Joe Torre 'comfortable' with Yankees
NEW YORK -- On Sunday afternoon, former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre put on the pinstripes for the first time since Oct. 8, 2007.
And as he sat down in full uniform to take questions from the media before the 65th Old-Timers' Day in the franchise's illustrious history, it was as if Torre had never left.
"Putting it back on felt good," said Torre, who managed the Yankees to four World Series championships (1996, '98, '99, 2000) during his 12 years as their skipper. "Taking it off was quite emotional back in '07 because when I was doing it, I knew I wasn't going to be here anymore. I just don't like to dwell on stuff, but I certainly did feel different when I put it on (Sunday morning), because it was something I hadn't done it in a long time, and it's obviously the uniform that has meant the most to my career."
Torre, who now serves as MLB's vice president of baseball operations, had been asked to come back for Old-Timers' Day ever since he left the Yankees four years ago, but couldn't because he was managing the Los Angeles Dodgers. But now that the opportunity to finally attend arose, Torre wasn't going to miss it.
"I knew this day would come," said Torre, who received a rousing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd after his introduction. "I've been looking forward to this. I think I'm going to enjoy this day."
"It was heartwarming," Torre said of the ovation he received. "These fans are so special, and you can feel their heartbeat."
Several of his former players also received sustained ovations, with Bernie Williams receiving chants of "Bernie! Bernie!" for more than a minute. Williams was cheered when ran out to center field, his position for 16 seasons, and when he jogged into second base with a double.
Although Torre and the Yankees achieved a bevy of success together, their relationship soured and ended tumultuously after New York was eliminated by the Cleveland Indians -- three games to one -- in the 2007 American League Division Series.
Owner George Steinbrenner told Torre that his contract wouldn't be renewed if the Yankees failed to advance in that series, and they didn't.
Steinbrenner eventually reneged on his word and offered Torre a one-year, $5 million contract -- with the opportunity to earn millions more in incentives -- but it was seen as an insult to Torre, and he and the organization parted ways.
That prompted Torre to co-write a book with Tom Verducci in 2009 called "The Yankee Years," in which he criticized general manager Brian Cashman, saying Cashman "betrayed" him during his final contract negotiations with the team.
Torre didn't return to Yankee Stadium until Sept. 20, 2010, following Steinbrenner's death, when the Yankees honored him with a statue in Monument Park.
Torre called his initial return an "ice-breaker" and says the awkwardness and animosity between he and the organization is "gone."
"That's what I sense," Torre said. "I didn't know how much longer (I'd be here), I probably was wanting to do it one year, and it's a tough thing to say goodbye here. But that last year I knew all the questions that started right from spring training that I wasn't gonna be able to do that on a one-year basis anymore, and I think they probably wanted to do something else. But the fact that I was there so long, it became uncomfortable on both sides on how to separate, and it's unfortunate because it wasn't pretty."
Torre has since spoken with the Steinbrenner family and Cashman, and all sides have moved on.
"It's very comfortable for me," Torre said. "I enjoy coming here (for my job) and just feeling free to go in the clubhouse."
Torre said he has no plans to return to managing, and is comfortable with his new job.
"No, I'm not doing that!" Torre said Sunday, as he was being asked whether he had any desire to follow Jack McKeon back to the manager's chair.
Lou Piniella, who joined Torre as a first-timer at Old-Timers' Day, was equally emphatic about being satisfied with his decision to retire from his job as a big league manager. He called it quits as skipper of the Chicago Cubs last summer.
Torre mentioned how strange it was knowing some of his former players are now Old-Timers themselves.
"You realize how long it's been ... when you see Brian Boehringer and Clay Bellinger and Ramiro Mendoza and Charlie Hayes and Cecil Fielder," he said. "When the players you manage are Old-Timers' now, you figure it out. But it was fun reminiscing with everybody."
Torre feels grateful for the opportunity to manage the Yankees, a team he called "the center of the baseball universe."
He recalled how nervous he was when he first spoke with his team during spring training upon being hired by Steinbrenner in 1996.
"Every single coach on my staff had participated in a World Series except me, and I remember having this opportunity and I was very nervous talking to my club for the first time in the spring of '96," Torre said. "And I said at the time, 'I don't want to win just one World Series, I want to win three in a row.' And the reason I said that was the fact that I've seen other teams win championships in other sports and you don't hear from them again.
"I think it's so important when you accomplish something to go out there and repeat it. It just shows a lot of character, and that was important to me to make sure if we did win something, to understand that that's not enough yet. It was very satisfying here for obvious reasons."
Asked about where he believes his legacy lies, Torre said, "That's for someone else to decide."
"It goes very quickly," Torre said of his career in professional baseball. "That's one thing about baseball. I've been in professional baseball since (the) 1960s, and in a lot of ways it feels brand-new because you spend your life doing things you love to do, but as far as professional baseball, this opportunity to be with the Yankees for as long as I was here, and to get the opportunity, was amazing for me. I've been very fortunate. It's been my life and I've had the opportunity to stay in the game and do things that have been significant for me, so it's been great."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.