COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Before he answered a question at the press conference following the Baseball Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony on Sunday, Joe Torre wanted to address someone he regrettably omitted from his speech.
The former Yankee manager briefly mentioned late owner George Steinbrenner, but forgot to thank him the way he planned.
”I missed mentioning and thanking the most obvious guy in the world when you talk about the Yankees,” Torre said. ”It was so obvious that I was going to do it, I went right past it.”
Torre, who won four world championships at the helm of the Yankees from 1996 to 2007, said he felt ”terrible” that he left Steinbrenner out of his speech. After being fired as manager from the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre’s path to the Hall of Fame began with the Yankees.
Steinbrenner tabbed the then 55-year-old in November 1995, and Torre’s appreciation for the entire Steinbrenner family is ongoing despite his rocky departure from the team after the 2007 season.
Torre, who compiled a 1,173-767 record as Yankee manager, said neither side knew how to say good bye.
Returning to Yankee Stadium for a memorial honoring Steinbrenner in September 2010 helped mend the relationship between Torre and the team. On Sunday, Torre wanted to make sure his appreciation for the Steinbrenner family was clear.
”They made my whole professional life,” Torre said. ”I had a good playing career and all that, but managing the Yankees — what you set out in baseball to do is get to the World Series. To have the opportunity to do that with George so many times was an incredible feeling.”
As the bus he was riding in turned the corner and approached the site of Sunday’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Frank Thomas was shocked at the size of the crowd.
Ozzie Smith, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, offered some advice as they neared the field at the Clark Sports Center.
”He said just take it all in,” Thomas said. ”’You’re going to be tough when you get to the stage, but just remember, these are true fans, the world is watching, do what you’ve got to do.”’
As the Hall of Fame welcomed six new members — the most living inductees on the same day since 1971 — around 48,000 people swarmed the sleepy upstate New York town to watch the festivities feting slugger Frank Thomas, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
”It looked the greatest rock concert you’ve ever been to,” La Russa said. ”Just the appreciation the fans have for our game, I think that’s what I enjoyed the most. Our game is alive and well.”
Cox managed in the big leagues for 29 years. He said Sunday it wouldn’t have mattered if there were 5,000 or 50,000 people at each game. He was too focused on the game to consider how many people were dissecting his decisions.
That tunnel vision wasn’t as narrow Sunday. An initial ”peacefulness” on the stage faded once his right hand started shaking as he tried to turn the pages of his speech.
”It’s pretty difficult to be completely tunneled in on your speech at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,” Cox said.
Meanwhile ,Torre had his own cheering section. His wife, Ali, has 15 siblings. Each of them flew in from Cincinnati and brought their families. Torre said 1989-inductee Johnny Bench told him not to look at his family once he got on stage or he’d start crying. Torre didn’t listen, but said being the last to make his speech gave him time for his tears to dry up.
Regardless, the overall size of the crowd was overwhelming.
”You can’t ignore it, as Bobby said, they’re there,” Torre said. ”And they’ve been there for a few days. We saw all the tents and the chairs. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget.”
A year ago no player was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 2013 class consisted of three men who had been dead for more than 70 years: former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O’Day, and catcher ”Deacon” White.
It was only the second time in 42 years the Baseball Writers’ Association of America failed to elect anyone.
Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens, who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, fell far short of the 75 percent needed for election, and their chances of ever receiving sufficient votes narrowed Saturday when the Hall of Fame’s board cut a player’s eligibility on the ballot from 15 years to 10.
Toward the end of his induction speech on Sunday, former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas mentioned the need to avoid shortcuts to achieve success. But at a press conference after the ceremony, Thomas said induction day wasn’t the appropriate time or place to address PED’s.
”This is a special weekend,” Thomas said. ”I just didn’t think that stuff was necessary. We all know what has happened over the last 15 years in baseball. Today was a bright stage amongst heroes.”
Still, he did send a message to young players.
”To all you kids, just remember one thing from today: There’s no shortcuts to success,” Thomas said. ”Hard work, dedication, commitment. Stay true to who you are.”