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SI Flashback: The wait is over

After 37 years, Joe Torre finally made the World Series -- and oh, what a week it was

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

Issue date: November 13, 1996

Joe Torre, George Steinbrenner
Joe Torre, George Steinbrenner
Al Bello/Allsport

Placido Domingo boomed on the CD player as the white Ford Explorer clacked over the metal grates of the Macombs Dam Bridge, the Harlem River rolling gently underneath, in no particular hurry in the night's darkness. In front of the truck, as vast as a Montana sky, stood a luminous Yankee Stadium. The old baseball palace glowed with a grandeur made operatic by the tenor's voice.

"Look at it," Joe Torre said from behind the wheel. He smiled at its beauty, especially the bright marquee with the black capital letters. The manager of the New York Yankees read it aloud, as if to make sure it was real. "'WORLD SERIES. SATURDAY. 8 P.M.' Not LCS. Not playoffs. 'WORLD SERIES.' Nice ... that is nice," he said.

A dream, twice given up as lost, had not simply come into Torre's view. Now it was floodlit.

Torre fell silent again as he continued home to New Rochelle, N.Y., after a visit to see his brother, Frank, at a Manhattan hospital. The scheduled start of the 92nd World Series, the first one in which Joe Torre, 56, would partake, was exactly 24 hours away. No other man in the history of the game had waited this long to participate in the Fall Classic -- 37 years as a player and a manager.

A torrential rainstorm that postponed Game 1 and made him wait one more day caused him no anxiety. After all, Torre is a man who pumps his own gas, talks to his three siblings every day and enjoys bottle-feeding his 10-month-old daughter, Andrea. This is a man so content with himself that after the rainout he found it more important to take home a bottle of ketchup than the Yankees' voluminous scouting report on the Atlanta Braves, his World Series opponent. His wife, Alice, had telephoned him at his office to ask him to pick up the condiment. The thick green three-ring binder with all the information about the Braves could wait until tomorrow.

As it would turn out, after all these years, Torre didn't just get to the Series, he owned it. The 1996 World Series became the Torre story. No player had a better Series than the Yankees' manager. Down two games to none, he benched two former batting champions, Wade Boggs and Paul O'Neill -- and won. In Game 4 he used every one of his players except three starting pitchers -- and won. In the ninth inning of Game 5 he let his pitcher bat and intentionally put the potential winning run on base -- and won. He used five pitchers to get the final 12 outs of Game 6 -- and won.

And, of course, there was this moment of magical synchronicity: The day before the Yankees won the world championship, a doctor named Oz gave a heart to Frank, 64, who had been waiting 11 weeks for a transplant. The organ was donated by a 28-year-old man from the Bronx, the Yankees' home borough. There's no place like home.

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