This past Saturday (May 18), Skidmore College knocked it out of the park. In addition to watching 622 seniors graduate at its 108th commencement ceremony at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Skidmore awarded a pair of honorary degrees to its two commencement speakers, author and physicist Alan Lightman and legendary former New York Yankees manager and Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Torre. (We’ll get to him in a second.) Making the day even more star-studded, the college’s 2017 graduation speaker, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, was in attendance, too, there, supporting a former student from her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
For baseball fans and graduates alike, though, the highlight was, of course, Torre. “’It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up,'” Torre told Skidmore’s graduating class, quoting another famous Yankee, Babe Ruth. He went on to tell the graduating class: “Baseball is a team sport—you need one another to get through tough times. Life is also a team sport.”
Born in Brooklyn, Torre was first called up to the majors in 1960 and went on to have a long and distinguished career, first as an all-star catcher and infielder for the Milwaukee Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets; and later, as a celebrated manager for a number of teams including, most notably, the New York Yankees. Torre led the Yankees to four World Series championships, three of which were won consecutively (1998-2000). The 78-year-old former manager is one of only five managers in baseball history to win at least four World Series titles, and for that (and his tenure with the Yankees), he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
saratoga living had the distinct honor and pleasure of being able to sit down with Torre on the eve of Saturday’s graduation ceremony.
As a baseball Hall of Famer, how often do you get out to Cooperstown?
Every summer when we have the induction [ceremony], which will be toward the end of July, I’m there. This year will be a little more special, because two of my players, actually, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera, are going in.
How many summers have you been doing that?
Since I was inducted in 2014. It’s exciting—you walk into the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, you look around and say, “I’ll be damned—there are all kinds of Hall of Famers here, and I’m one of them.” It’s crazy, because I never really gave it a lot of thought. When you play and when you manage, that’s not what you do it for. You play and manage to win games and hit well. But when it’s all said and done, somebody voted, and I found myself in the Hall of Fame, thanks to the Yankee years.
You’re an interesting choice for a speaker at a small liberal arts college. Tell me how the college approached you.
I got a letter from Skidmore asking to have me up here [for graduation], partly for my years managing the Yankees and partly because of the charity work my wife and I do at the Safe at Home Foundation, which helps kids who deal with abuse and domestic violence. It’s something we’re very proud of.
Speaking of the Safe at Home Foundation, does your organization do any work here in the Capital Region?
We have a lot of them in the New York area, which is New York City, Westchester County and New Jersey, and we have one in Cincinnati and then six out on the West Coast. We’d like to spread the word more [but we want to] make sure that we bring the program to areas that can sustain it. So far, we’ve had 80,000 kids come through our program, so we know it works.
You used to own racehorses. What did you think about the controversial results of the Kentucky Derby?
Well, it was terrible weather, and I felt bad for the jockey, because it looked like he may have lost control of the horse at the top of the stretch. That was a tough decision for the judges to make based on the fact that it’s never happened before and it’s the biggest race of the year. But I haven’t really heard any kickback other than from the owner of [Maximum Security].
So you think the disqualification was justified?
I’m no authority, but I have to give the [judges] credit for taking the time they did and really going against the grain.
Do you get up to Saratoga much for the summer track season?
I did the last time I got fired. [Laughs] That was in 1995 when I was with the Cardinals. After that, I came up here. I have a couple of harness horses right now. Thoroughbreds I had, and I’ve had some good fortune with them and exciting times. You realize after a period of time, those horses are athletes, too. They do pretty amazing stuff. I still have the ability to come up here, but the time gets away from me. I keep promising myself that I’ll be up in Saratoga this summer when the track starts up, because it’s no fun coming up for one day. You have to come up for a few days to really enjoy it.