For Joe Torre, manager of the World Series champion New York Yankees, 1996 was a year right out of a Frank Capra movie. Sure enough, Hollywood’s come calling.

Showtime is finalizing a deal to acquire life rights to Torre and his family for a biopic the payweb hopes to air during this year’s Fall Classic in October.

Torre endured family tragedy twice during the team’s dream season. The day the Yanks swept the 1995 American League champion Cleveland Indians in a doubleheader, Torre learned his brother Rocco had died of heart failure. A second brother, Frank, was in critical condition throughout the season with a deteriorating heart condition.

On the day before the Yankees clinched the team’s first World Series title in 18 years, however, Frank received a heart transplant. He watched the Series’ final game on TV in his hospital bed, surrounded by a team of nervous doctors.

”You go to a lot of movies, but you don’t see one with this happy an ending,” said Torre, who had gone 32 years as a player and coach without winning a title. “Though there was some tragedy too.”

Veteran scribe Philip Rosenberg has been hired to adapt the story. He said he knows he’s facing a challenge.

”The story’s so positive you don’t want it to seem phony.” Rosenberg said.. “We don’t live in a culture used to a true version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ It’s grounded by his fear for his brother’s life, which makes winning and losing games insignificant. His whole life he wanted to be in the World Series, and it seems like his dream will come true and he won’t be able to enjoy it.”

Paging Palminteri

Since Jimmy Stewart’s too old to play Torre, the Yankee skipper likes Chazz Palminteri, who’ll decide when he sees a script. ”He’d be a pretty good match,” Torre said.

The film will be produced by British American Prods.’ Tom Leahy and Bern Conners, who got the rights, and Norman Twain, who’s already producing a Warner Bros. feature on Yankees hurler Dwight Gooden with Bruce Berman and Ray Negron. They brought the Torre project to Showtime topper Jerry Offsay, a big baseball fan.

Torre expects be part of the collaboration to make sure his story’s told right, though he’s busy trying to help the Yanks repeat. Another key player in the project will be Frank Torre, a father figure to Joe and a former Major Leaguer himself, who pulled strings to get his brother a chance in the majors.

”To me what’s important is how far (Joe) came to become this finished product, a man with the calmness and ability to keep things under control,” said Frank. His brother grew up shy and insecure because of a bullying father. Though he could hit and throw when he graduated high school, scouts were unimpressed.

”Ted Williams was a friend of mine, and he got the Red Sox to look at Joe. A top scout sent back a telegram, which Ted sent me. It said not only wasn’t he a Major League prospect, he wasn’t even a professional prospect. He could hit, but he was too fat and couldn’t run.”

Frank coaxed him into catching, then helped get him a contract with his team, the Milwaukee Braves. The younger Torre’s bat did the rest.

Joe, who went on to be a most valuable player award winner, returned the favor when he insisted Frank dump his Florida doctors and come to New York at a time his brother had pretty much given up.

”I was suffering so much I wanted to die,” said Frank. ”I checked into New York in August and had no vital signs. What the other doctors couldn’t accomplish in two years, these guys did in two days.”

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