Joe Torre: A Traumatic Childhood and an All-Star Baseball Career
The ex-Yankees manager speaks out about his abuse as a child
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Luckily for Torre, he had baseball. “That’s the only thing I knew,” he says. “We played slap ball, punch ball, stick ball—any form of baseball that we could play, morning, noon, and night. It was a certain security blanket for me.” But even throwing himself completely into baseball did not fully protect him from the scars of his home life. Though a good student—and an increasingly solid baseball player—Torre never really felt whole. He had an inexplicable nervousness about him, and he began to cut class. “I wasn’t necessarily afraid to go to school, but afraid that I wasn’t smart enough,” he says. “And I never let anybody in on it.” Following in the footsteps of his brother Frank, who played in the MLB for the Braves and Phillies (“He was always kind of an idol to me”), Torre wrapped himself deeper into his security blanket of baseball, eventually parlaying it into a successful career in the majors, playing for the Braves, Cardinals, and Mets. It was a professional career that included nine All-Star appearances, a Golden Glove, and being named the National League MVP. But looking back, even on that success, Torre realizes his childhood scars bore deep, even into baseball. “I realized as I got older that I probably didn’t enjoy myself as much as I should have playing baseball,” he says. “I felt I had to perform in order to feel like I was validated—if I didn’t perform, I felt I let people down.”
And though he can speak with greater understanding regarding his childhood now, “initially, I thought I was just born with these insecurities and fears,” he says. “I never really connected the dots until I went to this self-help symposium.” The symposium Torre is referring to is the “Life Success” seminar he attended in December, 1995. On day two of the three-day symposium, he and his wife, Ali, were split up into different groups. After a few people in Torre’s seven-person group shared their personal experiences—about quitting smoking or maybe drinking—Torre decided to share some stories about his childhood and his father. Suddenly, he found himself crying in front of perfect strangers. “Here I was, just named manager of the Yankees, and I should be a bit self-conscious about showing my feelings,” says Torre, who’s been a Westchester resident for more than 15 years (he and his wife split time between their Harrison and LA homes). But the cathartic event finally, after so many years, allowed Torre to fully understand himself. “I realized that there was something that happened in my childhood, as opposed to being born that way. Once I realized that what went on in my house caused my feelings, I was really quick to talk about it.”
The experience was also an eye-opener for Ali. Though she’d known her husband hadn’t had a great relationship with his father, she was completely in the dark regarding the abuse. “I remember the second night Joe picking up the phone and calling his sister [Marguerite] and asking her, ‘Did Dad hit Mom?’ and crying. That was the beginning of him really talking about it and understanding the intensity of what domestic violence does to an individual,” Ali says.
Torre used this newfound clarity in two ways. First, as fuel for a managerial career that took him to the pinnacle of baseball. He became somewhat of a demigod to Yankees fans (and garnered respect from baseball fans all over) when he managed the team to six American League pennants and four World Series wins from 1996 to 2007. “I think [my childhood experiences] made me a little more sensitive,” says Torre, who now works as executive vice president of Baseball Operations for the MLB. “Instead of reacting or overreacting to what a player may have said in anger or disgust, I was more apt to think, ‘What made him say it?,’ and then sort of approach it that way.”