NEW YORK — This is all about heart, and the courage New York likes to see in itself and the sensitivity outsiders don't recognize. It's about how these Yankees have captured New York by refusing to give up, and it's how we are touched by the drama of Joe Torre dividing his emotions between the game and the fact of his brother Frank watching every moment at the edge of life itself.
While the Yankees were riding home from Atlanta on the crest of their wave, Frank was being awakened and told the time for his heart transplant had come. He'd waited 10 weeks for the right match. Thursday night a young man died in the Bronx, and it was Frank Torre's turn.
Thursday night at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on the West Side of Manhattan, just minutes away from Yankee Stadium, Frank had watched the game with friends and other patients in his room, as he had since the last weeks of the season. He never second-guessed Joe to outsiders or the doctors who were keeping him alive. That he took directly to his younger brother, who called before and after almost every game.
At Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, it seems that every doctor is a Yankee fan. Yankee fans operated on David Cone. Yankee fans operated on Frank Torre. They say they do absolutely the best they can for everybody.
They do acknowledge the emotion of Joe Torre and his link with his brother. They grew up as high school stars in Brooklyn, Frank, the big brother, getting to the big leagues with the Braves and then Joe following. This summer they lost brother Rocco, who may have been better than either.
"They're close; that's not hype," said Dr. Eric Rose, surgeon-in-chief. "Long before the Series we saw how close they are. Baseball is a good part of their glue. Joe has his priorities straight."
Wednesday was the night of the great comeback. While he was at dinner, Dr. Rose heard the Yankees were behind 6-0. He was listening in the car when Jim Leyritz hit his home run to tie the score. "When I got home, I had to watch the end of the game," he said.
Thursday was the night of the great tension. Frank Torre was watching in his room with his heart functioning on medication. He had had permission to go to the games at Yankee Stadium with intravenous medication, but decided he couldn't be as calm at the ballpark. "All that karma in the Stadium," Dr. Mehmet Oz, who participated in the surgery, said. Some days Frank didn't want to get out of bed -- depressed, Dr. Robert Michler said, as if his heart had let him down.
Dr. Rose came to be a Yankee fan growing up in the Bronx. "My first game, I was in the mezzanine with my father and uncle," he said. "The Yankees were losing by two in the ninth. Mantle and Yogi homered back-to-back and they won. It was unforgettable." He managed to take his children to the first game of the World Series.
Dr. Michler, chief of heart transplant, said he grew up a Yankee fan in Southern California in the time of Mantle and Maris. He was in Frank's room on occasion when Joe would phone. He knew Joe had promised his World Series ring to Frank, and knew the story of how Frank had played for the Braves in the 1957 and '58 World Series and given one ring to Joe. He watched the Wednesday night game in Guatemala, where he'd performed 43 operations in 10 days with Heart Care International.
Dr. Oz grew up in Wilmington, Del., as a Phillies fan. "If you care about sports history, you're interested in the Yankees," he said. When he was an intern, he took care of one of the cops at the Stadium and so had a place behind the dugout whenever he could get time off. "Tell me," Dr. Oz asked, "why did he let Pettitte bat in the (ninth) inning?"
Funny, when Joe phoned from Atlanta after the game, that's just what Frank asked. Joe told him he wanted Andy Pettitte to pitch into the next inning when Fred McGriff was due to bat. Yesterday Joe recalled that Frank had said, "You've got a lot of you know what."
At about 3 a.m., Frank was awakened. "He was very calm," said Dr. Oz, who believes in the role of the patient as well as the surgeon. "I told him not to be passive. I told him he was not the ball; he was the pitcher."
The doctor said he had been much more nervous watching the game than he was in the operating room. "It's like the athlete watching," he said. "When you have the sutures in your hand, you have to do your job." He called himself "short relief." Wasn't it The Wizard of Oz who gave the Tin Man a heart?
Shortly after the Yankees arrived home, Joe Torre got the word from the hospital that the procedure had begun. He hadn't been able to sleep anyway. Between his fatigue and emotion, he said later, he thought of all the "horrible things" that can happen in surgery.