing #15 as a Brave and when he was traded to the Cardinals for the 1969 season, he couldn't get #15. It was already taken by this talkative Tennesseean named Tim McCarver; so Joe grabbed #9, just made available by the retirement of Roger Maris. He kept #9 when he became a New York Mets player and later player/manager, and then just manager.

When the opportunity came to manage the Yankees in 1996, the Press was already on Joe's case: "Clueless Joe" they smirked! (But much like politicians, it isn't just the person, but his cadre of advisors (read: coaches) that allows for a father figure that the Yankees sought, and Joe exemplified, to put together a formidable team. Don Zimmer was his perfect lieutenant in this regard. But low numbers on the Yankees were nearly impossible to find! Rookie SS Derek Jeter had just gotten #2. Joe's original #15 was also Thurman Munson's, so that was also gone, and all the other single digits were retired ... except #6. Joe snatched it up. (Injured Tony Fernandez had that number but was out for the year. I don't know if Joe made a deal with Tony or not - and it certainly became moot when Fernandez was granted free agency after the 96 season ended.)

Sometimes things just work out. HoFers to be Jeter and Rivera immediately helped make the neo-dynasty. Jorge was a season away. Bernie was in stride, as was Paul O'Neill. Constantino had just arrived and Pettitte was a breakthrough, along with mainstays Cone and Key. And as Mariano had the greatest set-up season ever, there was John Wetteland to close and to bolster morale in the bullpen. At third, Wade Boggs had something left in the tank, and the team backed that up with Charlie Hayes. At second, "We play today - we win today" was the rallying cry from Mariano Duncan, who also hit .340.

And so began the Torre years, in which a manager who never saw the post season, even as a player too, would go post season every year until his departure. He won two Mgr of the year awards (96,98) and went on to manage the wallowing Dodgers to two more division wins before taking a break.

The late George Steinbrenner retired a plethora of Yankee uniforms as a testament to the players' contributions, but where managing was concerned, he must have thought that HIS money was the greatest managerial impetus to the team's many pennants during his tenure or else he would have scheduled #6's retirement years ago.

But to be fair, he just might have waited for Joe to retire permanently first. Sad to say, fate stepped in and put George in monument park before #6.

The rest of the family doesn't seem to share the same enthusiasm with the Yankees that George did, and it is perhaps why there has been no whisper of the long overdo retrospect to Joe.

BUT! There is no denying the enthusiasm of the fans who will shout long and loud if there is no ceremony for #2 and for #42 (not just that MLB edict either) #42 absolutely belongs to Mariano for all time on his own merits!

The family, when the time comes, should not wait until the Yankees fall out of contention and use a retirement ceremony as a way to fill seats ... especially at these ridiculous prices.

Make it a "Yankee family" get together with all three recipients. Then we can work on #51, perhaps. (Bernie who?)


MATSUIFAN INC. 2007