Tino homers, Torre returns on Old-Timers' Day
Bernie, Piniella take part in Yankee event for first time
NEW YORK -- They came in all ages and postures, all with the familiar pinstripes intact. The Yankees paid tribute to their rich history Sunday, when they held their 65th annual Old-Timers' Day and introduced a host of former world champions, All-Stars and Hall of Famers to a rabidly appreciative audience.
Many of the greatest and most popular all-time Yankees were on hand for the celebration of the team's enduring legacy, a group that included greats like Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson. Former managers Joe Torre and Lou Piniella made their long-awaited return to Yankee Stadium in uniform, as did former center fielder Bernie Williams for his first Old-Timers' experience.
"It's a really big thing for me. If you'd take out the word 'old,' I think I'd probably be a little more comfortable," said Williams, who received a raucous crowd reaction when he was introduced. "When I was playing, I always looked forward to this day. To me, I guess it reminded me of the fact that we were all part of a family that has been going on for 100 years, and I [realized] that I was part of something bigger than myself."
Indeed, the Yankee pedigree was on full display Sunday, with links to many of the franchise's great moments indelibly at hand. Three men who threw perfect games -- Don Larsen, David Cone and David Wells -- were on the field Sunday, and so were World Series heroes like Tino Martinez and Ron Guidry.
Martinez played the star in the annual Old-Timers' Day game, hitting a two-run home run off David Cone for the only runs in the Bombers' 2-0 victory over the Clippers.
Torre and Piniella were two of the most anticipated guests, though, due to their storied history with the Yankees and their absence from the venue in recent seasons. Both Torre and Piniella ended long managing careers last season, freeing them up to return to the Bronx and don the pinstripes again.
"I came back last September for the tribute to [former principal owner] George [Steinbrenner], which I thought was a good ice-breaker for me," said Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations who led New York to four World Series titles. "Since my new job, I've spent quite a number of days here. It's different. If you're a broadcaster, you come in and you sort of don't want to get in somebody's way. If you're on an opposing team, you're a little sensitive about going to places that are out of bounds. But now that I've got these credentials where I can go anywhere I want, it's comfortable."
Piniella, meanwhile, could reflect on a life spent inside and outside of the Yankee uniform. Piniella was a part of two World Series-winning teams in the Bronx, and he famously became the team's hitting coach the day after he retired as a player. He went on to manage the Reds to the World Series title, and Sunday marked his return to the Yankee family after more than two decades tied to different teams.
The baseball sage said that he cried the day he learned that he was traded to the Yankees, but that it ultimately turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. Piniella also spoke in tribute to the late Steinbrenner, verbalizing what his attachment to the team and the family meant to him.
"He gave us a chance to win every year," Piniella said. "Every year, he put a team on the field that he thought would be competitive. And if we needed players during the course of the year to augment what we had, he'd do the best. He was a special friend. I grew up in Tampa, [Fla.], and he moved to Tampa, so I'd see him a lot. I was close to him. He gave me a wonderful, wonderful opportunity that I've always been appreciative of.
"He gave me a chance to manage his team a year and a half removed from playing. That doesn't happen. He's the one that really embarked me on 23 years of managing in the big leagues. He's missed. There's no question. His memory won't ever fade away here in New York, or in Tampa."
Manager Joe Girardi was part of the Old-Timers' Day festivities, and many of the team's current players hung around the dugout to watch the events unfold. Torre was asked about his former charges Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, two greats who will one day be gigantic draws at Old-Timers' Day.
Torre noted that several of his former players -- men like Ramiro Mendoza, Charlie Hayes and Cecil Fielder -- were already on hand for Old-Timers' Day, increasing the nostalgia for him. But Rivera and Jeter stand out above that legacy, he said, and will one day merit the greetings paid to Ford and Berra.
"Without those two guys -- and I don't want to not pay attention to the other players I had all those years -- this ballpark certainly wouldn't have been built," said Torre, who was feted with a lengthy standing ovation. "I wouldn't be sitting here wearing a World Series ring, and I certainly wouldn't have been in pinstripes for 12 years if it wasn't for them. The thing that you know is special is because the fire never goes away. Even though they've accomplished so much, they've continued to strive and they've continued to need to win."
The Yankees also honored longtime head athletic trainer Gene Monahan, a man who links many of the team's generations together. Monahan, who has served the Yankees for 49 consecutive seasons, will retire at year's end, and New York honored him with a ceremony in front of the assembled Old-Timers.
Monahan, who was visibly touched by the proceedings, was given several gifts to enjoy in his retirement, and several former Yankees took part in a video tribute to recognize his contributions. Monahan, a man who has helped keep the Yankees healthy, threw out the first pitch before the Old-Timers' Game.
"He's been just a pillar of strength for this organization, a pillar of consistency," said Piniella. "He was here when I got here in '74, and here it is 2011, and he's still here. That's unbelievable. ... First of all, he's a Yankee, and second of all, he works exceedingly hard to keep the players on the field. He takes great pride in that. He's so professional. He's had a great, great career. It's time for him to pass the torch, and I think he recognizes it. But I'll tell you this: To do it as long as he has and as well as he's done it, he should be very, very proud."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.