Islander’s book celebrates baseball great Frank Torre
Almost anyone who follows baseball knows Joe Torre. A nine-time All-Star and Most Valuable Player, he’s also one of only five baseball managers to win more than 2,300 games, most of them with the New York Yankees from 1996 to 2007.
During that time, Torre’s teams won four World Series titles and six American League pennants. Those accomplishments led to Torre being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
But for Galveston author Cornelius Geary, the very famous Torre isn’t the Torre he associates with a love of baseball. For Geary, that title goes to Joe Torre’s brother, Frank, a first baseman who played four seasons for the Milwaukee Braves from 1956 to 1960.
Torre was the centerpiece of Geary’s childhood baseball fandom. When the Braves won the World Series in 1957, Torre was there alongside Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.
Geary first met Frank Torre in New York in the early 2000s. A journalist friend passed Torre’s number to him and he chanced a phone call to the former big leaguer. That call led to a relationship that led to Geary meeting with and conducting a five-day interview with Torre in 2000.
Earlier this year, Geary published the collected transcript of that interview in a new book “All Heart: The Baseball Life of Frank Torre.”
After years of mediocre baseball in Milwaukee, the city’s current team, the Milwaukee Brewers, is considered a contender for the National League pennant. The excitement over Milwaukee baseball has also led to a resurgence in interest in Milwaukee baseball history, of which Torre is an essential part, he said.
Coast Monthly sat down with Geary to ask him about baseball and writing.
Q: Why Frank Torre and not a book about Joe?
A: I, of course, admire Joe, but all the Braves were heroes to us. We were kids when there was Henry Aaron, Warren Spahn the winningest left-hander of all time; Eddie Mathews, one of the greatest home-run hitters; and Lew Burdette, who had three wins in the 1957 World Series.
I didn’t have any aspiration or ambition, per se, to do a book on Frank Torre. I called him up and the man came to the phone and we had a conversation. I think I said something pretty awkward like, ‘Hey, Mr. Torre, I was 7 years old when you won the World Series. Me and my buddies have always really admired you guys. I just wanted to say “Hi.’”
Q: What was interviewing him like?
A: He lived in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. I got in there on Saturday night. I got to meet his kids. I stayed in a bunk bed, I don’t really remember if I took the top bunk or bottom. He was very nice. We got up every morning. We had cornflakes. We talked about the weather for 10 minutes. We’d sit at the kitchen table or in the dining room, he’d have the news on in the background. He’d talk for two or three hours. We’d go out to lunch, then come back and talk for another two or three hours.
Q: Frank Torre made it to the major leagues before his brother, but only played for six seasons — two with the Philadelphia Phillies. What kind of player was he?
A: He was considered one of the greatest fielding first basemen in the major leagues at that time. They were always questioning his bat. But he was a very good hitter.
Q: In writing this book, did you get a perspective on what the game was like then, as opposed to now?
A: There are instances of fighting and fisticuffs in here where guys don’t get thrown out of the game. I think it’s much more gentlemanly. There was great admiration among the players, but they would take it to each other. It’s not to say there aren’t hard slides today, but I think it was a much more physical sport.
Q: What was Frank’s relationship like with Joe?
A: He was so proud of his brother, Joe. He held out briefly, to get his brother on the Braves.
They had a thing called instructional league. It might have been a six-week thing, where if you could catch a baseball, you could come up and play baseball for 15 minutes. The Braves were going to take a pass on Joe in the instructional league after agreeing to it in Frank’s 1958 contract. So he held out. It was maybe a day or two, but they got the message.
“All Heart: The Baseball Life of Frank Torre” is available on Amazon.