When it comes to baseball, former Rutgers standout Jeffrey A. Torborg ED’63 has held a lot of positions. As a catcher in the majors, he caught three no-hitters including a perfect game. Then his first managing gig, for the Cleveland Indians in 1977-1979, was followed by 10 seasons as a pitching coach for the New York Yankees (1979-1988). Torborg’s daily contact with the late and legendary George “The Boss” Steinbrenner, who died last week at age 80, are etched in his memory forever.
But one of his most poignant Steinbrenner stories comes a few years after Torborg’s tenure with the Yankees, when he was managing their crosstown rivals, the New York Mets. It was spring training in 1993, and the Mets were set to take on the Yankees in Florida. Nothing unusual – except for the fact that it was Steinbrenner’s return to baseball after being exiled due to controversy over player Dave Winfield.
“This was Steinbrenner’s homecoming, so to speak,” Torborg remembers. It was also the first time they had seen each other in a while. “He hugged me on the field and we talked.”
Before heading down to Florida, Torborg says he made the decision not to bring the Mets’ star players for this spring training series. “I thought, if I’m not going to start them, why take them on the day George is returning,” Torborg says. “The Yankees meant so much to me. It was one small thing I could do to give back.”
During their pre-game talk, Torborg remembers that Steinbrenner picked up on what he did and thanked him. “He said, ‘I really appreciate what you did today.” I didn’t expect him to notice, but of course he did,” Torborg says.
Torborg’s Mets didn’t go home victorious that game, but he believes that his decision to honor his former boss – “The Boss” – was the right one. “Baseball is a microcosm of life. You try to remember the people who were there to help you and try to give back,” Torborg notes.
Another tale, from one of Torborg’s stints in sportscasting, reminds us of some of the traits that made Steinbrenner such a legendary figure in sports history. Torborg recalls a time when Steinbrenner joined him in the booth during a game when the Yankees were getting clobbered by a lesser team. “It was a half inning that seemed like an eternity. George’s face kept getting redder and redder. Given our close relationship, I made some kind of joke. And George retorted: ‘I wish you still worked for me, Torborg, so I could fire you.’ He had said it in jest, but it actually lightened up the mood in the booth a lot.”
Jeffrey A. Torborg ED’63 currently lives a short drive from Steinbrenner Field in Florida. He is a member of the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni and former catcher for the Scarlet Knights baseball team. A 1963 All-American, Torborg set both Rutgers and NCAA records for batting that year and went on to be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Torborg played 10 seasons in the majors, where he tied the record for catching three no-hitters, most notably Sandy Koufax's perfect game against the Chicago Cubs on September 9, 1965. In 1974, he became a coach with the Cleveland Indians and then became manager in 1977. His career as a coach and manager included service at the helm of the Chicago White Sox, where he earned American League Manager of the Year honors in 1990, and as manager of the New York Mets, Montreal Expos, and Florida Marlins. Rutgers retired Torborg's number in 1992, the first baseball number so honored, and welcomed him into the Rutgers Olympic Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
– Lori Varga RC’04, SCILS’04
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