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Dismaying news leaves Yankees to wonder: Why?

Manager Joe Torre's cancer - the latest in a run of misfortune - casts a pall over the world champions.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 1999


TAMPA -- As they walked slowly to their cars on a cool spring night, some members of the New York Yankees were searching for answers.

They were trying to figure out why at a time when baseball's premier franchise should be basking in glory, it instead was bombarded by gloom.

The latest blow? Manager Joe Torre, 58, has prostate cancer.

"Sometimes I really wonder, "Why?' " said first-base coach Jose Cardenal, a teammate, colleague and friend of Torre's for 28 years. "Why Joe? Why good people? I know this is life, but it still hurts."

Early Wednesday morning, Torre, who had been having tests for the past three days, informed outfielder Paul O'Neill, catcher Joe Girardi and right-handed pitcher David Cone about his diagnosis. The trio broke the news to the rest of the team after the split squads arrived in Bradenton to play the Pirates and Fort Myers to play the Red Sox.

Players said both clubhouses were quiet before the games and on the bus rides home.

"When the manager calls you into the office and closes the door, it's usually not a good thing," a somber Girardi said. "But I could see in his face that it was about him. Sometimes we seem so invincible, but we really aren't. The best thing we can do now is pray for him."

Added O'Neill: "It's been a tough day for us, but it's been a tougher day for Joe and his family. Cancer is a terrible word any way you use it. It's the kind of thing that affects everybody."

It is unclear how long Torre, 58, will be away, but principal owner George Steinbrenner had a bright outlook.

"He's fortunate in that the doctors said they found it in the early stages," Steinbrenner said in Bradenton. "He'll be back in 30 days."

But as players and coaches quietly meandered in and out of Legends Field from a weary road trip, the mood was one of disbelief and uncertainty. "He seemed to be acting the way he always acted," second baseman Chuck Knoblauch said. "That's what catches you off guard even more, he seemed fine. For me, it's a wakeup call to enjoy everything you have and everything that's around you because you never know when you're going walk into the locker room and find out that your manager, or anybody, has cancer."

Added shortstop Derek Jeter: "We were shocked, to say the least. It just came out of the blue like that. It's not like a situation where we see him losing weight or getting weak over the past two or three weeks. We came here and that's the information we got. We were stunned."

For now, the management duties seem to be divided among Torre's coaching staff. Hitting coach Chris Chambliss managed the team in Fort Myers and Stump Mitchell, a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman, managed in Bradenton. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and third-base coach Willie Randolph also will share duties.

In any case, the recurring misfortune is hard for those in pinstripes to explain.

First there was Darryl Strawberry's diagnosis of colon cancer early in last year's playoffs. Strawberry on Wednesday played his first game since the final day of the regular season.

"No one wants to see someone else face this particular battle," Strawberry said. "It's a difficult battle for anybody. We all have to realize that until there's a cure for cancer, there are no guarantees."

Then one week ago, the Yankees got a first-hand look at Hall of Fame pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter's battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. Hunter was too weak to shake hands.

Then there was Monday's death of Joe DiMaggio, a man whose indomitable legend was a symbol of Yankee immortality.

"It's kind of getting to the point where, what's going to happen next?" first baseman Tino Martinez said. "Darryl comes back today and it was encouraging, and now we have Joe's situation, it's a tough situation. When it happens to someone you know and someone close to you it's saddening and it hurts."

Stottlemyre, who said he knew for the past few days that Torre had been having tests, said there appears to be a dark cloud over the Yankees mystique.

"This has been a trying (time) for the organization," Stottlemyre said. "It was great to see Catfish, but that was difficult. Then the situation with Joe DiMaggio passing away, we were all aware. But this one, this one was a bomb."

Added Jeter: "Things can only get better from here."
-- Staff writer Mike Readling and Times wires contributed to this report.

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