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Long blue line

Joe Torre grew up the son of an abusive NYPD detective. Baseball was a refuge and became his life, putting him on path that led him to Dodgers.

November 03, 2007|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

A former teammate, current TV analyst and dedicated bridge player, Tim McCarver chose a term from that card game when reflecting on Joe Torre.

"Anyone who ever attached themselves to Joe's wagon, and he was an absolutely terrific player who drew a lot of attachments, knew he would eventually be a lay-down success as a manager," McCarver said from his Sarasota, Fla., home. "It was a lay-down because of his knowledge of the game and his skill in handling people."

Frank Torre, a former first baseman with the Milwaukee Braves and Philadelphia Phillies who preceded his brother to the major leagues by four years, said, "The difference between Joey and I is that baseball is part of my life while baseball has been all of his life."

"Ever since he went into pro ball and reached the big leagues," Frank Torre said from his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., "he managed along with the manager, always preparing himself. I think he learned something every step along the way."

At 67, Joe Torre is beginning a new chapter as manager of the Dodgers. Renowned nationally, celebrated for leading the New York Yankees to four World Series titles and 12 straight postseason appearances, he is a long way from a formative period when a baseball life may have represented a refuge from the tension of a Brooklyn home in which his father, an NYPD detective, dealt physical and verbal abuse on his family.

"There were weapons in the house and often threats that he would use them," Frank Torre said of Joe Sr., "and it was probably toughest on Joey, who was the youngest of the five kids by eight years. Joey would come home from school or playing ball, see our dad's car parked out front, and looked for ways to stay out longer."

Often it was on the skin diamonds near his home in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn. His sister, Marguerite, who has been a nun for more than 50 years, gave him his first glove. Another sister, Rae, still lives in that Brooklyn house, having never married.

Frank Torre said he and Joe (a third brother and the oldest, Rocco, died of a heart attack in 1996 as Joe was closing in on a World Series title in his first year as the Yankees' manager) suspect a correlation between the abuse their mother endured and their sisters' choices. Maybe it was evident, too, Frank said, in the shyness his brother exhibited for many years. Baseball represented self esteem, the diamond a place to hide.

Two marriages failed as Joe Torre, a man now praised for his communication skills and the five years he spent as an Angels TV analyst, acted impetuously and immaturely at times, his brother said, and for many years tended to reserve his emotions and thoughts for the clubhouse.

Now, Joe and Ali, whom he met while managing the New York Mets, have been married for 10 years, dote on their daughter (Andrea Rae) and play a role in the lives of his three children (one a stepchild) from the previous marriages, according to Frank. They also talk candidly, Frank said, of how counseling has benefited their marriage, and they have established a foundation for victims of domestic abuse called Safe At Home.

Frank Torre returned to Brooklyn one winter and figuratively kicked his father out by starting the legal process through which Joe Sr. agreed to a divorce ("our mother at least had 15 or so pleasant years at the end of her life," Frank said). He now sees the Torre clan as having come "full cycle."

"Our roots are still in Brooklyn, as are the Dodgers', although we'll have to adjust," he said. "We were [New York] Giants fans as kids and we hated the Dodgers and hated the Yankees. How funny is it that for the last 12 years my sisters and I have rooted like heck for the Yankees, and now we're going to be rooting like heck for the Dodgers. Vero [Beach] is only about an hour from where I live, and I'm excited for the opportunity to be able to visit Joey and my longtime friend Tommy Lasorda in spring training. Tommy is the greatest. We need more people like him in baseball."

The Dodgers will be going to Vero for the last time; they'll be moving to Arizona for spring training in 2009. Frank Torre, 75, knows that all time is a gift.

He celebrated the 11th anniversary last week of his 1996 heart transplant, and it has been seven months since he had a kidney transplant.

"I know what I see in Joey and what I hear from him is real," he said. "He's very excited about the opportunity with the Dodgers. He wasn't sure he wanted to manage again, but he was sure that if and when he did he wanted it to be with a good organization, wanted a chance to win, and he feels he's got that. If nothing else, New York spoiled him that way.

"Some way, somehow, he got them to the playoffs every year, and people forget what a crapshoot that five-game [division] series is and what a real mess the Yankees were when he joined them. It was like they'd had a new manager every year, and [George] Steinbrenner himself told him not to buy, just rent.

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