Facing Torre has Yankees reminiscing

Facing Torre has Yankees reminiscing

LOS ANGELES -- Jorge Posada won't be able to help it. Through his catcher's mask, squatting and staring at his pitcher in front of that beautiful backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, he will sneak a peek into the home dugout.

There, Joe Torre will likely be sitting, his legs crossed and his mind churning about upcoming moves. And to Posada and many of the Yankees, it won't look quite right -- the skipper they followed to four World Series championships, wearing Dodgers Blue from head to toe.

"He was like a father figure to me," Posada said. "A guy that took care of me like his own child. I'm going to thank him forever, and the organization, obviously. But the way he treated me was very special. I will always remember that."

The Yankees play against Torre's Dodgers for the first time this weekend at Chavez Ravine, and it is a series they have curiously anticipated since the schedule began filtering around the clubhouse. No matter how the marriage ended, some still cannot view Torre as anything but a Yankee.

"We've been through too much to not kind of feel like [Torre is] a Yankee," said Andy Pettitte, who will start the series finale on Sunday. "So, for sure, I still feel that way about it. He was not only my manager, but he's just somebody you could talk to. Not about baseball. I just talked to him about life. At a very young age, he was just always there."

Mariano Rivera credits Torre for helping him get through the aftermath of Sandy Alomar's crushing home run in Game 4 of the 1997 American League Division Series. But earlier that season, Rivera remembers Torre guiding him to help fill the gap left by closer John Wetteland, the '96 World Series MVP.


"The bottom line is that you just want to see him and give him a big hug."
-- Mariano Rivera,
on Joe Torre

"I was struggling a little bit in the beginning," Rivera said. "He said, 'Don't worry what you do. As long as I'm here, you will be my closer.' Even though I knew that if I did what I kept doing wrong, I wouldn't be the closer, that was enough for me to feel confidence and keep doing the rest.

"I ended up with [43] saves that year. He was tremendous, that kind of man. Always there for us, no matter what the situation was. Joe is more than a friend. He is a mentor."

And his impact is certainly not forgotten. In the clubhouse, whatever awkwardness existed in the spring of 2008, when Torre's office was plucked clean of those priceless autographed mementos and keepsakes squired during 12 victory-drenched seasons in the Bronx, has faded.

The Yankees are Joe Girardi's team now, christened with the hoisting of the team's 27th World Series championship -- that trophy Torre came up dry chasing since the moment Bernie Williams pulled a Mike Piazza fly ball out of the evening sky one October night in Queens.

Girardi said he almost felt like he received Torre's blessing to take the job and all its challenges. He said that one highlight of the celebration after Game 6 of last year's Fall Classic was hearing from Torre.

"It was nice," Girardi said. "Joe is a guy that I consider as one of my mentors, from playing under him to coaching under him. I think whenever one of your mentors calls you and says, 'Good job,' it has a special meaning."

In inheriting the big mahogany desk at the Yankees' helm, maybe the biggest chip of advice Torre imparted to Girardi was telling him, "Don't try to be something you're not." The words rang familiar and true.

"The interesting thing is, that was the advice I got when I came over here as a player [in 1996], too, replacing Mike Stanley -- you've got to be yourself," Girardi said.

Somewhere along the line, Torre figured out how to send and receive text messages -- he was only just learning on the day he discussed his decision to turn down the Yankees' contract offer in 2007. Given that tech avenue, Derek Jeter and Pettitte are among those who light up his phone a decent amount.

Jeter and Torre converse regularly -- they spoke during the Yankees' series in Arizona this week -- and one wonders if Jeter actually has Torre's number programmed as "Mr. T." Despite Torre's urging, Jeter still refers to Torre the same way he did as a fresh-faced rookie, which he says is out of respect.

"It's someone I learned a lot from," Jeter said. "I learned a lot from the way he handles people, how he deals with people. People always say you treat everyone the same -- you don't treat everyone the same. You treat everyone fairly, and I think he was pretty good at that."

Torre's admiration for Jeter has been well-chronicled, but there was toughness, too. In a 1996 game, Jeter made an ill-advised steal attempt of third base and was thrown out. Plopping next to Torre on the bench, Jeter waited for a tongue-lashing; Torre eventually smiled and shoved him away.

"You'd know when he's not happy," Jeter said. "It's like when you're around your parents. I'm sure you can look at them and know when they're upset, without them saying anything. ... I figured it was coming, so you might as well sit down and take it. He didn't have to say anything."

Now that was a rarity. On one of his favorite topics, Torre used to wax poetic during his long interview sessions in the old Yankee Stadium dugout, a steaming cup of green tea by his side, wondering how opposing managers felt seeing Rivera jog out of the bullpen in save situations.

It must have been a queasy feeling, Torre marveled then. It was also one that he never had to experience -- until, maybe, this weekend.

"I don't know if he will have that [feeling]. He knows me so much," Rivera said. "Maybe he'll have it. But I'm looking forward to the opportunity. The bottom line is that you just want to see him and give him a big hug."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.