Torre's foundation applauds Commissioner's implementation of domestic violence policy
By Mark Newman
NEW YORK -- On a night when the host celebrated the 20th anniversary of his team that started Major League Baseball's last dynasty, the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation's 14th Annual Celebrity Gala first honored Commissioner Rob Manfred for his and MLB's leadership in the area of domestic violence.
"I am really honored on behalf of Major League Baseball to accept this award, mostly because I have such great respect for the work that Safe at Home and Joe and Ali Torre do in this space," Manfred told more than 500 patrons Thursday at the Cipriani near Wall Street. "I'm also happy to accept it because I'm accepting it on behalf of dozens of people at Major League Baseball and clubs who worked really hard on this topic for the last 24 months.
"We have done good work on the issue of domestic violence, [and] it's because we have a policy that is comprehensive, it focuses on education as well as discipline, and, importantly, protects players' rights."
Manfred said there were two specific groups he wanted to acknowledge as instrumental figures to the creation and execution of MLB's domestic violence policy.
"The first was our players," he said. "Our players came to the table on the issue of domestic violence in the middle of the collective bargaining agreement, when they had no obligation to make any change. They were forthcoming in the negotiation of the policy because they accept the policy as a fair one. We do have to get through the discipline situation. We've been very fortunate that those situations have not been controversial between the Players Association and the Commissioner's Office, and our players are really to be commended in that regard.
"As you might imagine, given that I'm a labor lawyer by training, when we started on the issue of domestic violence, we needed help in terms of getting up to speed, understanding the issues, and we were tremendously fortunate in that we had one paid asset and one non-paid asset, and that was Joe and Ali Torre. Not only did they share with us their own personal knowledge and expertise in the area, but they introduced us to a whole network of groups that work in this space and made it possible for us to negotiate the policy with players that we ended up with. So I want to thank Joe and Ali not only for the great work that they do every day at the Foundation, but also for the help that they've given Major League Baseball in this space."
The Safe At Home Foundation was founded in 2002 by Ali and Joe Torre in response to the impact that domestic violence had on Joe and his family. Now in its second decade of educating students who are most profoundly affected by domestic violence, Safe At Home helps thousands of young people every year. Named in honor of his mother, the Margaret's Place program provides a "safe room" in schools staffed by a full-time counselor who provides both individual and group counseling sessions.
Additionally, schoolwide anti-violence campaigns and educational forums for school employees and parents enhance the program's curriculum. Margaret's Place reaches more than 12,000 middle and high school students annually in metropolitan New York and Los Angeles. The Safe At Home Foundation helps young people heal, overcome their fears and end the cycle of violence that all too often continues on through generations.
Torre, MLB's Chief Baseball Officer, saw this event raise around $1.5 million to go fully toward putting safe rooms in schools. It is his mission to help kids avoid what he went through as a youngster who saw his father abuse his mother and thought it was somehow his fault until later in life.
"Sports can often be a window to larger societal issues," Torre said. "In August of last year, Major League Baseball and the Players Association came together -- and this is hugely important -- on a joint policy that governs issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. From the standpoint of our foundation, it was extremely exciting to see baseball show true leadership.
"So often domestic violence in sports is discussed in the text of suspensions. And there is no doubt that discipline is an important deterrent, but a suspension doesn't solve everything. In some ways, it's not the most important element to address. MLB's policy against domestic violence provides a comprehensive support program ... and resources for victims and their families. It's the kind of non-judgmental support that victims need. Baseball's program includes an emphasis on education, which is what we do, treatment and community outreach. There are confidential resources at the fingertips of families. In baseball, we are aiming to raise awareness about healthy relationships and the communication that is necessary to build them."
Torre drew loud applause in the room when he said, "Under our policy, an arrest is not necessary to take action and hold the wrongdoer accountable." He added: "We've had a couple of instances this year where discipline was issued and there wasn't an arrest involved. This is about ... the constant need for respect and responsibility."
Torre's former shortstop, Derek Jeter, was among the many members of that '96 World Series championship team gathered at the gala. While they talked about old times in beating the Braves in six games, the focus was on their ex-manager's foundation and all those kids.
"There are so many athletes and managers who do great things in the community and give back," Jeter said. "He and his wife deserve a lot of credit for what they have done. People always want to talk about legacy, and I think a lot of times your legacy off the field, or away from the field, is much more important than what you were able to accomplish while you were in uniform. This is a legacy with him having an impact on so many kids in the community."
John Wetteland, who was on the mound for that final out in '96, added: "I'd do anything for Joe Torre the rest of my life. It's a good time to meet good friends and fans, ex-teammates, but it goes well beyond that, as we all know. I've always been interested in that aspect of getting back together for a reason, not just to say 'hi.'"
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.