But moments after it was over, Torre seemed devastated that he formally forgot to thank late Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner and members of the Steinbrenner family, some of whom were in attendance among the crowd of 48,000 on what turned out to be a gorgeous sun-baked afternoon in upstate New York.
"I missed mentioning and thanking the most obvious guy in the world when you're talking about the Yankees," Torre said in opening the post-ceremony media conference. "My plan was to thank him and [mention] the fact that we had a great relationship. It was so obvious that I was going to do it that I just went right past it and the whole Steinbrenner family. It was the proudest time in my career."
Steinbrenner's youngest son, Hal -- the club's current principal owner -- was here along with general manager Brian Cashman and a contingent of Yankees executives and former coaches who worked under Torre.
Currently Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, Torre was inducted with fellow managers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, all elected late last year by the Expansion Era Committee. They were joined by 300-game winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas -- elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in January.
The three skippers inducted Sunday -- Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre -- rank Nos. 3-5 all-time in managerial wins.
|1. Connie Mack
|2. John McGraw
|3. Tony La Russa
|4. Bobby Cox
|5. Joe Torre
|6. Sparky Anderson
|7. Bucky Harris
|8. Joe McCarthy
|9. Walter Alston
|10. Leo Durocher
Torre managed the Yankees from 1996-2007, winning those four World Series, six American League pennants and taking the team to the playoffs 12 years in a row. He also managed the Mets (1977-81), Braves (1982-84) and Cardinals (1990-95), mentioning each organization in his speech. He didn't cite the Dodgers, who he managed from 2008-10 to close his managerial career, but he's been unequivocal about the fact that his Hall of Fame selection was due to his Yankee record and years.
"Might as well cut to the chase -- I'm here because of the New York Yankees," Torre said. "However, in order -- as [Glavine] said -- to be ready, you had to make stops along the way. You had to fail along the way."
Torre went into the Hall with a Yankees logo on his plaque, and later this summer, the Yanks plan to retire his No. 6 in a Monument Park ceremony at the new Yankee Stadium, the ballpark in the Bronx where he never managed.
Torre said he recognized his faux pas and asked Hall vice president of communications and education Brad Horn for a moment to address the issue before opening the media conference to questions.
"I realized it immediately and I felt terrible," Torre said. "You don't gain any acceptance in New York without George's acceptance. I was so concerned about my family that I didn't want to forget anybody's name. I forgot [former Yankees trainer] Gene Monahan, too. But as soon as I turned around [after ending the speech], I realized I forgot George. Even though I mentioned his name a few times, it was not the way I wanted to do it."
The 74-year-old Torre had 300 relatives in attendance, most of them from the side of the family of his wife, Ali, who has 15 siblings. They all traveled to Cooperstown from Cincinnati and stayed at a hotel a few hours away. Torre's brother, Frank, 82, who had a heart transplant in 1996 just a day before the Yanks defeated the Braves in Game 6 to win the World Series, didn't travel from his home in Florida for the ceremony. Two of his daughters, a slew of grandchildren and a pair of sisters were in attendance.
"Great support, even though my sisters thought we should bunt more," Torre quipped in the speech.
Torre also mentioned Don Zimmer, his coach for eight seasons with the Yankees, who passed away at 83 on June 4.
"Aside from costing me a lot of money by introducing me to horse racing, eight years sitting next to me made me the manager I turned into," Torre said. "He had more guts than I did, and sort of got me off the conservative platform. And I know he's watching us from a racetrack in the sky somewhere."
The speeches were supposed to be limited to 10 minutes each. Cox and Maddux basically hit it on the button, while Glavine, Thomas, La Russa and Torre went long. Torre hit it out of the ballpark when his speech went 29 minutes, and he took some good-natured ribbing about it from his fellow Hall of Famers. Of the 66 living Hall members, 50 were in attendance, including the six inductees.
"He truly does love the game, and his finish was the best, because he really did speak from his heart," Torre's wife, Ali, said.
Here's how Torre ended the speech, mentioning the late Tony Gwynn, who died June 16:
"Closing thoughts, if you give me a moment," Torre said. "Today is a celebration of chasing your dreams and putting the team above yourself, as my players did. Tony Gwynn, I was at Tony's memorial, and I watched him up on the screen, and he said something that didn't surprise me coming from him. He said, 'All I ever tried to do was play the game the right way.' No better message for our youngsters than that.
"There is a power to both patience and persistence. Baseball is a game of life. It's not perfect, but it feels like it is. That's the magic of it. We are responsible for giving it the respect that it deserves. Our sport is part of the American soul, and it's ours to borrow just for while, to take care of it for a time, and then pass it on to the next generation. When I say us, I mean as managers and players. If all of us who love baseball are doing our jobs, then those who get the game from us will be as proud to be a part of it as we were.
"This game is a gift, and I'm humbled to accept its greatest honor."