Joe Torre, Iconic Baseball Manager, Hits Home Run at Lisner

February 15, 2012

The former player and manager shared details of his career on Wednesday—from his philosophy as a manager to his advice on coaching Little Leaguers—in a discussion in front of a packed house in Lisner Auditorium.

Veteran baseball manager Joe Torre delighted a standing-room-only crowd at Lisner Auditorium Wednesday, dishing jokes and details of his longtime career on the diamond, most notably as manager of the New York Yankees.

“My secret was trying to have all the players understand what I was trying to do, even though they wouldn’t agree with it,” Mr. Torre said after receiving a standing ovation to his introduction. “And that took a little psychology, trust me.” Later, he added: “If you give respect you’re going to get it in return. I’ve always tried to be honest with players,” even if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

In the hour and a half discussion on Wednesday, Mr. Torre fielded questions from Mike Wise, Washington Post sports columnist; Johnny Holliday, co-host of Nats Xtra; Phil Wood, Washington Examiner columnist and sports commentator on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network; and Phil Hochberg, a former Washington Senators stadium announcer who moderated the Smithsonian Associates-sponsored event. Mr. Torre, who led the Yankees to six pennants and four World Series championships, recently resigned from his post as Major League Baseball’s executive vice president for baseball operations to bid on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Leading a baseball team is rarely easy, said Mr. Torre, who managed the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Braves and Cardinals. Every fan and commentator has an opinion on how a team should be managed, and Mr. Torre avoided the media coverage at all costs. Dealing with high-profile, highly paid athletes can also be difficult.

“Sometimes it’s put, ‘How do you handle all those rich guys?’ ” Mr Torre said. “I don’t want to know what they get paid. I don’t care what they get paid. We’re here to do a job.”

That job is made easier when everyone works together, Mr. Torre said. “It’s tough enough when you’re pulling in the same direction to get something done. But when you’re pulling in opposite directions, and pulling against somebody, you can’t do it. I’m a real believer in the whole team concept.”

The “team concept” extends off the diamond, too, like after 9/11, when Mr. Torre and his Yankees decided to do what they could to console the families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks. He recalled one of his players telling a woman, “ ‘I don’t know what to say, but you look like you need a hug.’ ”

“It was that point in time I realized the reach that we had as the New York Yankees or baseball people period. We represented more than the Yankees; we represented the city of New York everywhere we went.”

Mr. Torre also addressed the reliance some place on statistics in baseball, referencing the recent blockbuster “Moneyball,” which tells the story of the Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane and his use of statistical data to make strategic picks for his team.

“I just can’t believe that that’s the only thing that counts,” Mr. Torre said. “I always caution people that there’s a heartbeat there. There’s a pulse and a heartbeat, never forget that. What you see on paper may be misleading.”

In a question-and-answer session, Mr. Torre also fielded questions from audience members, like what advice he has for a Little League coach.

“Let them all play,” Mr. Torre said. “Let’s not be dramatic about how important winning is. If we make the game stressful at this age, they’re not going to want to play it anymore. So we have to just understand that whatever happens—whether they strike out or make an error—that’s fine, we’ll work on it, we’ll get better. It’s so important that we keep these kids interested in baseball. It’s a great game. Let’s not have them need to perform for our satisfaction.”

Outside of baseball, Mr. Torre battled prostate cancer, and he wanted to show people it’s not a “death sentence.” He’s also active in working to combat domestic abuse and started the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation after growing up in a home where his father abused his mother.

Will he manage again? Not likely, Mr. Torre said. But a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame would be appropriate, a panelist said.

“I’ve never spent a lot of time thinking about that,” Mr. Torre responded. “When you realize what the Hall of Fame represents, and knowing what you have to do to get there, certainly if that happened, it certainly would be the cherry on top, no question.”