Joe Torre, who thought his managerial number was up when he was fired from his third job in the big leagues, watched his No. 6 being unveiled in Monument Park Saturday as the Yankees retired the number of the manager who led them to four World Series titles during his 12-year tenure from 1996-2007.
"When you know the neighborhood you're in out there, it's pretty cool," Torre said shortly after addressing the sellout crowd of 47,594 on Joe Torre Day. "It's unbelievable, this is the Yankees."
Torre's managerial record with the Yankees was 1,173-767. His victory total is second to Joe McCarthy (1,460).
Torre, who received a diamond ring with his number and a replica of the plaque in Monument Park, was embraced by Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who escorted Jean Zimmer, the widow of Don Zimmer, Torre's longtime bench coach.
Former Yankees, ranging from Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry to Torre-managed players Paul O'Neill, David Cone, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams attended the ceremony. Jeter did not speak before or after the ceremony. Torre also threw out the first ball before the Yankees beat the White Sox, 5-3.
Torre's number is now nestled between Joe DiMaggio's No. 5 and Mickey Mantle's No. 7. Torre was beginning his first full season with the Milwaukee Braves in 1961 when he first encountered Mantle in Florida.
"I remember the first time Mickey Mantle stepped in the batter's box," he said. "I was a 20-year old kid catching in spring training. I looked up and he seemed like about 10 foot tall. Goosebumps the size of mountains. This is Mickey Mantle, wow, that's pretty cool.' "
Torre wanted a single-digit number when he became the Yankees manager. Only 2 and 6 remained. Jeter wore 2 but, as Torre, said, the shortstop was not yet established and Torre could have selected that number. Torre asked his wife, Ali, for help. "She said 'It's like my grandmother said. Turn the chair around in the card game. So we tuned 9 [Torre's longtime number] around and made it a 6. That's how scientifically we did that choice.'"
Torre, 74, had a piece of paper in his pocket with the word "George'" scribbled on it to make sure he wouldn't forget to thank late owner George Steinbrenner, who was omitted from Torre's acceptance speech at last month's induction into the Hall of Fame.
"I'm not sure I was George's first choice and I could understand it,"' he said. "I had no credentials to prove that I should be his manager. I knew George's reputation and I certainly knew it going in . . . This was going to be an opportunity for however long it was going to be. I was going to manage for an owner who just had a commitment to this city about winning. And I knew I was going to find out if I could do that job."
Torre noted that his brother Frank said "I was crazy because you realize how many managers George has fired." Frank Torre, 82, whose illness prevented him from traveling from Florida, recently said his brother was dillusioned after being let go by the Cardinals in 1995.
"I think it sank in his biggest dream was not going to come true, that he wasn't going to get in a World Series,'' he said. "When the Yankee thing first came along he said, 'I realize I'm not going to be there very long, history is he doesn't keep managers around very long.' He became the difference between Steinbrenner having a mediocre career as owner and having a sensational one. So it was the perfect marriage.'"
Joe Torre learned how to work with the talent Steinbrenner provided. "When I first came on board they told me Paul O'Neill was selfish," Torre said. "I said let me take a look at this. I realized somebody thought he was selfish because he wanted to get a hit every time up. That's OK with me. It was a unique group . . . I had a unique group that left their egos at the door. They had this inner conceit where they felt it but they didn't have to show everybody that's who they were."
Torre always was known as a players' manager. He said he became even more aware of the needs of his team after he battled prostate cancer in 1999. "You realize," he said, "there's more to this game than this game."