Friday, October 19, 2007

Goodbye, Uncle Joe

I have never met Joe Torre. He never signed an autograph for me, or even looked my way when my buddies and I would scream him name when we went to games.

Still, as a die hard Yankee fan since I was eight years old (1996, for those keeping track) I feel like I've lost more than a manager or a friend - Joe was like family.

While it sounds a little childish, my brother, Matt, and I used to call him "Uncle Joe" - an always steady and reassuring voice in the chaotic, crazy world of the New York Yankees. The players respected him so much that every Yankee used to refer to him as "Mr. Torre" in public. Players like Derek Jeter and Paul O'Neill always did call him a "father figure". I now realize how right they were.

Needless to say, I was very upset upon hearing the news - and even more effected by Joe Torre's somber press conference from Rye, N.Y. in which he gave his explanation of the events that transpired the day before.

It was an unofficial end of an era. As I started to think of it, the only thing that will probably affect me more emotionally as a Yankee fan in years to come is Derek Jeter's retirement. That's how much Joe Torre meant to the Yankees, the city of New York, and to the fans.

Count myself as one of those who admired him as a manager and as a gentleman.

Torre was a voice of reason, a presence of calm, and a beacon of class in a city that demands excellence and has exceedingly high expectations. Any normal human being would have last maybe a year or two in this job; Torre excelled for 12 years in the only baseball dynasty since the advent of free agency.

He meant so much to the city of New York. He grew up in Marine Park, Brooklyn - only 15 minutes from where my parents grew up. To say that the city embraced him as family upon his arrival in an understatement. He was one of the first to pay a visit to Ground Zero after the attacks.

Torre's popularity transcended Gotham. A Newsweek poll in 2000 said, behind Michael Jordan, he was the most recognizable sports figure in America.

He also, somehow, made the Yankees likable. While some of that is due to a change in philosophy and new, hard nosed players, Torre's professionalism and class made them approachable and, for Yankee haters, respected villains. My Dad, a lifelong Mets fan, commented in 2003 during the ALCS against Boston (another signature Torre moment) that he never once in his lifetime thought he'd ever root for the Yankees. He did. His two reasons: Derek Jeter and Joe Torre.

Personally, I'd believe that Torre did the right thing by turning down the offer, one that was certainly designed to be rejected. Torre deserved more respect than to have an incentive-based deal. The fact that Randy Levine, the Yankees' president who has never shown signs of an effective leader, said Torre needed to be more motivated is an absolute joke. An interview with any Yankees player after the ALDS will tell you that, if not for Joe Torre, the season would have ended in July, not October.

Torre's replacement is another issue, and the Yankees have more problems beyond the man who will lead the troops. Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, long-time Torre allies, may need to be swayed a little more in order to stay in the Bronx now that their man is gone. Trades will be made. Players will be moved. This roster may look very, very different. And that starts at the top.

As it rains here in Connecticut, I can't help but wonder whether I will remember this as the day that the Yankee Golden Age of my lifetime crumbled. It started in 2001 with Luis Gonzalez single, it continued in 2004 when Boston made history.

Now, in a age of turmoil in the post-George Steinbrenner era, the Yankees are not just leaderless, they are faceless.

Still, I'll always be thankful for Joe and the moments his Yankees gave me. From the comeback against Atlanta in 1996, to the greatest team of all time in '98, to the emotional roller coaster of 2001 - Torre was there and a reason behind all of it.

And for that, I'm thankful to have been a part of it.

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