Joe Torre Back in Pinstripes: My Favorite Sports Memory of 2011

In a year when sports fans witnessed some incredible moments both on and off the field, for me the one memory that stands out the most occurred when Joe Torre returned to Yankee Stadium on June 26, 2011 for Old Timers' Day.

Since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, few moments have produced the emotion that was present in the ballpark that afternoon. Donning his old No. 6, Torre jogged from the New York Yankees dugout to the first base line during the pregame festivities, shaking hands with Yankees of the past, then receiving a two-minute standing ovation from fans. It was, by far, the longest and loudest ovation that anyone received, proof that despite his messy departure following the 2007 season—when Torre rejected the Yankees' one-year, incentive-laden offer to return to the dugout—all was forgiven.

"Just putting it on, it felt good," Torre said about wearing the Yankee pinstripes. "Taking it off was quite emotional back in '07, knowing at the time that I wasn't going to do this anymore. I don't like to dwell on stuff, but I certainly did feel differently when I put it on today. It's something I haven't done in a long time, and it's obviously the uniform that meant the most to my career."

In 2011, Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit and Mariano Rivera became the all-time saves leader. So why was Torre's return my favorite memory? To help answer that, it's important to take a look back at what Torre accomplished as manager of the Yankees.

Over his 12 seasons in New York, the Yankees made the playoffs every year, winning six pennants and four World Series titles. He had a 1173-767 record, winning the American League Manager of the Year award in 1996 and 1998. The Yankees won over 100 games four times with Torre at the helm, and never finished with less than 87 wins (in 2000 when they won their fourth World Series in five years). It is true that in Torre's final seven seasons the Yankees failed to win the World Series, but only in the Bronx is anything short of winning the World Series deemed a failure.

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Torre began his Yankee tenure in 1996 when George Steinbrenner had spent more than two decades nurturing a reputation as a boss who hired and fired at will. Torre brought stability and credibility to the organization, quickly gaining the respect of veterans like Paul O'Neill and rookies like Derek Jeter, and ending the Yankees' 17-year title drought by winning the World Series in his first season. His 1998 team was one of the best in franchise history, finishing the regular season with 114 wins and another World Series win. There was another championship parade in 1999, then one more with a Subway Series win over the Mets in 2000. It didn't end well, but the Yankees returned to the top of the baseball world with Torre as their manager.

As great as he was in the dugout, Torre's real strength was in the clubhouse. In my lifetime, I've never felt more proud to have an individual represent my organization. A class act through and through, Torre had the respect of his players, team officials, the media, and fans - not just Yankee fans, but baseball fans.

Torre returned to the Stadium in September of 2010 when the team paid tribute to Steinbrenner, and as Major League Baseball's Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, he had been back a few other times. But nothing came close to the ovation he received on Old Timers' Day. A standing ovation at Yankee Stadium is one of the most special things in sports. Fitting for a guy who had a very special run in the Bronx.

"I've been looking forward to this," Torre said about his return on Old Timers' Day.

Me too, Joe.

Sources:

Torre Quotes - AP via CBSNewYork.com

Torre Stats - BaseballReference.com

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Updated Wednesday, Dec 21, 2011