While working at the "World's Most Famous Arena", Madison Square Garden (MSG) in the mid 1990's, I became fond of the New York Yankees baseball team. I attended many regular season and World Series games from 1996-2000.
The final game in the 1996 World Series victory was truly memorable although one of the best sports events I have ever witnessed was game 1 of the 1998 World Series. I invited three friends and the energy of the crowd was amazing. When Chuck Knoblauch hit the 3 run homer (directly at us in the 7th inning) to tie the game, I scrambled to catch the ball and nearly broke my thumb in the process! After Tino Martinez hit his grand slam to make it 9-5, beer was flying everywhere and the crowd was jumping around like they just won the lottery! The happiness was infectious and the screams were intense throughout the stadium. We could barely talk after it was over.
The New York City (NYC) sports culture was fantastic during the 90's and it was a luxury to experience moments like the aforementioned. Watching Michael Jordan perform against the New York Knicks or Wayne Gretzky play for the New York Rangers were other GREAT moments but the magic of the Yankees and the thrill of watching them play in the old Yankee Stadium ranks as one of the most exciting.
Joe Torre, the manager of the team from 1996-2007 was a big reason why the team was successful for more than a decade. He had a unique blend of relating to the players and treating them with respect along with first rate coaching skills. That combination was the perfect fit for a talented and mature group of players in 1996. When I met him, he talked with me as if we were old friends: very sincere and caring. A gentleman in the highest sense of the word.
It was shameful for management to give him a disrespectful offer (lower salary) to coach in 2008. They knew he would refuse it so whatever game they were playing was puzzling to me. I heard Joe indicate on a NYC sports radio show that he would have preferred if management had fired him. I understand that the goal for the Yankees is to win the World Series every year (something Joe hadn't done since 2000) but what Joe accomplished in 12 years deserved more respect.
Some highlights from his tenure:
--12 straight playoff appearances
--4 World Series titles along with winning 14 straight playoff World Series games
--The positive vibe and joy he gave those who lived in NYC during those years
In addition to those accolades, Joe is a class act; something often missing in professional sports. That sentiment was echoed consistently whether it came from fans, journalists or opposing teams.
The loss in the 1981 World Series was the Yankees last appearance on that stage until 1996, the year Joe was hired. Like Reggie Jackson, " the straw that stirs the drink" , Joe was NYC's straw for 12 wonderful years. I don't know if the current manager, Joe Girardi can fill those big shoes but I do wish him well.
Thanks for the memories Joe Torre! They will last a lifetime.
Happy Gswede Sunday!