As the youngest of five growing up in Brooklyn, Joe Torre would come home, see his father’s car and hightail it over to a friend’s house.
That’s how frightened he was of Joe Sr., a New York City police detective.
“There was a lot of fear,” acknowledges the former New York Yankees’ manager, who led the team to four World Series titles. “I never got hit. But the fear was there.”
That’s because his volatile father would take out his temper on Joe’s mother, Margaret. It left their youngest child feeling insecure and unworthy.
“I thought I was to blame for what was going on,” Joe says. “Fortunately, I had the ability to play baseball and could hide my feelings there.”
But not everyone is so gifted and besides, hidden feelings often have a way of hurting you. That’s why Joe and wife, Ali, who live in Los Angeles but maintain a home in Westchester County, decided to provide a haven for youngsters experiencing or at risk for domestic violence. In 2005, the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation launched Margaret’s Place, a program named for his mother that offers these students a safe room at school in which they can talk with a master’s-level counselor. To date, there are 12 Margaret’s Places in the New York metropolitan area and Los Angeles, including those at Cross Hill Academy in Yonkers, Pelham Middle School, Peekskill Middle School and White Plains High School.
Margaret’s Place is much more than a shoulder to lean on. It’s a multilayered program, Ali says, that takes a proactive approach to preventing and intervening in domestic violence. Participating schools have a curriculum in which students receive weekly instruction. Individual and group counseling, teacher training and parent outreach are also offered.
Some 8,000 students a year are served by the program, which is evaluated by an independent third party. The results have been encouraging. So has the response from program alumni, Ali says.
“To see how resilient they are and have confidence to go forward, they touch my heart.”
In a conference call, Joe and Ali, who’ve been together more than 30 years, are both candid about their own long road to healing.
“When I first met Joe, he didn’t talk about his family,” Ali says. “It was a gradual process of being able to talk about it. It’s a very complex dynamic.”
Joe acknowledges that it would have been difficult for both his parents, who have passed on, to encounter the reality of Margaret’s Place.
“If my mother were still with us, she would have a hard, tough time with this. If my dad were around, at least I could confront him.” Joe says it was his brother Frank, a onetime first baseman with the then-Milwaukee Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies, who “stood up to him and kicked him out of the house.”
Joe credits Ali with being his Margaret’s Place.
“Ali took the main role. She’s one of 16 kids in a very tight-knit family. She had a beat on how to be a healer.”
Ali laughs, saying, “There’s a lot of stress involved but also a lot of love, commitment and honesty. My parents were great role models. Joe and I are blessed that we have each other and that we complement each other.”
Joe – whose storied baseball career has embraced playing, managing and broadcasting with the Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers and Mets as well as the Yanks – has long been associated with children’s charities.
When he and Ali were headed to New York, where he would become the Bronx Bombers’ manager in 1996, Ali – then pregnant with their daughter, Andrea – suggested they sign up for a Life Success seminar, which teaches participants practical ways to resolve issues that prevent them from enjoying their lives to the fullest. To Ali’s surprise, Joe said yes and discovered not only that he wasn’t responsible for his parents’ relationship or tethered to the insecurity he felt as a child but that others have been through the same experience.
“It gave me the courage to talk about it,” he says.
He began with a Bronx middle school. In 2002, the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation was born.
A baseball sundae
Recently, the foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary with a gala at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan hosted by Katie Couric to honor NBC sportscaster Bob Costas. (See Watch in this issue.) A fundraiser is scheduled for June at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor.
It’s a measure of Joe’s gifts as a baseball manager that such events always draw many of the men who played for him, including former Yankee teammates David Cone and Jorge Posada. For all his brilliance as a player – nine trips to the All-Star Game, the 1971 National League batting crown and MVP Award – it was as a manager that Joe shone most, piloting the Yanks to 10 American League East Division titles, along with six American League pennants and the four World Series titles. Key to that success – which led the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated to name him Manager of the Decade in 2009 – was his ability to shield a stable of thoroughbred ballplayers from the demands of owner George Steinbrenner. It led to “Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners” (Hyperion, 1999).
So what’s the key to being a successful manager in any field? Says Joe: “You have to listen. I never asked someone to do something he’s not capable of, but at the same time, you’re going to have to carry your own weight. Trust has to be earned, year in and year out. And I never got tired of winning.”
Though he’s Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, might he return to managing one day?
He answers by saying he will be managing this year – the USA team at the World Baseball Classic.
“I’ve had a wonderful baseball career,” he says, adding that everything from here on in is “the cherry on top.”
For more on the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation and Margaret’s Place, call (212) 880-7360 or (877) 878-4JOE or visit joetorre.org.