Friday, September 09, 2016

"We wanted people to learn that [domestic violence] is not just a woman's issue" (Ali Torre)


Last Thursday and Friday on MetroFocus (the nightly news-features show produced by the three Metro New York public TV entities, NYC's WNET13, Long Ialand's WLIW21, and NJN, the New Jersey Network), Billy Crystal talked to Joe and Ali Torre about the Torres' Safe At Home Foundation. Watch Part 1 of the interview here, and Part 2 here.

"What we wanted people to learn about the issue [domestic violence] is that it's not just a woman's issue, that for every woman that goes into a shelter there are two to three children that go with her."
-- Ali Torre, in the interview with Billy Crystal

"When I was growing up, I never shared this with anybody. When I used to go to my friend's house, waiting for my dad to go to work, I just went there. I didn't say I didn't want to go home 'cause my dad was there. So when we started our Safe At Home Foundation, friends who were very close to me had no clue, because I just was embarrassed, what was going on in my home, and I felt like I was the only one in the neighborhood that had this going on."
-- Joe Torre, in the interview

by Ken

I've told this story before, but I'm going to tell it again. One day during my time at Howie's and my alma mater, James Madison High School in Brooklyn, a portion of the student body found ourselves in the auditorium where two guests came onstage. The younger guy was readily recognizable to most Brooklynites, because Joe Torre, a Brooklyn boy, had in just a few years with the Milwaukee Braves established himself as a baseball star.

I wasn't a Brooklyn kid, though. I was a transplant (most recently) from Milwaukee, so I recognized the older guy as Joe's brother Frank, whom I'd seen play a major role in the Braves' winning two NL pennants and a World Series. In fact, I remembered the spring when Frank showed up at camp with his chubby little brother, a catcher, in tow. It may have been mostly as a favor to Frank, but the Braves wound up signing Joe to a contract, which turned out to be one heckuva smart move. Because he turned out to be a great player (and later a great manager).

In fact, that day at the James Madison HS assembly, Joe was a ringer. Frank Torre was indeed a Madison alum, but Joe as the coddled baby among five siblings (in the interview, he reminds us that he's eight and a half years younger than his next-youngest sibling), went to private school -- Catholic high school, of course.

Maybe you had to be there at the time to appreciate how good a player Joe Torre was, playing with a quiet competence and day-in, day-out consistency that fit perfectly with the "image" of unflappable self-confidence -- as Billy Crystal notes in the MetroFocus interview with Joe and his wife, Ali -- that Joe seemed to exude throughout his baseball career. But as Joe reveals in the interview, most of his life he was anything but confident. He reminds us that his freshman year in high school he didn't even go out for the baseball team, feeling he wasn't good enough. He was almost pathologically shy, always reluctant to speak, often feeling ashamed.

One thing he was most unlikely to do was speak in front of a group. Which makes what happened one day in November or December of 1995 (when he was 55), at a four-day seminar in Cincinnati, Ali's hometown, where she and Joe had moved after he was fired as manager of the Saint Louis Cardinals. (Interestingly, he doesn't mention until later that he had in fact just been named manager of the New York Yankees.) Ali had persuaded him to attend this Life Success seminar, where they were assigned to separate groups.
About day two or three, after this one speaker, saying a lot of things that hit home with me, I wind up standing up, in front of the whole group, and I was crying, because I realized, instead of being born with the low self-esteem, instead of being born with the nervousness that I thought . . . I was sort of embarrassed about it. I didn't want to share with anybody that I had these insecurities. I realized that what was going on in my home, where my dad was abusing my mom -- physically abusing her, and of course emotionally abusing her -- that that was what caused it.
Joe doesn't remember what exactly he said, and in the interview he forgets that Ali can't tell us because she wasn't there. But she remembers the effect it had on him, and remembers in particular that that night when they got home, he called one of his sisters and asked, "Did Dad hit Mom?"

Since that day obviously Joe has talked about his family history a lot, and now everybody knows the story: how as the baby among the five Torre children (including brothers Frank and Rocco and sisters Rae and Marguerite), he was protected by his older siblings, and especially by his sisters, from the violence of their home, and how eventually it was Frank and Rocco who confronted their father, a police detective well known and admired in their Marine Park neighborhood, and forced him to move out of the house.

But I had no idea until now that Joe, traumatized though he was by the atmosphere created in his house by his father's raging temper (if Joe Sr. didn't like what his wife served him for lunch, young Joe could hear the plate crashing against the wall), never knew his father was physically abusing his mother. (He does tell a fairly hair-raising story, though, about an incident he did witness, when Rae took knife in hand to protect their mother, Margaret, from their father on one of his rampages. Dad proceeded to fetch his detective's revolver, whereupon the youngest Torre walked over and took the knife out of his sister's hand.) In good part Joe's obliviousness resulted from his brothers' and sisters' efforts to protect him, which had its ironic side. With all the whispering young Joe witnessed going on among all the rest of his family, he assumed that what was going on must be his fault.

And he kept it all to himself. Until that fateful day in Cincinnati, he didn't even talk about what went on in his home to Ali, who knew only that the home environment was seriously troubled and his parents divorced when Joe was 11 or 12.
When I was growing up, I never shared this with anybody. When I used to go to my friend's house, waiting for my dad to go to work, I just went there. I didn't say I didn't want to go home 'cause my dad was there. So when we started our Safe At Home Foundation, friends who were very close to me had no clue, because i just was embarrassed, what was going on in my home, and I felt like I was the only one in the neighborhood that had this going on.
Which is why a crucial part of the work of Joe and Ali's Safe At Home Foundation is concerned with education, including programs in schools where, as Joe says, they try to communicate two messages: "You're not the only one," and "It's not your fault." Billly Crystal, who has attended a lot of those sessions, reports that he has often heard kids who've gotten the messages say they're not afraid to go home anymore.

After watching the first part of Joe and Ali's interview with Billy Crystal, I knew I wanted to get something about it on the record. My original idea was to do a post combining that and the latest developments in the scandal of the hellishly abusive environment created by Roger Ailes at Fox Noise, since that too was widely thought of as a "woman's issue" when it was just Gretchen Carlson filing suit against the giant rat bastard, at least until other women at the network, past and present, began telling their stories. Even now, the fall of Roger Ailes is surely regarded as a lesser side story to the story of what he built at Fox Noise -- an engine for turning the country into the hell of his diseased mind.

Eventually the scope of the Fox Noise horror crowded the other story out, and took precedence news-wise. But still in my mind the two stories, of sexual harassment at Fox Noise and of epidemic domestic violence, are still related. The crowning irony is that they take place in a society that pretends to be built on "family values." The eerie reality is that quite possibly our society truly is built on the "family values" we actually practice. Can this possibly not have a major role in defining who and what we are?

By all accounts Joe's doting sisters Rae and Marguerite played a major role in the upbringing of their baby brother. As seen above, they became household figures to Yankee fans during his time as manager, and both were in Cooperstown when he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager in 2014; Rae died the following February, at 89.

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