Joe and Frank Torre in 1977, kid brother's rookie managerial season, as player-manager of the New York Mets. (Frank's seven-year Major League career ended with the Phillies in 1963.) It was Frank who, at age 20, stood up to their violently abusive father.
"When I was a teenager and my brother Frank was in the World Series in '57 and '58 against the Yankees, Braves winning in '57 and the Yankees in '58, little did I know the next time these two teams would meet in the World Series, I would be managing the Yankees."
-- Joe Torre, in his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, July 27
"One winter, when I was 12, my older brother Frank (20) said to my father, 'We want you out of the house. We don't want anything other than the house we live in. We don't want anything from you. Just leave.' And he left."
For most people, Frank Torre, who died Saturday at his home in Palm Beach at 82, was Joe Torre's older brother. Surely everyone who lived through it remembers the high drama of Frank receiving a desperately needed heart transplant while Joe was managing the New York Yankees to their first World Series title together in his first season as Yankees manager. As Richard Goldstein recalls in his NYT obit of Frank
, two years later he told the Times
: "I got a chance to live again. The next night, I was able to see the winning game in the World Series."
And Frank lived to see his baby brother finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, on July 27. Their oldest brother, Rocco, the oldest of the five Torre siblings, died of a heart attacke suffered while watching a Yankees game during Joe's first season as Yankees manager, while Frank was languishing and hoping for a new heart. Frank remained active as an advocate for transplants, and was a second-time beneficiary -- a kidney transplant in 2007.
However, for a kid in Milwaukee at the time that Frank was the first baseman of the Braves team that won first the NL penant in 1957 and then the World Series in 1958, Joe was Frank's pudgy baby brother. He was first heard of when he turned up with Frank at the Braves' training camp one spring, supposedly also a baseball player, though what position could he have played but catcher? (Eventually Joe, already an All-Star Major League catcher, would slim down and reinvent himself as an All-Star third baseman, even though, as Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton recalled to Fox Sports' Zach Dillard
, "he won a batting title and he couldn't run out of sight in two days." Sutton says he "hated him as a player, for all those line drives he hit up the middle. Sutton describes Joe as "a gamer," who "made himself into a good third baseman," and "a guy that's mastered so many facets of our game from the front office to the grunt work in the dugout.")
That same kid, by then transplanted from Milwaukee to Brooklyn, where he (along with Howie) attended Frank's alma mater, James Madison HS, had the thrill of an assembly visit from the man he considered the school's most distinguished alum -- although Frank was pretty much unknown to most Madison students. By then Joe was a rising star with the Braves, but he was not
a Madison kid. He went to a Catholic high school, St. Francis Prep.
Of course it was hard not to be won over by Joe, first as a player -- an incredibly hard-working player who forged a great career playing for teams that never won anything -- and eventually as a manager, generally known as one of the most decent people in sports. And we could go on and on with inspiring Torre family memories.
But as I expect most people know, those memories include a lot of horror from the five siblings' childhood, when their father, Joe, an NYPD detective widely esteemed on their home turf in Brooklyn, was physically and psychologically abusing their mother, Margaret -- up until the day in 1952 that Joe recalls in the quote I've put at the top of this post. By then two of the five Torre siblings were out of the house. Brother Rocco was married with a family of his own, and in 1951 sister Marguerite had left to become, literally, Sister
Marguerite, as she remained until her retirement in 2007, the last 27 years spent as principal of Nativity BVM School in Ozone Park, NY.
Which left it to 20-year-old Frank to stand up to their father, Joe, an act of almost unimaginable courage for such a closely knit, strictly Catholic Italian-American family in Brooklyn in the early '50s. (Margaret Torre never did divorce the senior Joe.)
JOE TORRE TELLS HIS STORY
For decades the Torres didn't talk outside the house about what happened inside their house. Joe has said that he never talked to schoolmates about it. Not having a father in the house must have been extremely difficult for a teenage kid in the early '50s, when the only acceptable excuse for not having two parents at home was that one or more had died. Here's how the story is told on the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation website
Joe Torre, former professional baseball player and manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, grew up the youngest of five children in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a New York City police detective and revered in his community. He was the cop that made everyone feel safe. Everyone except his own family.
"My dad was a bully. He controlled my mom, whether it be the paycheck, physical abusing, intimidating her, bullying. . . . The one thing I knew was that I didn't want to be my dad."
Joe, Sr. ruled his home with an iron fist. He was a physically abusive husband and an emotionally abusive father. The violence that had besieged the Torre household for so many years was a well-kept family secret and stayed a family secret for generations. However, in December of 1995, Ali and Joe Torre attended a seminar called Life Success. As a result of Joe’s participation in that seminar, he began to talk openly of his childhood experience with domestic violence. He went public with his family secret in his autobiography, Chasing the Dream: My Lifelong Journey to the World Series.
Ali and Joe Torre wanted to educate children about the issue of domestic violence. In 2002, they created the Joe Torre Safe At Home® Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is “educating to end the cycle of domestic violence and save lives”.
In the video, Joe goes on to say that he was lucky, both to have had an outlet in baseball and to have had different sorts of male role models in his older brothers, Rocco and Frank. In 1996 Frank and Joe's sister Marguerite (yes, Sister Marguerite) told People magazine
: "I think Rocco was like the father image to Joe. Frank, of course, was his hero. I would say he almost worshipped Frank."
"There were five of us, and he's our baby," the other Torre sister, Rae, told Nj.com's Randy Miller on the day in July when Joe was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. "We spoiled him rotten."
Marguerite chimed in: "Spoiled but precious. We had to run if he spoke or he cried. My mother -- ohmygosh, 'Go get what he needs.' "
Here's Joe telling the family story, again on the Safe At Home website:
I grew up in Marine Park, Brooklyn. I am the youngest of five children. My father, Joseph, was a New York City police officer. When I was growing up, my father was a bully. My mother faced verbal and physical abuse from my father. If he didn’t like the food mom made, he would throw it against the wall. He used to make her get up in the middle of the night to cook for friends he brought home.
Although I did not get physically abused myself, I grew up in fear because my mom did. I was shy and dad would make fun of me. Whenever I saw his car in the driveway, I didn’t want to go home. One winter, when I was 12, my older brother Frank (20) said to my father, “We want you out of the house. We don’t want anything other than the house we live in. We don’t want anything from you. Just leave.” And he left.
Growing up in a home where there was domestic violence was very difficult and left lasting scars. Although I didn’t realize it then, I used to feel like the abuse was my fault. I felt helpless and alone. For many years, I felt ashamed and worthless.
In those days, no one in my neighborhood knew what was happening in my home, or if they did, nobody talked about it. I did not talk about it because I was afraid. I didn’t know who to turn to for help.
But today, things are different and there is help for you. The way we can conquer and stop domestic violence is to form a team. If we grow up respecting one another, we will eventually end domestic violence. The more we talk about it, the more we’ll be likely to pick up a phone and tell a relative, a teacher or a counselor.
Once Joe, with Ali's assistance, came to grips with his family history enough to go public, he and Ali became warriors in the fight against domestic violence. So it was hardly surprising when the Dallas Morning News
's Sarah Mervosh wrote yesterday in a piece headlined "
Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre says the video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious with a single punch accomplished one good thing: The footage ripped off the cloak of secrecy that typically emboldens domestic abusers.
“What’s gone on here recently has certainly caught people’s attention and, I want to say, in a positive way. Everybody’s reacting the same way — that we need to do something about this,” the former New York Yankees manager told The Dallas Morning News. Torre is scheduled to visit Dallas this week for a previously planned luncheon for The Family Place shelter. . . .
VIOLENT HOME LIFE
Despite Torre’s storied baseball career, which includes leading the Yankees to four World Series championships, he said he suffered from paralyzing insecurity as a child. He said he didn’t try out for the high school baseball team his first year because he feared failure.
His insecurity, he later realized, stemmed from the violent environment he grew up in. Torre remembers the way his father threw dishes in anger, woke up his wife to cook for him when he came home late, and once, reached for his gun when his daughter held a knife up to protect her mother.
Torre’s older brother eventually forced his father out of the house. But the memories stayed with Torre. In 2002, he established the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, which uses education to end the cycle of abuse and provides safe-rooms at schools for children to seek help.
Given Torre’s emphasis on education, he said he wonders about Rice’s past and whether anyone spoke to him about how to treat women. While Torre said the NFL was right to make an example of Rice, he hopes the running back will get treatment, too.
“Have him understand what he did and why it’s not the right thing to do,” Torre said. “He’s got more of a life to live than just the NFL.”
That's Joe for you. But then, he's got his share of experience living that life. This is surely not a happy moment for the extended Torre family, but then, they have some pretty good family to fall back on for support.
Labels: baseball, violence against women