For months, Joe Torre didn't know if he cared enough to keep managing.
Cancer will do that.
Then, last month in Toronto's SkyDome, with the Yankees' division lead dwindling, he learned something about himself.
"All of a sudden, my stomach started hurting and I realized the passion was there," he said early Tuesday after leading New York past Boston and into the World Series for the third time in his four seasons.
He is only the fifth Yankees' manager to win three pennants, joining Casey Stengel (10), Joe McCarthy (eight), Miller Huggins (six) and Ralph Houk (three).
And now the 59-year-old New Yorker will face a World Series opponent that fired him, the Atlanta Braves.
But for a while, he wasn't sure he belonged.
He was diagnosed with cancer during spring training and left the team March 10. He had surgery eight days later and didn't rejoin the Yankees until May 18.
"When that whole thing started with the prostate cancer in spring training, you really didn't care about baseball," he said under the Fenway Park stands, trying to put his team's season and his life in perspective.
"You go through that and when you're going through your recovery, you're not sure if you're going to care when you get back. Then, once I got back, it was sort of like, let me study myself."
When Torre rejoined the team, he kind of drifted along, as his team did for much of the 1999 season.
"I know a lot of my players had said I was a little bit different because I sort of had this philosophy or perspective that it's only a game of baseball," Torre said.
New York opened a comfortable lead and wasn't really pressed until the Red Sox swept a three-game series at Yankee Stadium from Sept. 10-12. David Wells beat them the next night, and the Yankees were losing 5-1 knowing Boston was ahead and could close to 2@1/2 games before Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill hit grand slams.
"That," Torre said, "probably was an emotional turnaround for me and I realized how important this was for me."
In 1996, his brother, Frank, had a heart transplant. The story of the Torres riveted New York, with Joe finally making the World Series for the first time since joining the major leagues in 1960.
Last year, Torre felt tremendous pressure to win the Series after the team went 114-48 during the regular season, setting an AL record for wins.
But since that night in Toronto, Torre has felt he belonged.
"In the postseason, it's identical to last year, maybe even a little more so," he said. "I'm all the way back as far as the emotion of what I'm doing. But it's been a wild year."
Even George Steinbrenner, who spent the 1970s and '80s changing managers as ofen as some teams changed their starting rotations, praises Torre. Of course, it's easy for The Boss. Torre wins.
"When your manager comes through like that, he inspires them," Steinbrenner said early Tuesday. "He's definitely been an inspiration."
Players agree. Torre has a knack to say exactly the right thing, all the time.
"He knows how to handle every player individually," Derek Jeter said. "But he also knows how to handle people collectively."
Torre knew the year would be difficult before he went to Florida in February, but he was thinking only about the baseball part. New York has spent the better part of the last year being measured against the 1998 Yankees, a contest they can't win.
"I tried to warn the club in spring training that we cannot compete against ourselves because that's a once-in-a-lifetime-type thing," he said.
"We had to earn it this year. Last year, when we won so many games, a lot of ball clubs felt they sort of didn't have a chance against us. This year, I don't want to say they played harder, but I think they had a better shot at us. It was probably more satisfying this year."
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