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Regular JOE
Tom Verducci
October 28, 1996
A behind-the-scenes look at easygoing Yankees manager Joe Torre as he prepared for the games of his dreams
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October 28, 1996

Regular Joe

A behind-the-scenes look at easygoing Yankees manager Joe Torre as he prepared for the games of his dreams

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Placido Domingo wailed on the CD player as the white Ford Explorer clacked over the metal grates of the Macombs Dam Bridge, with the Harlem River gently rolling underneath in the night's darkness. In front of the truck, as vast as the 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 illuminated marquee with the black capital letters. Torre, the manager of the New York Yankees, read it aloud, as if to make sure it was real. " 'World Series. Saturday. Eight p.m.' Nice. That is nice."

A dream, twice given up as lost, had finally come into view.

Torre fell silent again as he continued home to New Rochelle, N.Y., after a visit to see his 64-year-old 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 24 hours away. No man in baseball history had waited this long to participate in the World Series—4,272 games as a player and manager, spanning 37 years.

The torrential rainstorm that postponed Game 1 and made him wait one more day caused him no anxiety. After all, Torre is a man who walked out of one of his first meetings with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to be with his pregnant wife, Alice, and now enjoys bottle-feeding their 10-month-old daughter, Andrea. "Although the first time he did it," Alice says, "I had to tell him to shut off the football game and look in her eyes."

This is a man so at ease that on Saturday night he found it more important to bring home a bottle of ketchup than the voluminous scouting reports on the Atlanta Braves. Alice, 39, had telephoned him at his office to ask him to pick up the condiment. The thick, three-ring binder with the information about the Braves could wait until tomorrow. "If I bring it home, I won't get to it," he said that night about the scouting reports. "At this point it's mostly a matter of execution, anyway. The one thing you might pick up are tendencies. Bobby [Cox] hasn't changed since I managed against him last year. He plays for a lead early in the game and then goes with his best defense late. But he's not going to trick you. It's like football. When you have the talent, you don't have to fool people. You go right at them."

Unlike Cox, who has the best rotation in baseball with righthanders John Smoltz and Greg Maddux and lefthanders Tom Glavine and Denny Neagle, Torre did not have an obvious decision about the order in which he should pitch his starters in the Series. He had to decide whether to use lefthander Kenny Rogers, the jangle of nerves who looked so awful in two postseason starts that Torre thought he might have been injured. Last Thursday, in a Larchmont, N.Y., women's clothing store while Alice shopped for a new outfit, Torre decided Rogers would start Game 4 in Atlanta if the Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals later that night for the National League pennant. He had called his pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre, from the store on a cellular phone to tell him.

"I don't think I would have pitched Rogers against St. Louis," Torre said. "But with the Braves you want lefthanders. Plus, at any time, Rogers may have a real good game in him, like he did in September against Toronto and Baltimore."

Torre also had to determine the order he would pitch his top three starters, lefthanders Andy Pettitte and Jimmy Key and righthander David Cone. Even before Atlanta clinched, he decided Pettitte and Key would pitch the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

Torre's decision to use Pettitte in Game 1, along with the fact that the designated hitter is used in the American League park, prompted Cox to start righthand-hitting rookie Andruw Jones in leftfield. Jones, 19, is the anti-Torre, having reached the World Series after two months in the big leagues and 4,233 fewer games. Last Saturday, when Stottlemyre briefed his staff on how to pitch the Atlanta hitters, this was the report on Jones: dead fastball hitter who likes the ball up. Get him out with breaking balls down.

What happens on Sunday night? Pettitte throws a 3-and-2 high fastball to Jones in his first at bat. Gone. Righthander Brian Boehringer hangs a 3-and-2 slider to Jones his next time up. Gone. Homer Jones double dipped, driving in five runs in the 12-1 Atlanta blowout.

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