By Charles Guthrie
On May 12, 2006, Joe Torre came down to Rider while he was the New York Yankees manager to speak during the graduation ceremony.
More than a year later on Oct. 18, Torre didn’t accept the Yankees’ one-year, $5 million contract offer and was no longer the Yankees skipper.
During his commencement speech, he discussed his Safe at Home Foundation and gave the graduates advice for the future. Another topic he talked about that stuck out was integrity and respect, beliefs he used when he turned down an offer that would have still made him the highest-paid manager in baseball.
“Integrity and respect are very important to me,” Torre said during the ceremony. “The respect portion is understanding that when you don’t win a game, you don’t cry foul or say it’s not fair. The integrity part is something a little more individual. It goes with you wherever you go.”
Integrity is definitely a word synonymous with the former Yankees manager.
While he wasn’t known as the most skillful in-game tactician, especially with the bullpen, it can’t be denied that he was a man who carried himself with class and dignity.
This season especially was a glowing indication of that. Usually when managers are around one team for as long as Torre has been with the Yankees, their message eventually loses luster with the players and the results show.
That wasn’t the case with Torre. On a team built with high-priced, superstar veterans, Torre was able to get the team to rally after a slow first half and make the playoffs in the tough American League.
When the team struggled early on and the playoffs looked like a pipe-dream, the team was flat and it appeared that his message was no longer reaching the players.
But this case was different, because instead of panicking, Torre remained calm, cool and collected and the team played hard for its manager. When he spoke to the team during closed-door meetings, the players listened and responded. They went on an absolute tear in the second half, with everyone clicking on all cylinders, playing for their manager because they knew his job was in jeopardy if they didn’t make the playoffs.
During his 12-year tenure, this was by far his best regular season performance. Never before has the team been in that much danger of not making the playoffs.
If you ever need an example of how respected he was among his peers, look no further than Derek Jeter. The New York icon referred to his coach as Mr. Torre.
When it came to negotiating time after the season ended, it was known that Torre wanted to be the manager when they closed out the old stadium and opened up the new one.
After turning down the offer, he showed that he was the epitome of class by approaching owner George Steinbrenner, shaking his hand and saying, “I want to thank you for these 12 years, it’s been great.”
In the final message of his speech, he told the graduates, “You only borrow this life one time. Get the most out of it, but along the way, touch a lot of lives.”
The fans knew what he was all about when they were outside with signs, begging him to stay in pinstripes. Judging from the public outcry, it appears he’s touched a lot of lives.
The money wasn’t an issue with him; he just wanted a multi-year deal so his job could be secure.
Now he wasn’t exactly a martyr. The playoff incentives offered in the new contract have always been there throughout his time with the Bronx Bombers. It’s hard to believe the contract offered by the team was a bluff, because if he accepted and made the World Series next year, his salary would have been nearly double that of Chicago Cubs manager Lou Pinella, according to John Heyman of SI.com.
That’s a story for another time, though.
After watching Torre carry himself on and off the field the past 12 years, one thing is certain: The speech he gave to the graduates was no sham.
He told the graduating class to “go out there and be individuals,” and that’s exactly what he did.