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SI Flashback: The wait is over (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday October 10, 2007 11:40PM; Updated: Thursday October 11, 2007 12:15AM
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By Tom Verducci

During their visit before the Series, Frank (who played seven years of major league baseball and won a World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957) kept referring to newspaper articles about the family, though Joe kept explaining that he had not seen any of them -- he doesn't read the New York papers or listen to sports radio. When Joe mentioned that to the national media, one reporter asked in disbelief, "What do you do?"

"He said that," Torre recalled, "like there was nothing else in life."

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Baseball does not consume him. Torre watched no more than a few innings of Games 6 and 7 of the National League Championship Series, preferring to take Alice to dinner one night and attend a team party the next. Last November, only weeks after Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired him, Torre bolted from a meeting in Tampa to be with his wife, who was more than eight months pregnant. "O.K., fine. You can go," Steinbrenner said. "But the day after that baby is born, your ass is mine."

Torre was the right man for the right team, keeping the Yankees out of their usual made-for-the-tabloids troubles. "The one thing I wanted to do," he said, "was eliminate the tension that goes along with the Yankees and New York. Pressure is something that is part of the game. Tension doesn't have to be."

After all those years of waiting, this is what befell Torre in his first Series game: a 12-1 defeat. It was the most lopsided Yankees defeat in the franchise's 188-game World Series history and a margin of defeat unsurpassed among all 92 Series openers. Welcome to the Fall Classic, Joe.

"I didn't wait my whole life for this game," Torre said at a postgame news conference. "I waited for the Series."

It was midnight by the time Torre stepped out of Yankee Stadium after that loss and into a miserable drizzle for his ride to New Rochelle. Even on that kind of night, the place still seemed to him to be aglow. Before getting into the Explorer, he thought about the first pitch, about how he had noticed thousands of flashbulbs twinkling at almost the same time and how he'd never seen anything like it. He thought about standing near home plate before the introductions, about the moment the World Series had at long last become real.

"I remember thinking about how there were no other scores on the scoreboard tonight," he said. "Nobody else was playing. You're at the center of the world. It was a feeling I'll never forget. And it's something no one can ever take away from me."

Before Game 2 the next day, Steinbrenner blew into his office and told Torre, "This is a must win!" The manager told the Boss, "Hey, we'll probably lose tonight, too, George. But Atlanta's my town. We'll sweep them there and win it back home." Said Torre later, "He looked at me like I had two heads."

The Yankees did lose that night, 4-0. They had lost the first two games by a combined 15 runs -- no team in Series history had ever been dominated like that in the first two games -- and it had happened in their own park.

And then the Series turned around completely, just as Torre had said it would. Frank watched the last inning of the last game on television at the hospital; Atlanta left the tying and go-ahead runs on base. "They had to test out the new heart," Joe cracked.

About an hour after the last out had been made, Torre stood in his office, clutching the world championship trophy so tightly, so fondly, it looked as if he were going to feed it a bottle. He thought back to when Steinbrenner had hired him and some friends had suggested he didn't need the aggravation. He kept thinking about the World Series. "What's the worst that could have happened? I don't get there?" he said. "That happened before."

Then he thought about a conversation he'd had with broadcaster Hank Stram, the former football coach. It was some time after the Braves had fired Torre and he had then been hired by the California Angels as a broadcaster. "I asked Hank if he ever thought about going back to coaching," Torre said, "and he told me broadcasting is great, but the problem is that when you leave the booth you don't know whether you won or lost." Standing there with that gold, gleaming trophy in his arms, smiling like a child on Christmas morning, dripping with champagne, Torre made for a most definitive tableau. The man had won.

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