In the cool of a breezy October Sunday afternoon, I sat next to my mother in the upper deck of Milwaukee County Stadium--between home plate and third base--as my brother Frank prepared to bat in the fourth game of the 1957 World Series against the New York Yankees. The Yankees were leading the Series two games to one. Frank was a first baseman for the Milwaukee Braves, having made it to the big leagues only the year before. I was a chubby 17-year-old kid, and I'd never seen anything this exciting in all my life.
I had been to World Series games before this trip to Milwaukee, but all of them had been back home in New York. I had seen my beloved New York Giants lose at the Polo Grounds to the Yankees in 1951--the last World Series for Joe DiMaggio and the first for Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. I had been at Yankee Stadium for Game Five of the 1956 World Series, when Don Larsen of the Yankees pitched his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. And I had watched the Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves split the first two games of the 1957 World Series at Yankee Stadium. I had always looked forward to going to the ballpark to watch a World Series game in New York. But, it also felt like business as usual--like another day at the office. Because of the great successes of the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers, the World Series almost never left the boroughs of New York City in the years I was growing up. From the time I was nine years old, in 1949, to that first time the Braves brought the World Series to Milwaukee, all but four of the forty-six World Series games in that span were played in New York. The Phillies managed to host two games in Philadelphia in 1950, and the Indians hosted two games in Cleveland in 1954. Otherwise, the World Series was as New York as an egg cream and Coney Island.
Only when I went to Milwaukee did I really learn just how precious and thrilling the World Series is, especially when my own brother made his first World Series start in Game Four. The town was absolutely nuts about the Braves. For Milwaukee fans, it was a time as special as your first love. The ball club had moved there from Boston only four years earlier. The streets and stores of the downtown area were covered with banners and signs wishing their team good luck. Many of the signs said, "Go Bushville," because some of the Yankees players, apparently not enamored of having to go to a small midwestern city, had referred to Milwaukee as "the bushes." It was a great baseball town that called itself "Baseball's Main Street." I never had liked the Yankees--everybody in my family grew up fans of the Giants and the National League--and it really angered me that they looked down on having to go to the small town to play the World Series.
I had been to County Stadium before, to visit Frank during the 1956 regular season, but, this was very different. I'd never before felt this kind of electricity in the air. Before the game I was in the Braves clubhouse talking with Frank when I happened to look up and see Desi Arnaz, one of the biggest television stars of the day, standing right there next to me. I never had seen County Stadium packed like this before either. Every seat was filled. Almost every one of the men wore a jacket and tie--some of them wore an overcoat and hat as well--and just about all of the women, my mother included, wore a dress and hat. My mother, who was fifty-two years old at the time, had come to Milwaukee on the first plane ride of her life. My sister Rae also sat with us. Another sister, who was born Josephine but took the name Sister Mary Marguerite when she became a nun in the Ursuline order, was in a convent and unable to make the trip.
The stadium, built for the Braves, still sparkled with newness. As Frank came to bat in the fourth inning, I could see the red, white, and blue bunting gently billowing all around the ballpark on the railing to the first row of the stands--and even on the outfield fences. I could see the spruce and fir trees, called Perini's Woods, behind the center field fence and the Veterans Administration Hospital on Mockingbird Hill overlooking right field. The patients watched the games for free from there. And I could see the Yankees' pitcher, a right-hander named Tom Sturdivant, who had won sixteen games that year, wind up and deliver a pitch to my brother. Frank connected so solidly that I could hear the crack of the bat even in the upper deck. The baseball flew high toward right field. Frank wasn't a home run hitter. He had hit only five home runs all year, three of them with help from the cozy dimensions of the Polo Grounds. But the baseball kept carrying and carrying and carrying until it finally disappeared into a jubilant mass of people in the bleachers. My brother had just hit a World Series home run!
Everybody screamed with joy. My mom shot up out of her seat with such force that her hat flew off her head. "That's my son!" she yelled. I felt enormous pride as I watched my brother run around the bases. I got choked up. I couldn't wait to go back to my neighborhood in Brooklyn and talk to all those Dodgers fans about my brother and his World Series home run. Frank was a clutch player. He had proved himself under the ultimate test.
Frank's home run gave Milwaukee a 4-1 lead. The Yankees, though, tied the game with two outs in the ninth inning on a three-run home run by Elston Howard. When the ball cleared the fence, I grew sick to my stomach. I felt even worse in the 10th inning when Hank Bauer hit a triple off Warren Spahn to knock in Tony Kubek to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. The Yankees were three outs away from taking a three-games-to-one lead in the Series. But then Nippy Jones was hit in the foot by a pitch--reaching first base only after he showed umpire Augie Donatelli the shoe polish on the baseball. Johnny Logan doubled home the tying run. And then Eddie Mathews whacked a home run, and the place went crazy. The Braves won, 7-5.
After the game, I went into the Braves clubhouse. It was the happiest time of my life. The clubhouse looked spacious and new, even though by today's standards it is considered lacking for its current tenants, the Brewers. It reminds me of the way I look at the house where I grew up in Brooklyn on Avenue T. I always thought that house was big. I look at it now--Rae still lives there--and I can't believe how small it seems.
The players seemed huge to me, much larger in the clubhouse than on the field. Joe Adcock, the regular first baseman who had been replaced by Frank that day because of a slump, was six-foot, four inches and 210 pounds. Eddie Mathews, the third baseman, was six-foot one, 190 pounds, and strong as a bull. Catcher Del Crandall was six-foot two and 180 pounds. Henry Aaron, the team's star twenty-three-year-old outfielder, seemed to be the only one who was slightly built, but even then I noticed how powerful his hands and wrists looked.
During the Braves' postgame celebration, a fan came to the clubhouse door looking for Frank. He was holding a baseball. The fan explained that this was the baseball he had hit for the home run. Frank traded two tickets to Game Five for the baseball. Later Frank had every one of his teammates sign the ball. When he brought it home to Brooklyn, Rae preserved the cherished family heirloom with a coat of her clear nail polish.
I spent just about all my time in that exuberant clubhouse trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I was a timid kid, and I kept my mouth shut, hanging close to Frank's locker. My eyes were wide open, though. I'll never forget how I felt in that Braves clubhouse after a World Series win. I knew right then it was the only place I ever wanted to be. I was lucky enough to get a peek behind the thick velvet curtain--to go backstage at the World Series--and it inspired me. That's when the World Series became my dream. I fell asleep that night dreaming about it.
I was a decent sandlot player at the time, but I knew I had many, many miles to travel to get from where I was playing to where Frank was playing. Dreaming about getting to the World Series was the same as dreaming about becoming president of the Unites States. I seemed so far away. You had to be blessed enough and lucky enough to get there. But, I was having a hell of a good time living my dream through my brother.
Early the next morning my mother appeared on the Today
show. Frank accompanied her on the trip to the Milwaukee TV studio. My mother was so nervous that when they asked her who her favorite ballplayer was, she didn't say Frank. She said Gil Hodges of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Braves won again that day, 1-0, behind Lew Burdette's pitching. The Series then returned to Yankee Stadium for Game Six. We had better seats there, the box seats behind home plate. Yankee Stadium was a museum to me--a museum of baseball. When I walked in, I thought about all the great teams and athletes who had played there. A couple of years ago I played a round of golf at Augusta. I had the same feeling walking that course: like I was in a golf museum. The surroundings and the knowledge of all the people who had walked there before me were humbling.
In the fifth inning, with the Braves losing 2-0, Frank tagged a pitch from Bob Turley. Hank Bauer, the Yankee right fielder, drifted back to the three-foot outfield wall, near the "344 feet" sign. He put one hand on the wall, stood on one leg, and reached for the ball with his gloves. But the baseball sailed well over him and into the bleachers. Frank had another home run. This time I felt like running all the way home to Avenue T right then and there to tell my friends about it.
The Yankees won that sixth game 3-2, bringing the 1957 World Series to a seventh game. Warren Spahn was supposed to start that final game, but he was sidelined by the flu. So Haney gave the ball to Burdette, asking him to pitch on only two days of rest. I knew Burdette was tough. While shutting out the Yankees in Game Five, he took a wicked line drive off his chest. I was in the clubhouse after that game, and I saw on his chest the imprint of commissioner Ford Frick's autograph, the one that was on the World Series baseballs. Burdette pitched one of the greatest games in World Series history, shutting out the Yankees 5-0 in the deciding game.
My brother was a world champion--and he had the ring to prove it. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. It was made of heavy gold with four rubies on top in the shape of a baseball diamond, with a large diamond stone in the middle. Around the rubies, inscribed in a square, it said "Milwaukee Braves. World Champions." On one side of the ring it said "1957" above the Braves' Indian logo. On the other side it said "Frank Torre. 1B." Frank wore it proudly every day.
Amazingly, Frank and the Braves made it back to the World Series against the Yankees again in 1958. Milwaukee took a three-games-to-one lead in the series. Sure enough, the Yankees won the last two games in Milwaukee to win the world championship.
Frank, a hero in the 1957 World Series, committed two errors at first base in the 6-2 loss in Game Seven. I waited for Frank in the clubhouse after that game. He barely spoke as we drove back to his apartment. He was so angry at himself that he was speeding through Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee at about sixty miles per hour. A policeman stopped the car. When he walked up to the driver's window and saw who it was, the officer said, "Just take it easy, Frank, okay?" and let us go. I thought that was real nice. Frank's day was bad enough already.
Every player, manager, coach, trainer, and executive who gets to the World Series gets a ring. The winners' rings says "World Champions" and the losers' rings say "League Champions." I've seen enough other people wearing them to know that they are more elaborate these days than when Frank played. Many of the recent ones feature words or a phrase that embodies the team's season. The Atlanta Braves' 1995 world championship ring, for instance, is inscribed "Team of the '90s." Frank's 1958 World Series ring looked very much like the 1957 ring--it featured four rubies and a diamond on top--except that the stones were smaller and it said "Milwaukee Braves. National League Champions." Frank decided to turn his 1958 ring into a pendant for our mother. A jeweler removed the sides of the ring and used only the top. My mom, though, never wore jewelry, and it sat in her dresser for a while. After a couple of months I asked her if I could have it. She said sure. I brought it to a jeweler and had it turned back into a ring.
I wore that ring for several years, including during the early part of my playing career in the big leagues. My teammates and other people would see this big World Series ring and ask, "Where'd you get that?" and "What team did you play on to get that?" I got tired of having to explain that I didn't earn it, my brother did. So finally I just put the ring in a small jewelry travel pouch and left it there. Then one day in 1972 I reached into the pouch for a pair of cufflinks and noticed that the ring was gone. I figured out that while I had been at a New York hotel three or four days before that--I was there for the players' ratification vote concluding the 1972 players' strike--someone had stolen the ring. It must have been an inside job, because nothing else in the room was disturbed. The thief must have known we were out of the rooms at 1:00 pm taking the vote.
Ever since I lost the ring, Frank would tell me, "You've got to replace that ring." And then when his son, Frankie, was born in 1976, he would say, "I want you to get a ring and give it to my son." That was his way of telling me that eventually my dream would come true--that I was going to get to the World Series. Though I doubted it many times, my brother was right. At 10:56 on the night of October 26, 1996, I rushed out from the dugout onto the field at Yankee Stadium a World Series champion. Thirty-nine years after I had watched Frank hit those two World Series home runs, the same two clubs, the Braves and Yankees, had staged another grueling, unforgettable Fall Classic. This time, as manager of the Yankees, I was a part of the celebration.
As I took my team on a victory lap around Yankee Stadium, I thought, This is what I waited for my whole life. It felt even better than I ever imagined. It has taken me until I was fifty-six years old. It has taken me four thousand, two hundred seventy-two major league games as a player and manager--no one had ever waited longer to get to the World Series. It had taken getting traded twice and getting fired three times. Both my parents had died years before they could see me celebrate the victory. And in the end it had taken the most emotional twelve months of my life: the birth of my daughter Andrea Rae; the shocking death of my brother Rocco; and a life-saving heart transplant for Frank on the eve of the clinching game of the World Series. I never expected that chasing the dream would bring me to so many magical moments, or that theFrom the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Chasing the Dream by Joe Torre. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.