National Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre shares his triumphs and struggles on and off the field.
Joe Torre has a mind for figures. He has lived a life dominated by the ultimate game of statistics. But even after decades in the business of baseball, age seems to be just a number for the man who has proven his value on and off the field.
Torre is recognized as one of the icons in Major League Baseball (MLB). His long list of accomplishments includes: being the only MLB player to achieve 2,000 hits as a player and 2,000 wins as a manager, winning four World Series Championships, earning the 1971 National League Most Valuable Player award, serving as an MLB sports commentator, writing three books, founding a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence, being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014 and today, serving as the MLB Chief Baseball Officer.
“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been in baseball my whole life, and I’ve never really had to look for a job,” Torre says. “I’ve never looked at baseball as work because it’s always been something I wanted to do and something that was first and foremost in my life.”
While his professional accomplishments are remarkable and notable, it’s how he’s handled the curveballs of life off the field that attests to his success and longevity.
Safe on the field
Torre’s love for baseball started at a young age. His older brother Frank, eight years his senior, played professional baseball, and it was while visiting his minor league teams that Torre found his calling. “I was able to suit up and work out on the field with the team. It just made you salivate even more, realizing it was a great life and you’d love to live it,” Torre says.
Although his love of the game was strong, his adolescent self-confidence was not. “I just never thought I was good enough. I didn’t even go out for the high school team as a freshman. Even though it was my dream, I never thought the dream would ever be realized.”
Torre grew up in New York City. His father was a New York City police officer, and his mother stayed at home with Joe and his four siblings. His parents divorced when he was about 11.
“A lot of it [low self-esteem] had to do with the fact that my dad was abusive to my mom, and that created a lot of fear,” Torre says. “I never saw my father physically hit my mom, although I saw the results of it. Luckily, I had baseball to go to. I had baseball as a way to hide from those feelings.”
It wasn’t until years later, at a self-help seminar with his wife, when Torre realized the lasting impact that domestic violence had on his life through adulthood.
Torre’s impressive professional baseball career now spans over 56 years. The ups and downs have been many — being fired from several managing jobs and moving his family across the country multiple times — but his determined mindset kept him looking forward.
“You can’t control everything,” Torre says. “The only thing you can control is your preparation and your determination, and coming to work every day ready to work. You never really know what you can accomplish until you really go out there and sacrifice.”
His resiliency is something he credits to his wife, Ali.
“She’s very proactive and wouldn’t stand for that type [self-pity] of behavior, and I appreciated that,” Torre says. “She’s my biggest fan… Baseball is a game of life, you can’t go through it alone. You need someone to pat you on the back or kick you in the rear end.”
The grit he demonstrates in his professional life was challenged in his personal life when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999. The cancer was found through a routine physical. His cancer was an aggressive form of the disease.
“All these good things are happening to me, and then somebody throws you a curveball,” shares Torre. “The world stopped. To me, cancer was a black hole, and the only thing I could think about when I heard the word was death. It was a showstopper.”
With the support of his family and friends, Torre was able to quickly reset his mind and approach, and learned as much as he could about the disease and ways to combat it.
“I was about to be 59, and I was already thinking of my 60th birthday and how 60 was old. And then once you’re diagnosed, 60 is just a number. You don’t even think of 60 as an age anymore. You want to live. It makes you appreciate every day. I think we should all do that — it certainly got my attention. Every day is a gift.”
Now, as a survivor, Torre shares his cancer triumph story with the public and the media and became proactive in his life and a voice for prostate cancer awareness.
“I remember Ali said if I would have retired from baseball, nobody would know about this.
“You realize there’s a reason why it happened, a lot of people use me as a resource,” Torre says. “This [prostate cancer] is such a deep, dark secret. For a man, his libido is going to be questioned, and it’s sort of embarrassing for some men. A lot of guys come to me and ask me what I did and what they should look for, so I became a resource for a lot of friends as it turned out.”
Going forward and giving back
Today, in his mid-70s, Torre takes steps to stay at the top of his game in all aspects of life.
“When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I went to a nutritionist, who I still use. She put me on supplements and put me on a nutritious diet. I’m pretty disciplined. I watch myself.
“I have a personal trainer that I train with, and if I’m on the road I’ll make sure I get my cardio in. As far as my diet, I stay away from red meat. I treat myself every once and again, maybe once a month. Otherwise it’s a low-fat diet.”
Torre and his wife have a long history of being involved with charitable causes. In 2002, he stepped up to the plate as founder of the nonprofit Joe Torre Safe At Home® Foundation, which resolves issues that marred his childhood.
The foundation provides a support system focused on education and ending the cycle of domestic violence for both parents and children.
A large portion of what has made the nonprofit so successful is its integration into the grade school system.
“We put safe rooms in schools and name them after my mom: Margaret’s Place,” Torre says. “She was there for me through my childhood, and she continues to be there for kids. We’ve had better than 50,000 kids come through our program, and we know it works.”
Since founding Safe At Home, Torre has now become a nationwide anti-violence advocate.
“Through our program, I’ve been on two committees for the Attorney General of the U.S. — Violence Against Women, and I was co-chair of the task force Defending Childhood. It educated me on the many different ways abuse can show up. It’s something that’s been in the shadows for many years, and whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate, in pro sports over the last few years it’s been forced out into the daylight a little bit.
“I know MLB, in conjunction with the players association, has put a policy together to deal with anything that goes on in our sport. I believe that cycle will be broken.”
Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation
- Established in 2002.
- Safe At Home’s Margaret’s Place program provides students who have experienced or are at high-risk of exposure to violence with safe rooms to discuss violence-related issues with a Master’s-level counselor and their peers.
- To date, Safe At Home’s 13 Margaret’s Place sites have reached over 50,000 students and provided over 22,000 counseling sessions.
- Counselors provide individual and group counseling to traumatized youth, coordinate school-wide campaigns, teach a violence prevention curriculum, manage a peer leadership program, provide workshops and technical assistance for teachers and school personnel, and conduct outreach/workshops for parents. To learn more visit www.joetorre.org
Torre could have retired years ago with an outstanding personal and professional legacy, but even after all these years, America’s pastime keeps Torre young at heart.
“The interesting part about it, as long as I’ve been in the game — and I signed my first contract as a 19-year-old — it always feels brand new,” Torre says. “I mean, that is a gift because people always look to when they can retire and not have to work for a living, but I’m enjoying it!”
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Jodi Marsh is Executive Editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.
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