Yankees legends talk George Steinbrenner, memories and more at lecture
By Tim Healey
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- "Mo & Joe." It sounds like the name of a buddy-cop flick, maybe a staged comedy routine lacking a third stooge. Monday night at Southern Connecticut State University, though, those were the nicknames of the headliners at "An Evening of Conversation With Mo & Joe" -- Mariano Rivera and Joe Torre.
The pair of Yankees legends was in town officially as a part of the school's lecture series and unofficially as full-blown showmen, regaling a group of about 1,500 who trucked through a soggy spring night with tales of the Yankees' dynasty folks in this region still recall regularly, willingly and easily.
The lecture took the form of a Q&A with ESPN anchor Linda Cohn and quickly turned into a reminiscing session where the nostalgia flowed steady. Rivera No. 42 jerseys -- not to mention various versions of World Series championship garb -- littered the crowd.
It didn't take much for the excitable crowd to break into applause. Torre and Rivera bought in, hamming it up with the sort of playful back-and-forth afforded to friends only after knowing each other for the better part of two decades.
"It was great for the manager," Torre said after one round of clapping, triggered by the listing of a number of those Yankees stars of yesteryear, simmered down. "All I had to do was show up."
Here are some other highlights.
On George Steinbrenner
Torre's brother, former Major Leaguer Frank Torre, advised Joe not to take the job because of how many managers Steinbrenner, the former Yankees owner, had dismissed. Torre didn't take that advice, but learned in hindsight that winning it all in 1996 -- his first year on the job -- sure did help his situation.
Torre can say now that it wasn't always so smooth.
"When [Steinbrenner] said, 'You're my guy,' you have to turn around," Torre said, looking back over both of his shoulders to another round of laughs.
Steinbrenner's infamous and insatiable desire to win wasn't just at the Major League level, according to Rivera.
"I was brainwashed in the Minor Leagues," he said. "Our goal always was winning. When you have a boss like George Steinbrenner, even in the Minors, in rookie ball, you better win."
Both men spoke with Rodriguez prior to the season, his first after being suspended for all of 2014.
Torre: "He called me in January. He just basically was trying to find out how to go about [returning to baseball]. I said, 'Just go play baseball. You did something wrong.' He said, 'I screwed up.' He did something wrong, he paid the price. Just go play baseball. There's really nothing you can say that's going to help anybody understand.
"It's still early as far as what he's going to wind up hitting. However, what I've seen so far has been impressive. The ball is jumping off his bat, which is something you didn't see -- of course, he's had the hip surgery.
"He's taken a lot of pressure off himself by starting out the way he has."
Rivera: "I told him basically try to … just enjoy the game, play the game. You can't say anything that will change anything. If you messed up, you messed up.
"The good thing about it is it's behind you. It's the past. You have to move on and enjoy it, play the game. Whatever happens -- people will talk about you, people will throw things at you -- but you can't do anything about it. You can't change things. Just play the game the way you know how to play the game. Play hard and enjoy it."
On a favorite off-field memory
Torre had two, one a tad general and one very specific.
First, basking in the glory of winning ranks up there -- and you never forget your first.
"Celebrating with these guys off the field," Torre said. "When we won that World Series in '96, that time in the clubhouse after the game, when nobody was in a hurry to leave.
"I had no idea what time it was when I left. The only thing I do know is I went home in my uniform. It was drenched in champagne, and I made the mistake of returning it. I should've kept it."
Second, there was an occasion in 1999 -- when Torre missed some time due to prostate cancer, leaving bench coach Don Zimmer as the interim manager -- that he watched a particularly ugly Yankees effort with Steinbrenner.
"George, as he would do many times, said, 'I want everybody in my office.' Not the players, but all the [coaches]," Torre recalled. "George's office had a big, round table as his desk. So everybody showered and came up. George was sitting there. I always put myself next to him because I felt that I could diffuse stuff.
"And George starts the meeting -- he was angry we lost, and it was an ugly game -- and George says, 'If anybody in here thinks they're doing the best they can, you can leave right now.'
"Zimmer got up and left."
Tim Healey is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.