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Real emotion

Torre celebrates new life -- professionally and personally

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Posted: Monday October 04, 1999 10:56 PM

  Joe Torre and Scott Brosius Yankees manager Joe Torre (left)congratulates Scott Brosius after leading the team to its third divison title in four years. AP

The tears in Joe Torre's eyes said it all. No matter how many times the New York Yankees spray each other with champagne and beer to mark another milestone, none of them take winning for granted.

Especially Torre.

The Yankees' manager wiped moisture from his eyes as New York clinched its second straight AL East title Thursday night with a 12-5 victory over the Orioles in Baltimore. He has already accumulated two World Series rings and three division crowns in New York, yet he isn't that far removed from a time when such success was only a dream.

When the Yankees hired him in November 1995, Torre was five months removed from his job as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. He owned a very unspectacular 894-1,003 lifetime record and one first-place finish over 14 seasons.

So even though the Yankees haven't come close to matching last year's 114-48 record, and although the season won't be considered a success unless New York successfully defends its World Series title, Torre took great delight in donning the hat that proclaimed his team 1999 AL East champions.

"You're talking to a 59-year-old guy who was fired at age 55 and had a little daughter born at the end of that year. Now all of a sudden it's the greatest time of my professional life. It continues to amaze me," he said.

During a season in which he missed two months after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, Torre wasn't about to downplay this division crown just because New York didn't once again run away from the persistent Boston Red Sox.

"It's still the same result. I get emotional because I know how much hard work goes into this thing," he said. "It's not easy when you play 162 games."

Shortstop Derek Jeter, who has led the team at the plate and in the field, tipped his champagne-soaked hat to Torre when asked if this division crown was different than the other two.

"We have been through a lot, but Joe was through the most. He is the leader of this team," Jeter said. "I can't imagine playing for a better manager. He is an inspiration. What he went through, I don't think anybody can relate to it."

Paul O'Neill, whose three-run double broke open the clincher, said, "Joe's illness was a shock to everybody. We were stunned. But here we are, back again."

The fact that New York had to work hard to win the division might have made this one more satisfying. By the end of May last year, the Yankees knew that the AL East crown was almost assuredly theirs. This season, the Red Sox just wouldn't go away.

"It wasn't pretty, but it doesn't always have to be like last year when we pretty much won all the games we played," Torre said. "This year, we had to fight through some things, a tough little slump. ... But the guys seemed to pick each other up and I think that's the greatest tribute I can pay them."

The Yankees will open the postseason Tuesday against either Texas or Cleveland, but still had something to play for as they entered a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Friday.

New York started the day trailing Cleveland by one game in the battle for best record in the AL, a distinction that enables the bearer to enjoy homefield advantage through the league championship series.

"This is only the beginning," said Orlando Hernandez, the winning pitcher Thursday night. "We have a long way to go, some important games to win."

That's the way Torre's Yankees operate: Savor every precious victory and celebrate the important ones, but never take your eye off the next objective.

"This feels great," a drenched Tino Martinez said. "We had a great team coming out of spring training, but there's nothing given. We had to play all year to get where we're at. It's tough, but we did it.

"We've accomplished our first goal. Now we've got to do the rest."


 
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