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MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Torre not yet done writing story of survival

Battle with cancer changed Hall of Famer's perspective on life and game

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NEW YORK -- Of all the hurdles Joe Torre had to overcome, no small part of it was his battle with what he calls "an aggressive form" of prostate cancer. Torre was diagnosed with the disease in 1999, during the zenith of his managerial tenure with the Yankees.

"It gave me a new viewpoint on life," Torre said on Saturday after his No. 6 was retired at Yankee Stadium. "Initially when I was diagnosed, I didn't know anything about it. I mean, you knew about cancer. You thought it was a death sentence. And then you get educated about it and you realize that even though the cancer I had, and it was an aggressive form, was not necessarily a death sentence.

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"You educate yourself. You try to be proactive. You change your diet. You change your exercise program. And then you become a little more sensitive [to other people] than you already think you are. You realize there's more to this game than this game. I characterize it as a game of life for a reason because things that happen in life happen in this game. You can't take time out. You've got to continue living."

It has been more than 15 years since Torre, now 74, learned he had the type of cancer that, according to the American Cancer Society, still kills about 50,000 men in the U.S. each year. Since then, he has been a shining light for cancer patients of all stripes everywhere. It's a credit to his own dogged perseverance that he was on the field Saturday in a ballpark where he never managed a game surrounded by a phalanx of his former players and coaches, fellow managers Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland, and family, including his wife Ali, who lived through the entire ordeal with him. The only one of real significance missing was Mariano Rivera, who the Yankees said was out of the country.

The Yankees gave him replicas of the plaque and number that now have a permanent home in Monument Park and a ring to commemorate the four World Series, six American League pennants and 1,173 regular-season games his teams won in Torre's 12 years managing the Yankees from 1996-2007. In all 12 of those seasons the Yankees made the playoffs.

"It's a short distance from the old stadium to here," Torre told the sellout crowd of 47,594, referring to his old office that once stood across 161st Street. "But it's a long way from the field to Monument Park."

When Torre joined the Yankees, he had no rings and no trips to the World Series in his career as a player and manager, which had previously included unsuccessful stops with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. Now, he has eight of them, including the four representing each World Series win, two for the pennant winners, and the one he was given upon his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last month along with La Russa, Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

Remaining healthy is a big reason why he's around to enjoy any of it.

"I still get checked up many times a year," Torre said. "We want to stay around long enough because, you know, with research there are more and more things that can keep you going. That's what I look at."

Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer only months after the 1998 Yankees compiled a record 125 wins between the regular season and postseason, finishing it all off with a sweep of the Padres in the World Series. Torre's blood work came up positive during a routine offseason physical exam and when those results were confirmed during Spring Training, Torre asked current Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Paul O'Neill to break the news to some of the players.

Girardi recalled the story on Friday and Torre reiterated, saying that the Yanks had a split-squad game that day and had two busses going in different directions. Torre told the veteran players on one of the busses to say he'd be OK, would be gone for awhile, but would return.

"Paul and I looked at each other and we said, 'How are we supposed to do that?'" Girardi said. "But Joe just said, 'Everything is going to be fine. I'll be back.' That was the ability that he had."

Torre did return that season, if a bit chastened. The Yankees would go on to sweep the Braves in the 1999 World Series on their way to winning three in row from 1998-2000 with a 12-1 record.

"I'll tell you, when I did come back originally from my rehab, I remember it was in Toronto and I'm still telling myself it was only a game, this is not that important," Torre said. "And then there was a bases-loaded situation and Bernie Williams was the hitter and we were behind in the game. You're making a deal with the devil. At this point in time, you'll sell your soul for a base hit. He hit a grand slam and I was off to the races again because now it was baseball again for me. But it does change your life."

That offseason, Torre underwent extensive radiation therapy as a prophylactic method to eradicate any errant cancer cells. He celebrated the end of the therapy in Las Vegas.

"I went from my last radiation in December to watch [Barbara] Streisand bringing in the millennium," Torre said. "If you look at the video that's me in the front row."

By then, Torre had already changed his diet and began sipping green tea on the bench when he talked to the media before every game.

With a positive attitude and the right amount of grace, Torre has thus far survived the greatest battle of his life and has been able to enjoy all the well-deserved accolades.

"It's been quite a summer," his wife, Ali, said.

Quite a summer, indeed.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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