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Yankees’ Torre Has Prostate Surgery

March 18, 1999

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The surgeon who removed Joe Torre’s cancerous prostate gland Thursday believes the disease had not spread, and said the prognosis is ``excellent″ for the New York Yankees manager.

``It was very routine,″ said Dr. William Catalona, a pioneer in the detection and treatment of prostate cancer. ``I think he had a very early prostate cancer and it went very smoothly.″

Lab tests on the removed gland and surrounding lymph nodes won’t be complete for a few days, but Catalona said, ``The way it looked to the naked eye, the prognosis is excellent.″

Catalona said the cancer was so small he couldn’t see it even as he held the removed gland in his hand. It was diagnosed by the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that Catalona developed a decade ago, and confirmed by a biopsy.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American men and the second deadliest behind lung cancer. The walnut-sized gland is at the base of the bladder in men. Men 50 and older are most at risk.

In cases where cancer is confined to a removed prostate, the patient’s prognosis is essentially as good as for a man who never had the disease, Catalona said.

Torre, 58, underwent the 2 1-2-hour surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he was expected to remain for 3-4 days. Torre will then recuperate in Florida, said Jeff Wehling, a family friend.

Catalona pioneered a surgical technique known as nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy, which he used on Torre. The procedure generally results in fewer problems, including impotence, than conventional prostate surgery.

Catalona said there appeared to be very little damage to the nerves surrounding Torre’s prostate.

Torre’s wife, Ali, was ``ecstatic″ after learning about the successful surgery, Wehling said. She then called family members and acquaintances, including Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Catalona said Torre seemed at ease before the surgery, talking baseball and joking with doctors.

``He was very upbeat, cracking a lot of jokes _ he was really very amusing,″ Catalona said. ``I can see now why everybody likes him so much.″

Barnes-Jewish spokeswoman Kathryn Holleman said the hospital has received hundreds of calls from well-wishers. Wehling said Torre has also received numerous flowers and cards, many from St. Louis residents who watched Torre when he played for, and later managed, the Cardinals.

``He’s found greater success in New York, but the people in St. Louis still have incredibly fond memories,″ Wehling said.

There is no timetable for Torre’s return to the World Series champions, but Catalona said his patients typically go back to work 6-12 weeks after surgery.

``I’m going to encourage him not to go back too soon,″ Catalona said. ``He’s got a very stressful job.″

Yankees interim manager Don Zimmer passed on the news to the players in his first team meeting since taking Torre’s place last week.

``I feel a lot better today running this team than I did yesterday or any other day,″ Zimmer said. ``Baseball shouldn’t be a job, it should be fun. I haven’t had fun. When I heard this and came to the park, I felt all together different.″

Torre visited the Yankees twice this week before leaving for St. Louis, assuring his players that he was healthy and would be back soon. Thursday’s news was even more reassuring.

``I think everyone is starting to understand what we have to do now,″ Joe Girardi said. ``I think it was real important Joe came back (earlier this week). When he left everyone was in shock. When he came back, it gave a sense of confidence. This will pick up the team even more.″

Catalona was recommended to Torre by former Yankees general manager Bob Watson, and by Cardinals Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial, hospital officials said. Catalona performed prostate cancer surgery on both men.

Torre’s cancer was diagnosed early because of an annual PSA exam, Catalona said. The problem was found during a checkup at the Yankee’s spring training camp in Tampa, Fla., and announced last week.

``You’re dealing with a tumor that doesn’t let its presence be learned unless you’re looking for it,″ Catalona said.

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