NEW YORK -- Joe Torre called on Mariano Rivera as he had done so many times over the years, and this time it was to have the retired Yankees closer appear at the Waldorf-Astoria on Wednesday to accept the Sportsman of the Year Award and significantly increase the attendance at the March of Dimes 30th Anniversary Sports Luncheon.
Naturally, the pair spent a good deal of time before and during the event talking about their former club's expected signing of free agent Jacoby Ellsbury, who spent so many years in the other dugout during the fabled Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.
"They have made good moves, but I want to see pitching," Rivera said emphatically, also referencing the Yanks' signing of catcher Brian McCann. "I want to see pitching, I want pitching. I mean, the offense is good, but we need pitching. Those are two good players ... hopefully they do it here in New York."
Torre, the former Yankees manager who is now Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, said he first learned of the Ellsbury news while having coffee with Rivera on Wednesday morning.
"He's a type of player that makes you fear when you're managing on the other side, because he can beat you in a lot of ways," Torre said of Ellsbury. "He did it with the home run, he could steal a base. Johnny Damon was that way in his younger days. Ellsbury has power, as he showed a few years ago, and he's a threat, he plays the heck out of center field. The whole thing is just to see how he puts on a Yankee uniform. It's going to have to be strange for him."
Damon played for the Red Sox from 2002-05, amid some of the most heated days in the rivalry's history, and then signed as a free agent with the Yanks. Whether Ellsbury can duplicate Damon's achievement of winning a World Series ring with both clubs remains to be seen, but Torre said there are lessons to be learned from Damon's transition to the Bronx.
"It just wears you out when you go to the other city," Torre said. "I remember when we had Johnny Damon, they were booing him [in Boston]. They loved him, but they couldn't stand the uniform.
"It's fun when you're viewing it from the outside. You know, I really noticed that when I came in with the Dodgers [in 2008], and I was sort of forewarning my players. Because Matt Kemp was dating Rihanna at the time, and I just sort of cautioned them that [opposing fans] are going to do this and they're going to do that. And they didn't do any of that stuff. I said, 'Well, I guess it's just the Yankee uniform that brings out the worst of those people in Boston.'"
Did Torre ever give Damon advice back then?
"No. Johnny's a free spirit," Torre said. "The one thing about coming to the Yankees -- and I'm sure it's the same as going to the Red Sox -- is you've got a whole lot of bodyguards when you go places. And I don't mean that in the literal sense, I just mean that you become a member of the team, and they're there to support you. So anytime you bring somebody into the fold, you knew they were going to be insulated from a lot of stuff, because they never had to go through something alone."
Ellsbury would follow Damon and Kevin Youkilis as an example of marquee moves from Boston to the Bronx. When asked why it seems to be a one-way route -- high-profile Yanks have not recently gone to the Red Sox -- Torre took exception.
"David Cone went to the Red Sox. Ralph Houk went to the Red Sox," Torre said. "Boomer [David Wells] did, and in a smaller way, Bob Watson. But of course, obviously the Yankees, bigger city, deeper pockets for a number of years.
"The Red Sox, I mean, they've won a lot of World Series recently. When you win World Series like that, all of a sudden the pressure's on to keep it up. I know with [late owner] George Steinbrenner, I was very fortunate to be the beneficiary of his devotion to the city. [The Red Sox] do the same thing."
Rivera said he was delighted to be invited by Torre to be part of the March of Dimes event, which raised more than $1 million. During his acceptance speech at the luncheon, Rivera used present tense out of habit and told the crowd: "I play baseball ... It's a game. What March of Dimes is doing, it's life.
"This is helping babies. Babies who come with defects, and they didn't ask for that. But here comes March of Dimes to help these babies, to help these families. The amount of money we are raising is for a great cause. Me being here is a great honor and a pleasure, because we are giving back. That's what it is all about -- giving back."
As for his intentions given his platform as an in-demand guest, Rivera said: "Using it right -- using it to give back. I don't want to use it for something else that doesn't bring privilege and honor and help. I want to use it right. Events like this, it's a great cause. For me, it's no doubt about it.
"Joe Torre presented it to me, he told me, and I said, 'I'm in.' We're here. I have a lot of things to do. My Christmas and stuff at home. But I'm here. My wife is a little down, kind of sick, she's supposed to be here with me, but we have to make the sacrifices. What you do for these families and these babies, it has no price. I have my own. I always want my boys, in my prayers are for them to be healthy. We need to pray that [for] the rest of the world, kids, to be safe."
Rivera was not only eager to see how Ellsbury would fare as a Yankee, but to see where free agent Robinson Cano ends up.
"I was born to play for the Yankees," Rivera said. "That's the way I saw it, that's the way I went about my business. I could have gone different places, any time. But I chose to stay home. I grew up here, near Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees are the best organization there is, in sports, period. Hopefully Cano does the right thing. But I want him to be happy. Whatever he does, I want him to be happy."
Rivera is always asked these days whether he plans to stay involved in baseball now that he is retired, and while he reiterated that "helping others" is his priority, he looks forward to a role "maybe in the Minor Leagues. Just helping, to be like a special advisor for the youngsters, because I believe the youngsters can learn from me."