Out of a house in Brooklyn were cruel words stuck like daggers and violence was the norm emerged a child who loathed conflict and craved peace.
So, yes, it is a serendipitous spot Joe Torre finds himself in these days.
Arguments still make him cringe, so naturally Torre’s main responsibility as MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations involves overseeing umpires and on-field discipline. Loud noises cause flashbacks, so of course Torre’s role as the sport’s top cop gets critiqued by a heckler with a megaphone. The irony, Torre agrees, is as thick as cowhide.
When Torre stepped out of retirement and into a suit in February, Bud Selig joked there would be “some lunatic screaming” at Torre on Sunday nights, “and that lunatic would be me.”
“Except he doesn’t limit it to Sunday nights,” Torre says with a laugh.
Torre is 70, with an arm in a sling following rotator cuff surgery, and a few days ago he was in Chicago checking on the Yankees and the Cubs, and now he’s in New York for Old-Timers’ Day at the new Yankee Stadium and to host a golf tournament for his foundation – “Can’t play, but I’ll be the social butterfly,” he says. There aren’t enough second on the clock to fit in all the folks who wish to see him, and those who do swear the ubiquitous bags under his eyes have been magically erased, a look he attributes to restful nights, healthy California living and a job that might make a man rip out his hair at the follicles if the strain from his previous jobs hadn’t already left him slightly shiny on top.
“The fact is, there’s no stress involved,” Torre says. “I don’t get days off, it’s busy, it’s important, and it keeps me stimulated. I’m really enjoying it. I love the freedom I have now to go into all the clubhouses. When I was a broadcaster, I was always hesitant to go in because I was the guy looking to get information. Now I’m welcome everywhere.”
Certainly conundrums await because baseball might as well be cricket if it lacks controversy, but thus far Torre’s work has taken place mostly behind the curtains. When the first true storm strikes, when the lunatics begin braying from all corners, as sure as a Bob Gibson fastball Torre will figure a way to restore harmony.
In many ways he was meant for this venture. Torre’s roots may extend back five decades, first as a star player, later as a successful manager with four World Series rings, but before all that he was just a frightened boy killing time on the dusty diamonds in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn, waiting for his father’s car to disappear so he might go home again.
The nightmares still lurk. He can hear the vile tirades of his dad, a New York City police detective, picture him throwing food against the wall, see the bruises on his mother’s cheeks. The scars from growing up in a household of abuse remained well into adulthood, as Torre was sure he was a failure despite ample evidence to the contrary.
“I was ashamed, convinced we were the only ones living in terror,” Torre says. “I had siblings to protect me, but I still felt I did something wrong.” He broke free from the chains of his family secret after intense sessions of self-examination with his wife, Ali. He began talking publicly about his experiences and now works tirelessly to end the cycle of abuse through his Safe At Home Foundation.
Via a dozen domestic violence resource programs in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles called Margaret’s Place, after his mother, Torre witnesses the sort of transformations that cause even the hardest of souls to crack. It is here in these safe rooms that students can divulge their daily traumas to master’s-level counselors; it is here that kids who survived brutality offer guidance to other kids and let them know they’re not alone.
“There are a number of heartwarming stories. One that comes to mind is of a young man who was really determined to join a street gang. He had a very bad home life,” Torre says. “After several visits to Margaret’s Place, he ended up going to college. We’re just trying to make it comfortable to talk about something that’s unbearable.”
Beyond all of baseball’s glory, here is a legacy that transcends.