The Human Touch

for the week of October 23, 2000
by Rubel Shelly

Joe Torre is managing in New York's first subway series since 1956. It's something of a miracle that he's still in baseball much less competing for his fourth title in five years as leader of the New York Yankees.

Joe has been fired by some pretty good teams. The New York Mets, the team he's competing against this week, canned him in 1981. The Atlanta Braves gave him the boot in 1984. The St. Louis Cardinals terminated him in 1995.

His personal life hasn't always been easy either. He grew up in a home where he experienced verbal abuse from his father and in which his mother had to endure physical abuse. In Joe's words, his father "often terrorized our home with his out-of-control rages. . . . He wielded his anger as a terrible weapon."

Maybe these same adversities help account for the fact that he is what sports writers call a "player's manager." While the term is sometimes negative and points to a soft manager who can't really command enough respect to lead his players, it connotes something quite different in his case. Essentially, it means that he has committed himself to respecting his players, never humiliating them before fans or one another, and refraining from clubhouse tantrums.

He admits to having a hard time with coaches or managers who use threats and screaming outbursts to intimidate players. All the yelling and threats in his early homelife created an aversion to that sort of behavior. "I developed the strong moral sense that people should be civil to each other at home and in the workplace," he writes in the book Joe Torre's Ground Rules for Winners.

When things weren't going well for his team this year like when they lost 13 of 16 games at the end of the season the Yankees were being written off by lots of people as league champs and World Series contenders. Torre didn't panic. He didn't attack his players for lackluster performances. He said he trusted them to give their best and would deal with the outcome.

The childhood trauma in his family, being fired three times, having his competence challenged in the press, a battle with prostate cancer all these seem to have combined to teach one of baseball's most successful managers something you could wish everyone knew: Winning is important, but it is even more critical to preserve one's integrity by treating others with respect.

Everyone has "stuff" in his or her background. It's nice to be reminded that it doesn't have to make us bitter and be our undoing, isn't it?

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