MLB EVP Joe Torre talks Mariano Rivera, state of the game

New York, NY — Joe Torre has been around the game of baseball for more than fifty years, as a player, a manager and now Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for MLB. For a dozen of his fifty plus year career, Torre managed the New York Yankees and legendary closer, Mariano Rivera, winning four World Series championships in the Bronx. On Wednesday afternoon, Torre, along with other luminaries in sports and broadcasting, attended the annual March of Dimes Sports Luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria, where Rivera was honored as March of Dimes Sportsman of the Year after retiring from the game following 19 seasons with the Yankees.

This year’s luncheon will raise over $1 million for the nonprofit organization to work towards baby health and preventing birth defects. Torre — who oversees MLB operations, on-field operations, on-field discipline, and umpiring in his role with MLB — was instrumental in Rivera’s involvement with the organization and the luncheon. Torre himself is no stranger to the importance of community service and protecting children — he and his wife Ali founded the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation in 2002 to “educate to end the cycle of domestic violence and save lives.”

I caught up with Torre before the luncheon to talk about Rivera’s legacy, the importance of character, and the state of the game.

Amanda Rykoff: What is Mariano Rivera’s lasting legacy on the game?

Joe Torre: To me it’s his character. Years and years ago, before you were born, Leo Durocher used to say that nice guys finish last and I think Mariano is certainly a contradiction to that. He’s got great heart, he’s got great character, he’s a great family man and yet he devoted himself to our great game and to the New York Yankees for so long and just never relented on thinking he had accomplished enough.

Amanda Rykoff: How does Rivera’s commitment off the field set him apart from other greats of the game?

Joe Torre: Unfortunately we’re getting outnumbered in that regard. I think the media plays a big part in glorifying the individual achievements and really looking in the mirror a lot and really being proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished. Mariano Rivera has got great character. It’s awfully nice for the March of Dimes to honor someone who does things the right way. We spend so much time paying attention to people who do bad things and I’m just so proud to have been his manager for 12 years and of course without him on my ball club and a couple others, Derek Jeter included, I don’t have the success I had with the Yankees. I’m proud to be a friend of Mariano’s and that’s the one great thing I’ve taken from my Yankee years is the fact that I’ve maintained relationships that have been very fruitful for me.

Amanda Rykoff: How important was it that someone like Mariano Rivera was the last to wear Jackie Robinson’s number 42?

Joe Torre: I know Rachel Robinson [Jackie’s wife] couldn’t have been more proud of what Mariano represented. We all know what Jackie meant to this game of baseball. He opened a lot of doors for a lot of minorities but the fact that he was a tough competitor and had a great deal of character and for Mariano to be the last one to wear Jackie’s number is pretty symbolic.

Amanda Rykoff: What are the best stories you’re looking forward to next season?

Joe Torre: Let’s wait until Santa Claus leaves the room first. What I always look forward to respecting the game. I know it sounds corny, but it still works for me. Everybody, whether it’s football, basketball, even baseball, people like to pound their chests like they invented the game, the game has been here, it’s been a great game, and the only way we can continue to make it grow is for everybody to take the responsibility is making sure it’s pushed in that direction. I’m looking forward to a lot of mutual respect in the game. I had some good years with the Yankees but I always felt it was important to play the game the right way. Whether it’s a pie in the sky type of thing I still look forward to that and my role with Major League Baseball I’m going to try to do what I can.

Amanda Rykoff: We’ve had one of the hottest stoves in history this offseason. What does that say about the state of the game?

Joe Torre: I think it’s very healthy. When you draw 73 million people especially how horrible our first have was weather-wise I thought it was amazing that the game is generating that kind of interest. I give the commissioner a great deal of credit for doing things that really are stimulating the game’s growth. I look forward to being a part of it. Anything I can do to help this game grow I’m going to certainly be a part of it, I want to be a part of it.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Strategy