Joe Torre the role model

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on June 18, 2004.

Headline: Meaning of family not lost on Torre

By Ed Odeven
PHOENIX — We all know Sunday is Father’s Day. And, naturally, it should be a special day for dads.

Every other day should be just as special for their families.

Joe Torre, the New York Yankees manager, grew up in a Brooklyn family ravaged by domestic abuse. His father’s violent abuse was directed at his mother.

“I’m not sure I learned all the things that dads should do early on, unfortunately,” Torre said before Wednesday’s Yankees-Diamondbacks game at Bank One Ballpark.

That doesn’t mean Torre hasn’t learned the importance of giving back to the community. As a popular figure in the Big Apple — guiding the Yankees to four World Series titles since 1996 will do that for you — people pay attention to what Torre has to say.

Two years ago, Torre and his wife, Ali, established the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation. Its mission, according to the charity’s official Web site, is “to develop educational programs that will end the cycle of domestic violence and save lives.”

Movie director Tim Robbins will direct public-service announcements in the coming months to help raise awareness for the organization.

“We’re not a care provider, but we feel we’ve got to educate,” Torre says, “and let men and boys know there’s a word respect out there that has to be applied to all of us.”

LIVE AND LEARN

Torre was one of the National League’s top players in the 1960s-70s. A nine-time All-Star, Torre earned the 1971 NL MVP award by leading the the Senior Circuit with a .363 batting average and 137 RBIs. In 1977, he became the first player-manager in the big leagues since 1959, taking over as the New York Mets’ field general. He also managed the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals before becoming the Yankee skipper in 1996.

In retrospect, Torre admits his personal success often came at the expense of his family life. Quite simply, he says, he was too into himself.

“I was very irresponsible, and I think it shows by my not really being as good a father as I could’ve been,” he says. “But you change. As long as you still have time on the clock, keep working toward those goals.

“Hey, you get older, and you become more sensitive to things and become more aware of things. You realize there’s somebody else in the world besides you.”

In 1999, Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer and then underwent successful surgery. Since then, he has vowed to live life to the fullest, and with no regrets.

“Do it today, because you know you have it,” he says.

Torre’s mantra especially applies to his third wife, Ali, and the youngest of his four children, 8-year-old Andrea Rae. No matter what, family comes first now.

On May 1, Torre didn’t go to work. He didn’t sit in his customary spot in the dugout and didn’t watch his ballclub face the Kansas City Royals in the Bronx. He had something more important to do that day: attend Andrea Rae’s first holy communion.

Torre told the Yankees of his family commitment weeks in advance, and so pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and third base coach Willie Randolph handled the managerial duties that day. It was an admirable gesture by Torre, one that hasn’t been overlooked.

“It was great to be there, but knowing how much my daughter appreciated my being there was more important than my enjoyment,” he says.

Randolph commended Torre’s actions.

“To me, family should always come first anyway,” Randolph says. “We all have our responsibilities but you want to make sure that your kids remember special days and it was a special occasion what he did for her.

“That’s the way it should be. … He’s our leader, he sets the tone and a lot of guys follow his lead.”

And even though the Yankee players see Torre day in and day out at the work, they realize how important his family is to him away from the ballyard.

“Just by his demeanor, you could tell he cares about his family” was Yankee star Derek Jeter’s assessment.

EASYGOING JOE

By all accounts, Torre is one of the most approachable managers in the game, for fans and the press.

He might not be as highly regarded as Yankee legend Yogi Berra or Yogi’s lifelong pal Joe Garagiola Sr. for his storytelling skills, but Torre relishes the thought of passing time before games in the dugout, recollecting baseball lore from last week or many years ago.

On Wednesday, in front of a throng of more than three dozen reporters, Torre talked about the post-1996 World Series celebrations and riding with Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, in a car on a parade route around the city.

“They all cheered me,” Torre recalls, “and half of them cheered him. And I said to him, ‘Now I know why you brought me along.'”

The discussion then turned to a medical bandage he was wearing on one of his fingers, the result of a domestic accident: he was bitten by his golden cocker spaniel, Geena.

“She had a chicken bone and I tried to wrestle it away from her,” he says, smiling.

Clearly, Joe Torre is a man comfortable with his life — at work and at home.

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