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FURMAN BISHER COLUMN: And look at him now

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

You would scarcely believe the company Joe Torre is keeping these days, especially those of you who were around town in the infantile days of the Braves of Atlanta. He hit the first home run, and by the season's end had hit 36. He had also spent a good deal of his time explaining to certain uniformed personnel of the APD -- that stands for the keepers of law and order -- what he was doing at this unsightly hour, and in an unsightly state.

Then he was traded to the Cardinals, which made several people happy, not just Torre alone, but Paul Richards, who ran the Braves. Not too long ago, Joe said to me one day, "After I got to St. Louis, I changed a lot of my habits," and that was the beginning of the new-model Joe Torre.

He played well as a Cardinal, won one MVP award, and believe it or not, did an encore in Atlanta later as manager. (Richards was gone, of course, and the Braves had a another owner named Turner.)

By this time, Torre was in the midst of another career -- managing. He'd already been fired once -- by the Mets -- and though you may have forgotten, he put the Braves into the playoffs one season, but he would be fired again. And one more time still to come, by the Cardinals after six seasons. Then he dropped out of sight, at least on this side of the continent.

It happened I ran into him in a television booth in Toronto while doing "color" on the Angels' West Coast network. It was good. We had a warm visit. Then next time he popped into the news, George Steinbrenner had hired him to manage the Yankees, an electrical amalgamation of two opposites, for Torre had found out a few things about life and baseball by this time.

"When I took over the Yankees, my record was awful," he said, "way under .500. Then all of a sudden I became this brilliant manager because I had good teams that played well."

Modesty, you see, had overwhelmed him. By the time he took his leave of the Yankees, this failure at three other jobs had managed himself into the Hall of Fame (for sure) and had established himself as a gentleman of class, honor and capability. I mention all this, for just this week the official PGA Magazine published a cover story featuring the great coaches, managers and sports philosophers who have become leadership examples for professional golfing types, from tee to teacher.

And Torre is among them. Out of managing after one final stint with the Dodgers, he has risen to a state of exalted executiveship in a game that he has never played very well. He took charge of his life and not only remodeled it, he restructured himself inside and out, and you now find him as an executive vice-president of major league baseball.

"Amazing!" as Casey Stengel would have put it.