Torre highlights Yankee icons in camp this spring

March 18th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The pose was instantly familiar and iconic, the most beautiful type of time warp. Joe Torre was cross-legged on the Yankees’ bench, engaged in thoughtful conversation behind dark shades, almost like he’d never left. All that was missing was the steaming cup of green tea.

Torre has re-entered the Yankees’ circle in recent years, including for the retirement of his No. 6 uniform, but this past week marked his first visit as a Spring Training guest instructor. The manager who oversaw four World Series championships and six American League pennants from 1996-2007, Torre’s return came at the invitation of current skipper Aaron Boone.

“Initially, I thought Aaron Boone had butt-dialed me, but I picked up the phone and there he was,” Torre told the YES Network. “He just asked if I had any plans to come to Florida, and he’d like me to come here and put the uniform on. I said, ‘Well, I’ll be there, but I’m not sure about the uniform part.’ I got coerced into it by sitting in the coaches’ room. I figured I’d take it from them and take their lead.”

So, just like in the old days, Torre perched behind the batting cage at George M. Steinbrenner Field and observed the swings of players such as Juan Soto, Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Volpe. As they completed their rounds, the modern-day stars shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Torre, a 2014 inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“I just didn’t want to get in the way, because I know how important Spring Training is and I know how much work you have to do,” Torre said. “It’s been comfortable for me, and I’m happy that Boonie is not sorry he called.”

Not in the least. Torre has been a welcome addition to a roster of guest instructors that reads like a who’s who of the club’s last several decades, including Ron Guidry, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, Nick Swisher, Willie Randolph, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez. Torre said that swapping stories with some of those personalities in the coaches’ room has “fit like a glove.”

“I could not be more excited to see No. 6 out there; his presence and what he brings,” Boone said. “Just to have our guys be out there for a little bit, we’re fortunate to have a number of big-time ex-Yankees with us this spring. Joe certainly headlines that list of guys we’ve had in here. So anything anyone can pick up from Joe, I’m just grateful that he’s giving us a few days here.”

Boone, of course, played for Torre in 2003 -- his only season as a Yankee, and the one in which he hit the pennant-winning homer in the American League Championship Series. Months before that memorable October night, Boone recalls Torre helping him assimilate into the clubhouse.

“When I first got there, I got to him in Oakland and he told me not to read what [the media] writes. That was one of the first instructions to me,” Boone said. “My first couple of weeks, I really struggled. I just remember going to him one day, I think it was in Baltimore [and] I said, ‘Man, I’m sorry. I will get it going here.’

“He’s like, ‘First of all, when you play the game, you never have to apologize for the way you play. Just relax and go do your thing.’ And I think I got it going in that series. So he was a real calming presence in that chair at that time, someone I enjoyed playing for and I certainly have the utmost respect for.”

As a special assistant to Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred, Torre will watch the Yankees closely this season. Asked for his take on the club’s chances of adding another championship, Torre believes that “it’s all going to come down to pitching.”

“I had pitching coaches over the years that kept reminding me how important pitching is,” he said. “This is one game, of all the major sports, you can’t freeze the ball. You’ve got to be able to get 27 outs, and pitching is so important.

“I fell into it in 1996 when we had Mariano Rivera, who we didn’t know where he was going to fit in, and then all of a sudden there he was as our setup man in the seventh and eighth innings. We’ll have to wait and see. The Yankees, the expectations are always high. The pressure is always on. It’s not easy to do, but Boonie has been down this road a time or two.”