Torre steps into immortality

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The annual pilgrimage to baseball’s mythical birthplace never ceases in its appeal. It provides the chance to reflect on all that is good about the game as the Hall of Fame opens its doors to a new class of immortals.

And what a class in 2014! Former Yankees manager Joe Torre has more than 300 friends and relatives scattered all over this area to witness his induction Sunday alongside fellow managers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa as well as pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the longtime Braves teammates, and first baseman Frank Thomas, one of two players with that name in town.

The other Frank Thomas, who was with the original Mets of 1962, is also here signing autographs on Main Street with Hall of Famers and non-Hall of Famers like Darryl Strawberry and Pete Rose. Also John Rocker, although I must say I have no idea why anyone would want his autograph.

Torre was feted Saturday night by the Yankees and Major League Baseball at a private party in a local brewery. Commissioner Bud Selig and Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner spoke glowingly of Torre’s contributions to the game and the franchise. Joe was gracious in his remarks, a sort of test run for the big speech he will on stage at the Clark Sports Center Sunday.

The city is abuzz with former Yankees here and there, including Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Dave Winfield, Phil Niekro, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson and Goose Gossage. (Yogi Berra, not feeling well after a recent fall, canceled at the last minute. His boyhood friend from St. Louis, Joe Garagiola, also could not travel here to accept his Buck O’Neill Award Saturday at Doubleday Field but sent a taped message.)

Others here to witness Joe’s induction include actor-comedian Billy Crystal, Yanks chief operating officer Lonn Trost, Gene Michael, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Lee Mazzilli and others. Among the Hall of Famers who have longstanding relationships with Torre are Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, plus Tim McCarver, last year’s Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting.

This year’s Frick Award winner, Eric Nadel, the Brooklyn-born Texas Rangers radio voice, gave a lusty speech at Saturday’s ceremony. There was also a wonderful acceptance speech by New Yorker magazine’s ageless (93 actually) Roger Angell, this year’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for baseball writing.

This is perfect company for Torre, whose 12 seasons at the helm of the Yankees continued the franchise’s connection with success. He turned around the attitudes of many a Yankees hater from 1996 through 2007. His ascension into the Hall’s gallery is long overdue.

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