By JOHN KEKIS, AP Sports Writer
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) _ Joe Torre kept his emotions in check. He’ll save any tears for that Sunday in late July.
Torre went on his pre-induction tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday, taking his time when it came to the exhibits that touched his own life in baseball.
He held a notched bat that Babe Ruth used in 1927 during his record-setting year as home run king, and marveled at a display in honor of his first World Series triumph as a manager with the Yankees. He smiled as he pored over Russ Hodges’ scorecard when his beloved New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in their famed 1951 playoff game, and then waxed nostalgic as he contemplated his induction this summer.
“It’s just been an amazing ride for me,” Torre said Tuesday, sitting in the gallery where his plaque will be affixed to a wall not far from Ruth’s honor. “To wind up in Cooperstown is surreal for me. To go into the Hall of Fame is one thing. When you think of all the other Yankees that are in here, it’s pretty special. This is just a shrine. To visit it, much less be inducted, it’s still sort of unbelievable to me.”
Torre and fellow former managers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa were elected unanimously in December by the Hall of Fame’s expansion-era committee. They will be inducted July 27 along with pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas, who were elected in January in their first time on the writers’ ballot.
Maddux and Cox went on their pre-induction tour Monday and said just being in the Plaque Gallery made the honor start to hit home a little bit more.
Torre echoed the sentiment.
“When I actually did get the call, it still stunned me,” Torre said. “Not that it surprised me, but even though you know it’s a special place to be, when the call finally comes to you personally, it’s beyond (comprehension).”
Torre was a star player before he turned to managing and finished his career as the only player to amass more than 2,000 hits (2,342) and win more than 2,000 games as a manager, according to STATS. Despite a playing career that was good enough to keep him on the Hall of Fame’s ballot for all 15 years of eligibility _ he hit .297, slugged 252 homers and drove in 1,185 runs _ the 73-year-old Torre was voted in because of his success in the dugout.
Torre won a division title with Atlanta in 1982 before the Braves were swept by the Cardinals in the NL championship series. Atlanta fired him in 1984 and he then worked as an Angels broadcaster until St. Louis gave him the manager’s job late in the 1990 season. He was dismissed five years later despite winning records in each of his three full seasons and hired by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner before the 1996 campaign.
After never playing in a World Series, Torre won four titles in five years, his coolness amid the Bronx craziness under Steinbrenner helping to restore the luster of baseball’s most successful franchise. In all, Torre made 12 trips to the playoffs in 12 years in New York, winning 10 division titles and six AL pennants.
Growing up in Flatbush, just a 20-minute drive to Ebbets Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers played, Torre was a diehard New York Giants fan because of his family and joked about his time as a manager.
“I hated the Yankees and Dodgers and wound up managing both,” Torre said with a smile, his wife, Ali, at his side.
With seven decades as a fan of the game, Torre commented at almost at every turn on his tour.
He spoke of Satchel Paige when the former Negro Leagues star was hired in 1968 by the Atlanta Braves as a pitcher-coach-trainer so he could meet his pension needs. “He was there every day,” Torre said.
He picked out his brother Frank in a photo of the 1957 World Series champion Milwaukee Braves.
In a corner featuring the Cleveland Indians and Bob Feller, Torre chuckled as if it were yesterday. “He sold me my first insurance policy. Northwestern Mutual,” Torre said of the late right-hander and Hall of Famer. “This is a trip through memory lane.”
Currently Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for baseball operations, Torre said he hoped he could leave a lasting legacy.
“It’s still sort of unbelievable for me,” Torre said. “Major league baseball is about the history of the game. Baseball history is so important. It’s so much more than money. It’s a privilege (to play the game).”