Topic: Sports & Entertainment
Joe Torre’s Breach of Trust
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.