COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - After finishing a 28-minute speech at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony Sunday, Joe Torre turned to the assembled baseball legends and said, "I forgot George."
As in Steinbrenner.
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Torre, the four-time World Series champion manager with the Yankees, mentioned but forgot to thank The Boss, who hired him before the 1996 season for the job that made him a Hall of Famer. "I feel terrible," Torre said later.
After the speech -- the final, and longest, of the six by the inductees in the Class of 2014 -- Torre opened a post-ceremony news conference by owning up to the omission before a single question was asked.
"I missed mentioning and thanking the most obvious guy in the world to talk about the Yankees," Torre said. "I mean, I mentioned George, but I didn't give him what my plan was, to just thank him and the fact that we had a great relationship. It was so obvious that I was going to do it that I went right past it -- the whole Steinbrenner family. It's the proudest time in my whole career and I just feel terrible that I omitted that."
Later, talking to a small group of reporters, the 74-year-old Torre was asked how Steinbrenner might have handled the omission if he were still alive. "That would have made me feel better," he said. "At least he would have yelled at me: 'You ungrateful such, such and such.' "
Torre, who is having his number retired by the Yankees on Aug. 23, said he spent Saturday night with The Boss' son, Hal, and thanked the family privately. Torre and the Yankees had a cool relationship for a few years after his 12-year tenure ended in 2007, but a thaw began when he returned to the Bronx for Steinbrenner's memorial service in 2010.
Until the omission came to light, Torre was doing a fine job as the final speaker following Greg Maddux, Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa and Frank Thomas. Each inductee gave a unique speech in front of 50 Hall of Famers, retiring commissioner Bud Selig and a crowd estimated at 48,000, the third largest in induction ceremony history.
Many of the fans were Atlanta Braves rooters who came to honor Cox, Maddux and Glavine. La Russa brought out Cardinals fans and Thomas was cheered by Chicagoans.
Maddux was cerebral and witty. Cox was folksy and charming. Glavine was polished and humble. La Russa -- the only one to work without notes -- was professorial and combative. Thomas was heartfelt and emotional.
One of the running jokes through the speeches was the Hall's request that the inductees limit their remarks to 10 minutes. Maddux hit the 10-minute mark exactly, proving he still knows how to hit the corners. Cox came in at 10 minutes as well. Glavine, Thomas and La Russa all spoke for about 17 minutes.
Then came Torre, much to the delight of the many Yankees fans on hand. After a videotaped introduction narrated by Tim McCarver, Torre opened with a pair of jokes: "Johnny Bench told me I have two minutes" and "Greg Maddux has no pulse . . . Look how excited he is."
It appeared as if Torre was going to bring the house down like his pal Billy Crystal, who was in the crowd. Torre recounted his journey from nine-time All-Star to manager of the Mets, Braves and Cardinals before he got an unexpected chance to manage the Yankees. The rest is baseball history.
"Might as well cut to the chase," Torre said. "I'm here because of the New York Yankees."
Torre thanked the Yankees fans. "I want to tell you, you have turned New York City into a small town for me," he said.
Torre's guests also included former Giants and Jets coach Bill Parcells and former Yankees coaches Willie Randolph, Lee Mazzilli and Jose Cardenal. Former Yankees general manager Bob Watson was on hand, as was current GM Brian Cashman.
Torre introduced them all. He thanked his players from the Yankees dynasty, and said of bench coach Don Zimmer, "Eight years sitting next to me, he made me the manager that I turned into."
But he forgot to thank Steinbrenner. And it really bothered him, so he tried to rectify it as soon as he could.
"As soon as I stopped, I said, 'I forgot George,' " he said. "Not just George. Hal and the family and the whole thing . . . I feel badly about that. But they made my whole professional life."