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Joe Torre discusses the game of life and the game of baseball

June 4, 2019
by Angela Valden

Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre's philosophy is "what works in the game of baseball works in the game of life."

He shared this philosophy with Skidmore's Class of 2019 as an honorary degree recipient at the College's 108th Commencement Exercises, and in a recent interview he reflected on the value of a liberal arts education and recalled fondly a summer visit he paid to Saratoga Springs years ago.

Torre, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series championships as their manager from 1996 to 2007, is also known for establishing a foundation that provides safe havens for abused women and children. He overcame professional and personal challenges to achieve success on and off the field.

During an interview at Skidmore's Zankel Music Center the evening before Commencement, and again during his remarks at the May 18 ceremony at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Torre imparted some of the wisdom he's gained along the way.

For one, you have to have creativity to take part in the game of life, he said May 17 during a sit-down with Skidmore Athletic Communications Manager Nate Smith. "Liberal arts gives you that freedom to be a little more expressive, and to me, that's got to benefit you, because once you get out there on your own, take the safety net away, you're going to have to make some decisions."

Another key lesson: "Don't be afraid of failure," he told a captive audience of graduates at SPAC. "You're going to have to learn from your setbacks, and that's where life's experiences come in. It takes character — actually, it builds character. It makes you stronger."

Joe Torre at Commencement 2019

Joe Torre addresses the Class of 2019 during Skidmore's 108th Commencement Exercises on May 18 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Torre, who grew up with baseball, managed his first major league game when he was 36. He managed his first World Series game when he was 56. And "a lot went on in between," he told the Class of 2019. He managed and played for the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves — and was fired by all three teams — before achieving career-defining success with the Yankees.

"I went — between playing and managing — over 4,000 games before getting to the World Series, which was a record," Torre said. "Which doesn't bother me because we finally got to the World Series."

Torre also grew up in a domestically violent home. His father was physically abusive to his mother, and though he didn't suffer any physical scars, it took a psychological toll. It wasn't until he sought counseling that he realized how living in fear had eroded his self-esteem and caused him to withdraw from others. It was his motivation for starting the Safe at Home Foundation with his wife in 2002, and Margaret's Place, named after his mother, to help children cope with the trauma of domestic violence and abuse.

In his Commencement address, Torre emphasized the importance of support — from home, from a friend, from your community — in navigating the challenges of life. "Baseball is a team sport," he said. "You need one another to get through tough times. Life is a tough sport, and it's tough to go through life alone, so that's a team game also."

And finally, Torre, expressing optimism for what Skidmore's graduates will accomplish for the future of our country, stressed that they don't have to climb the mountain all at once. "Think small and big things will happen," he said.

Torre also quoted one of his own heroes, Babe Ruth, in relaying, "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up."

"If you go forward with a spirit of hard work, teamwork and the creativity instilled in you here at Skidmore, then I believe that you will be successful no matter what you choose to pursue in life. In fact, I bet on it. After all, you are Thoroughbreds."

10 facts about Joe Torre

  1. He was born July 18, 1940 in Brooklyn, the youngest of five children.
  2. His older brother Frank played for the Milwaukee Braves when they played the New York Yankees in the World Series in 1957 and 1958.
  3. Joe followed in his brother Frank’s footsteps and signed with the Milwaukee Braves out of high school.
  4. He played for and managed the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves before becoming manager of the New York Yankees in 1996.
  5. As a player, he was a nine-time All-Star and the 1971 National League Most Valuable Player who totaled 2,342 hits in 18 big league seasons. He earned a Gold Glove Award in 1965.
  6. Torre’s four World Series titles as manager of the Yankees are ranked fourth all time behind Joe McCarthy (7), Casey Stengel (7) and Connie Mack (5) and tied with Walter Alston.
  7. Torre has more post-season victories (84) than any manager in big league history.
  8. Torre and his wife Ali started the Safe at Home Foundation, which provides healing services to children dealing with domestic violence and abuse, in 2002.
  9. The Safe at Home Foundation has reached over 85,000 children through its flagship program, Margaret’s Place, which puts safe rooms in schools for students dealing with trauma.
  10. Torre was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Sources: Joe Torre,

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