Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Joe Torre’s Breach of Trust
(2/16/2009)

I have been fortunate to have a good friend named Bob McElwaine for the past ten years. Bob had careers as a Washington association leader and as a writer, but his most glamorous job was Hollywood publicist in the Forties and Fifties, when he worked intimately with stars like Danny Kaye, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Errol Flynn, and many others. Bob played football with Mickey Rooney as a kid, dated Marilyn Monroe as a young man, and later shared an office with gangster Johnny Stomponato, best known for being stabbed to death by Lana Turner’s daughter. You might think Bob has some great stories to tell, and you’d be right. But his autobiography has never found a publisher, because the publishers all want Bob to write about the scandals, the dirt, the dark secrets of the stars who employed him. He refuses. “I can’t write about those things,” he says. “It wouldn’t be right. They trusted me.”

I thought about Bob McElwaine and his determination to protect the confidences of his long-dead clients when the news stories began coming out describing Los Angeles Dodger manager Joe Torre’s new book about his years managing the New York Yankees. While he was in New York, Torre was the eye in the storm, the always calm, classy, professional baseball man who contrasted sharply with his brash and Machiavellian employer, George Steinbrenner. Torre managed to keep his rotating cast of millionaire egotists, prima donnas and whackos working and winning together by preaching integrity, team work, mutual respect, and most of all, trust.

Thus it was shocking to learn that his new book is full of juicy stories, locker room tales, and embarrassing revelations of exactly the kind that Bob McElwaine declared off-limits. Worse than that is the fact that Torre reputedly lectured his players on the importance of mutual respect and trust in his clubhouse, and the importance of keeping confidences. Then, when it came time to live up to his own standards, Torre cashed in.

What happened, Joe?

Well, it isn't a mystery. Torre's long and historically successful reign as Yankee manager ended in rancor and bitterness, as the team's ownership became frustrated over the team's repeated failures in the post-season in recent years and insisted that Torre's new contract be tied to World Series success. The manager considered this an insult (which it was), and moved on to manage the Dodgers. That episode supplied half of his motive to write the book, and a publisher's advance supplied the other half. Then the Sports Illustrated writer Joe decided to "tell his story to" (Tom Verducci) supplied the wordcraft to, among other things, portray Yankee star Alex Rodriguez as a self-absorbed jerk, former center-fielder Bernie Williams as a cheapskate, Yankee GM Brian Cashman as a double-talking snake and Roger Clemens as, well, whatever it is you are when you have the team trainer rub liniment on your testicles before every start.

Yikes. Also, ewww! Do you think Roger assumed that this disturbing ritual would end up on the shelves at Border's?

The Yankees are reportedly considering requiring a confidentiality agreement so they have legal recourse against future disgruntled managers. Who can blame them? When Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan wrote the first baseball locker room books (The Long Season and Pennant Race) fifty years ago, he was attacked as violating an "unwritten rule"---and Brosnan, an excellent writer and relief pitcher, included nothing that was particularly embarrassing or negative, especially by today's standards. Then Jim Bouton, a better pitcher but a cruder writer, hit the jackpot with Ball Four, and player locker-room books became a standard genre. Even then some tales were off-limits until Jose Canseco obliterated all boundaries with his pay-back assault on the game that shunned him, Juiced, in which he recounted illegal drug activity and named the players attached to the butts he had injected with steroids.

Joe Torre was "old school," a gentleman, above selling secrets and embarrassing colleagues for notoriety and money. Was it really just that the riches were too good to turn down? Joe is hardly hurting for wealth. Was he, like Canseco, interested in settling old scores? Recent practitioners of the art of using best-sellers as a knives-in-the-back, like several Bush officials, have been able to claim that they were acting in the public interest, though there is still a the question of whether it is really in the public’s interest for a president not to be able to trust his staff to keep conversations confidential. But the dirt about A-Rod, Jeter and Rocket hardly qualifies as what "the public has a right to know."

Some want to excuse Joe by blaming Verducci. But Joe Torre’s name is on the book. He signed off. He may not have chosen the words, but he owns them.

It is painful to say, but unavoidable: Joe Torre betrayed his associates, colleagues and principles. He violated their trust, after representing himself in the locker room and club house as perhaps the only person every player could trust.

"But what about history?" the journalists and historians ask. Isn’t Torre providing a valuable service? Doesn't history rely on revelations by old lovers, fickle friends, disaffected employees, angry family members and other traitors?

It does indeed. And there always seem to be plenty of them ready to speak up, cash in, and tarnish a reputation. That does not make their conduct admirable, only useful, and sometimes titillating, revealing and interesting.

Bob McElwaine has his ethical values straight. For him, all that matters is that famous people trusted him to keep their secrets, and that's what he is obligated to do.

Forever.

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