The baseball world was saddened by the loss of George Steinbrenner yesterday. You can say what you want about Steinbrenner and the Yankees.Some things have been positive and some have been negative, but Steinbrenner was great for baseball and changed the face of American professional sports from an ownership standpoint. When George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in January of 1973 they were boring, uninteresting, and didn’t really have a product on the field that was worth watching. However, that was really the last time that anyone could say anything like that about his ballclub. Steinbrenner forced his will and competitive attitude on this franchise and became the most successful owner in the history of baseball. He will be missed and has set the standard for other owners in sports to live up to.
Joe Torre joined WFAN in New York with Joe and Evan to talk about how he heard about the news of George Steinbrenner passing away, when the last time he talked to him was, and how he felt when he was hired by the Yankees.
On how he found about George Steinbrenner passing away:
“A friend of mine called me earlier this morning and told me. I hadn’t had the TV on as I was relaxing during the All Star break. It’s sad. You can’t say you’re shocked because you know the last couple of years he’s been failing somewhat. I did talk to him ten days ago for his birthday and I was thankful that I was able to do that. I thought his voice sounded strong that day, but it’s sad. He certainly was quite a mountain of a man and he will be missed.”
On whether or not he had any concerns taking the Yankees job:
“No, there was excitement. My brother Frank questioned my sanity about taking the job, there’s no question. But when the only things that’s important when you’re in the game of baseball is to win and go to the World Series, I knew whatever price I had to pay short of losing your dignity, that I was excited about getting this opportunity. I never had any hesitation, never was nervous about it, and I had a little bit of a relationship with George when I managed the Mets. In fact he would get me Super Bowl tickets and stuff. We had some kind of relationship but again I hadn’t worked for him before.”
On whether or not he received a lot of out-of-the-blue phone calls:
“Not with me. I guess I got him in his mellow years. I know what went on with Billy and stuff, but I probably called George more times than he called me. If he wanted to deal with me, he usually went through the General Manager or there was a message that he wanted me to call him or stuff like that. As far as the direct phone calls I had very few of those and certainly wasn’t what everyone expected it to be or maybe what I expected it to be to be honest with you.”
On what story he remembers the most from George Steinbrenner:
“It’s the funny one and the true one. In ‘96 in my first game as manager we’re down one game to none to Atlanta, just got beat up in the first game, we’re playing the second game, (Greg) Maddux is pitching against us and George comes into my office and says this is a must-win. I’m still giddy about being in my first world series and I didn’t feel the pressure that I would feel later on. I said you know what George, we haven’t played in eight days because we clinched early against Baltimore and we had a rainout so it was about eight days before we played that game one, and then game two I said Maddux is pitching so we may lose tonight, but we’ll win three games in Atlanta and win it for you next Saturday. With that I think I walked out of the office knowing I was goofy and all that stuff. I just was kidding with him, but as it turned it we did just that, and that was a fun time for me and I know he got a kick out of it later on.
The other time was in ’98 and we were in Cleveland, down two games to one in the championship series and he called me up to his suite in the hotel in Cleveland and Duque (Orlando Hernandez) was going to pitch. Duque hadn’t pitched in about two weeks because we swept the first round. He was watching I think the Ohio State-Michigan game on TV and we’re talking and he says what do you think? I kidding said I think Ohio State can come back and win this game. He said no, no, no I mean about the team tonight. I said I think Duque will be fine. He’s down there it turns out Duque was in the coffee shop helping the waiters serve tables because he had so much energy. I think we will be fine. Duque seems confident. He always wanted you to tell him everything would be okay and the one time I couldn’t tell him that guys was in 2001. I went in during the game, he was sitting in my office in Arizona and he says how’s everything? Everything going to be alright? I said I’m not sure because we couldn’t swing the bats worth a darn that day. As it turns out they came back in the bottom of the ninth to beat us but he was such a fan but so loyal to the people of New York. It was a great 12 years in my life I know that.”