(This writer sat down with Joe Torre at TB Bank Park in Bridgewater on Sept. 14, 2011 prior to his being presented an Outstanding Community Service Award for his work in the fight against domestic abuse. Torre had retired a year earlier as L.A. Dodgers manager and was then hired as Executive Vice President of Major League Baseball Operations. Torre remains in the same role with Major League Baseball today. This story was originally published in the October, 2011 issue of Diamond Nation Magazine).
Joe Torre and his wife, Ali, were shopping last spring when his bride said, “Here we are on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the season and you’re not stressed out.”
Torre said, “It was nice.”
Torre, who survived 12 years in the pressure cooker that is the Yankees’ managerial job, followed that up with three seasons at the helm of the not-so-good ship Los Angeles Dodgers.
When he left the Dodgers, of his own volition, at the end of the 2010 season, he said he “wanted to do something significant.” Forgive Ali Torre for anticipating “something significant” meant yet another managerial job falling on her husband’s 70-year old lap.
“She knew I was retired (from managing) even if she didn’t believe it at the time,” said Torre.
Something significant came Torre’s way last February when Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig hired him for the high profile, high-octane job of executive vice president of MLB operations.
His next job after managing is significant in every way, but Torre exudes a cool in his new position that says, “Tread carefully, wise sage delivering wisdom daily.”
It is fairly clear Torre is sleeping much deeper at night than, say, 47-year old Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “I just felt managing should be done by someone a little younger,” said Torre about his decision to leave the Dodgers. “It was just getting tougher to deal with the losses anymore.”
Torre and his staff — an impressive group that includes Joe Garagiola, Jr., former Yankees and Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng and former Arizona Diamondbacks assistant GM Peter Woodfork – touch a wide swath of MLB issues in their responsibilities.
“My staff does a lot of the heavy lifting,” said Torre, “and I’m around here to make a lot of the decisions. It’s a lot of title and a lot of work but the one thing that it is not, is stressful. I make my own schedule for the first time in my life.
“We have everything under our umbrella,” he said, “umpires, minor leagues, trades, discipline, Latin America and Asia.” Torre is essentially baseball’s Secretary of State.
Garagiola, Jr. has been with MLB since 2005. Torre brought in Ng and Woodfork. “Joe (Garagiola) is responsible for the punishment phase of what we do,” said Torre.
Ng is in charge of Latin America and Asia operations and does work with the minor leagues, too. Woodfork has assorted responsibilities that include overseeing the umpires and trades.
Torre sounds like a fan when he passionately discusses some of the hot-button issues confronting Major League Baseball, such as the possible expansion of the playoffs; instant replay and the use of the All-Star Game to determine home field advantage in the World Series.
“Every time an umpire misses a tag play or a play at first base, it’s, ‘Well, if we had replay that wouldn’t have happened.’” Torre points out, “I don’t think any of us wants wholesale instant replay. Certain things may be expanded, perhaps the fair, foul situation.”
Torre certainly had his moments with umpires as a manager, getting tossed from 60 games, but he was no Bobby Cox (161), John McGraw (117) or Earl Weaver (97). So maybe it’s not so much a touch of irony as one may think that Torre is, as he says, “the umpires boss, so to speak.”
Torre actually may be the umpires’ best friend when it comes to instant replay, standing on the side of keeping the game moving while getting those fair, foul calls correct.
“You don’t want the umpires to get in a position to count on replay,” Torre said. That problem can be seen every Sunday on your local NFL telecast.
SAFE AT HOME
Joe Torre’s life story – at least his professional life story – is movie-ready. It’s the middle class kid from Brooklyn makes good while navigating the usual travails of life.
But Torre’s childhood was not one full of encouraging pats on the head by dad. Torre, in fact, would go to a friend’s house when he saw his dad’s car in front of his house when he arrived home from school. The young Torre’s survival instincts were keen even then. A point he makes in his first book, “Chasing the Dream,” published in 1997.
“I associated seeing my father’s car in front of the house with fear,” says Torre. “I grew up in a domestically violent house. It was a house where my father yelled, banged things around, threw food against the wall and woke my mother up at 3 or 4 in the morning to make food for his card-playing friends. I never saw my father physically abuse my mom but I saw evidence that that was taking place.”
Torre buried the emotions derived from that awful experience until one fateful four-day stretch in 1995.
Ali Torre, pregnant with their only child, Andrea (now 21), asked her husband if he’d like to join her at a self-help seminar. “When your wife is pregnant you say yes to whatever she asks,” said Torre.
On the second or third day of the four-day seminar, Torre recalls, “I found myself up in front of a group of strangers, standing and crying my eyes out.”
The emotions from a childhood witnessing his mother, Margaret, an immigrant from Italy, being belittled and made to feel inferior, finally welled over and poured out of Torre at age 55.
Borne from that telltale experience was Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation, an organization that educates and aids those living in domestically violent homes.
“It was Ali’s idea that, instead of maybe being a care-provider in the domestic violence arena, we’d try to educate,” said Torre. “Right now we have nine schools in the New York area and the Mark Twain School in Los Angeles.”
One of Torre’s proudest programs is Margaret’s Place, which are safe rooms in the Brooklyn-Queens Justice Center named after his mother. “We’ve had great results. One young man was running with a street gang. After a few visits to Margaret’s Place, he wanted to go to college. It’s a comprehensive program with counselors. It costs a lot of money to implement these programs but we know they work.”
For information on Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation, go to: http://www.joetorre.org/en/pages/default.aspx.
Joe Torre’s Hall of Fame credentials seem unimpeachable, particularly combining his achievements as a player and manager and now an MLB executive. (Three years after this story was published, Torre was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014).
In a playing career that spanned 1960-’77, Torre batted .297, hit 252 home runs, drove in 1,185 runs, won the National League batting title and was the league’s MVP in 1971. He won a Gold Glove as a catcher in 1965 and was a nine-time All-Star.
His managerial career covered 1977-’84, then 1990-‘2010, during which he forged a 2,326-1,997 (.538) record, won four World Series championships and was named A.L. Manager of the Year twice (1996 and ’98). His 2,326 wins are fifth all-time.