Joe Torre caused a little bit of a stir earlier this week when ESPN's Buster Olney reported that MLB's new enforcer was looking to limit fraternization between members of opposing teams.
Torre's new initiative brought a smile to my face for a couple of reasons. For one, it takes about five seconds to do a simple AP archive search to find Torre acting chummy with plenty of opponents during his managerial career. Mugging with Willie Randolph before a Subway Series game, laughing it up with Tony La Russa ... it's all out there.
For another, it reminded me of a great story that had Torre cracking down on fraternization during his six-year tenure as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The year was 1992. Sammy Sosa had just come north to the Chicago Cubs from the Chicago White Sox and was still as skinny as MC Hammer (and wore about as many gold chains). Pedro Guerrero, meanwhile, was in the final season of his career and still a few years away from being the oh-so-weird subject of a 911 call by O.J. Simpson.
The month was April, the theater was Busch Stadium and Sosa's Cubs had just defeated Guerrero's Cardinals by a score of 5-4. The two players, both natives of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, had made postgame dinner plans in St. Louis.
But as Jason Turbow of the Baseball Codes details, the young Sosa arrived for their date early and was instructed by his elder countryman to make himself at home in the losing Cardinals clubhouse.
Such an invitation might have earned Guerrero high marks from Miss Manners, but it was a BIG mistake in the world of baseball. Two of Guerrero's St. Louis teammates — Todd Worrell and Rex Hudler — immediately took issue with their inner sanctum being violated by an opponent and the incident escalated into national headline territory with Worrell and Guerrero coming to blows and wrestling their way into a nearby locker.
The story continued with Torre putting an end to any other visits from the enemy and a steaming Hudler (aka "Wonder Dog") hilariously using the press to mark his territory.
"Anyone else comes in here again, they're free game," Hudler said. "Open season, baby."
"If you're the enemy and you come into the enemy foxhole, most of the time you don't get out of it," Hudler said of Sosa. "He's lucky he got out without serious damage."
To think, Mark McGwire might have navigated the summer of '98 himself had Sosa not been able to make a quick exit from wherever he was putting his feet up.
Recounting this story, it's not hard to see where the genesis of Torre's push against "pal"ing it up at the ballpark might have occurred. Still, it's a pretty long leap from a dim Pedro Guerrero inviting an opponent into a clubhouse after a loss (even if that opponent went 0 for 4, as Sosa did) to renewing acquaintances and seeking out some different conversation over the grind of a 162-game season, is it not?