Torre’s Gift to All Fathers: Frank Talk About Prostate Cancer
Published: May 28, 2011
When Joe Torre was managing, he used to receive suggestions from fans about lineups and rotations and, most helpful of all, how to handle the Boss. As if.
Elise Amendola/ Associated Press
“All of a sudden, we’re in the same club,” he said.
Torre has been out front in fighting this surreptitious disease since his bout with it early in 1999. One hundred twenty-five victories the year before meant nothing at that moment. The only number that counted was that his P.S.A., the marker for cancer, had nearly doubled in one year.
Instead of choosing between the lefty and the righty in the bullpen, Torre had to choose between conservative and aggressive treatment. He opted for surgery. Now he is 70 years old and working in the commissioner’s office and enjoying his family, and spreading the news about prostate cancer, which strikes one in six men, in the gland between the bladder and the rectum.
Torre is putting himself in public, serving as a judge in a Father’s Day contest, MVP Dad, held by Major League Baseball. Through Wednesday, fans may nominate their fathers on a Web site, MLB.com/mvpdad. Thirty fathers, one per franchise, will be honored around June 19; Torre will visit four ballparks in the preceding days — Coors Field, Yankee Stadium, Nationals Park and Wrigley Field. Current stars will also publicize the cause, and a charity home run challenge will be held in June.
“My father wasn’t the best role model to me,” Torre said, alluding to the abuse his father directed at his family, the motivation for the Safe at Home Foundation, which combats domestic violence.
Father’s Day is the perfect time to remember the love and guidance fathers can give — but it works both ways. Children can also urge their fathers to seek annual checkups for prostate cancer, the way many of them lecture their parents about smoking or bad diets.
“Kids are much more intuitive these days,” Torre said in a telephone interview. “Not that I’m crazy about what’s on TV, but they know so much these days.”
Torre was 58 when a routine checkup revealed he had prostate cancer. His daughter, Andrea Rae, was 3. “I wanted to be around for her,” he said.
His wife, Ali, was part of the process, which Torre says is vital, to have somebody close sharing the details and the fears. He often refers to his wife in conversation, as if her counsel was helping him hold a news conference, say the right thing, and maybe it is.
Then there is the army out there, the men who have faced the chilling diagnosis, the options for treatment. Some men cannot talk about it; others share their experience.
Just like checking the batteries on a smoke detector when moving the clocks two times a year, Father’s Day is a good time to remind men of a certain age. Torre praises Michael Milken, the founder of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, for taking some of the mystery from this common disease.
After a few months off for surgery in 1999, Torre helped the Yankees win two more World Series, then moved to Los Angeles after 2007, when the Yankees let him know it was time. Last September, he turned the job over to Don Mattingly.
“The price for losing wasn’t worth it,” Torre said. He recalled going to spring training this year and saying to Mattingly, “How do you feel about this managing stuff now?” Mattingly, still on the learning curve, is engrossed. Torre said he was sad to watch M.L.B. take over the strapped team.
“It’s a shame,” Torre said. “I go back with that club to growing up in Brooklyn.”
He was a Giants fan, but he understands the history. He also watches his previous club, the Yankees, in their first full season since the death of George Steinbrenner last July.
“Let’s admit it, George cast a very large shadow,” Torre said. He gets a kick when fans say this event or that event would not have happened if the Boss had been running the club, as if things always ran smoothly back in George’s day.
Torre’s main responsibility is overseeing the umpires. He says he feels for them, when modern technology suggests they have made a mistake. He says he can see technology deciding fair from foul one of these seasons, adding to the current use of cameras to determine whether a ball went over a home run line. But he does not see the day when technology decides balls and strikes, or plays at the bases.
“It’s an imperfect sport,” he said, adding quickly that umpires were very, very good.
Ultimately, it is a sport, however combative and expensive — not to be confused with real life, which is children urging their fathers to get a checkup.