Last Stop: New Orleans?

There are a couple of reasons we revisit the Acme today. First, it's probably a very good omen that football fans in New Orleans were watching that Broncos-Chargers game on the tube. The reason they were watching is that their own bedeviled heroes, the Saints (0-5 at the time) had attracted just 34,231 souls for a contest with the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars. If there's no sellout, there's no local TV, as everyone knows. Whatever the reason, the presence of the Broncos in New Orleans, even their electronic presence, had an air of magic about it. And when the firm of Elway, Sharpe & Shanahan pulled off the 28-17 win, the feeling became almost palpable. The huge, squat gold pot that is the Louisiana Superdome is an easy walk from the Acme Oyster House, even in the rain.

"Very nice," the ham-faced man observed when the Broncos took the lead. Eyebrows raised, senses about as keen as they could be under the circumstances, he took on the thoughtful aspect of a man reconsidering long-held opinions. "Hmmmmmmmm. Very nice," he repeated. "Team with a future this year."

Had there been a voodoo queen within three blocks of the place, I would have run out to see her. Have her stick pins into an Indianapolis Colts doll and a Buffalo Bills doll and a Kansas City Chiefs doll. Just to be sure, ask for two handfuls of pins stuck in the Green Bay Packers doll. All to shore up the team with a future this year and a past to live down.

The other reason we've dropped into the Acme? Simple. Someone from Denver had to scout the place before January 26. Before the third time comes up a charm.

Let's try to forget that the insufferable George Steinbrenner still owns the New York Yankees and that he's gone out and bought another winner on the open market. Let's forget that the imperial lords of the Bronx have already won 34 American League pennants and 22 world championships. Let's ignore the fact that the Bombers needed a twelve-year-old boy in the right-field stands and an umpire with his head in the clouds to help win the first game of their playoff series with Baltimore.

Let's forget the old bluster and braggadocio of the Yanks. Because Joe Torre's finally going to the World Series.

Among baseball's thoughtful men and good guys, New York's first-year manager ranks high. Pete Rose and Frank Robinson excepted, he may be the most talented major-league player (league MVP, batting champ and nine-time all-star) ever to become a manager. But this will be Torre's first Series in his 36 years and 4,272 games of major-league baseball.

There's more. Joe's from neighboring Brooklyn. His older brother Frank, another former major-leaguer, lies in a New York hospital awaiting a heart transplant. The Yankees' likely opponents in this year's series, the surprising St. Louis Cardinals, are not only the club for which Joe Torre played in six of his eighteen seasons, they're the club that cut him loose as their skipper only last year.

Further, when Torre arrived in the Bronx, many said he would have off-field troubles with a team that remained loyal to fired Yankees manager Buck Showalter. Some figured Torre and Steinbrenner would be at loggerheads by mid-June, the team in fourth place by July.

Instead, this calm, collected leader transformed the Bronx zoo of old into a selfless, hard-playing bunch. He helped reclaim the tainted careers of ex-New York Mets Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, brought out the best in the brilliant center-fielder Bernie Williams and honed to a fine point the finest relief-pitching duo in baseball.

With help from Steinbrenner's fat wallet, he also added ex-Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder to the Yankees lineup and has given the best kind of encouragement to one of the game's best young shortstops, Derek Jeter.

When the Yankees beat the Orioles 6-4 Sunday afternoon to win their first pennant since 1981, Joe Torre couldn't hold back the tears. Then, every man-jack on the club came to hug him, as if these were not the wrangling, imperious Yankees of Ruth, Mantle and Catfish, but some kind of feel-good therapy group.

Well, to tell the truth, the whole spectacle made this lifelong Yankees-hater feel pretty good. Just this once, pinstripes were suddenly the nicest sight in baseball.

Go, Joe.

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