"He called me in January," Torre said. "He was basically trying to find out how to go about it. I told him, 'Just go play baseball. You did something wrong. You paid the price. Now go play baseball, because nothing you say is going to make any sense to anybody anyway.'"
Torre, who managed the Yankees from 1996-2007, including Rodriguez's first four seasons in New York, and Rivera, who pitched for the Yankees from 1995-2013, were at Southern Connecticut State University on Monday night, part of the school's lecture series. In a 90-minute program moderated by ESPN's Linda Cohn, Torre and Rivera reminisced about their long, successful era with the Yankees — they won four World Series together — and the characters with whom they shared the glory, spinning tales about George Steinbrenner, Don Zimmer, Derek Jeter and the rest. And they offered some pointed observations about the state of the game as they took questions from the 1,500 or so at Lyman Auditorium.
Rodriguez, 39, after sitting out a one-year suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal involving performance enhancing drugs, has defied projections so far in his comeback. Though he went 0-for-4 against the Tigers on Monday night, he is hitting .286 with four home runs and 12 RBI through the Yankees' first 13 games.
"It's still early," said Torre, who had a rocky relationship with Rodriguez, "but what we've seen so far has been impressive. The ball is jumping off his bat again, which we haven't seen in a while. Of course, he's had the two hip surgeries."
Rivera was close to Rodriguez during their decade as teammates, and gave him similar advice.
"Told him, 'Just play baseball,'" Rivera said. "You can say nothing that will change anything. You messed up. You messed up. People are going to say things, throw things at you, but you can't do anything about it. Nothing you say is going to change things, so just play hard and enjoy it. The good thing is that it's all in the past."
In his role as head of on-field operations for Major League Baseball, Torre, 74, represents the establishment that Rodriguez challenged with lawsuits he eventually dropped, and he has to be careful about his remarks regarding specific teams.
"The biggest part of our game is the length of the season," Torre said. "The jury is still out, but he's probably taken a lot of pressure off himself by starting out as he has. Personality-wise, just watching him, he seems a little different, a little more realistic about what happens. I wish him luck because he's in baseball, and I think fans of New York crave a winner and he can help them win."
Rivera, 44, who saved a major league record 652 games, was known, and admired, for being undemonstrative on the mound, and he chided modern players for not showing respect, to the game or each other.
"I just want to see the game played the right way," he said. "When I say respect the game of baseball, I mean it. Respect the game of baseball. Now, it's too much of a show, and that causes problems. You should just get your three outs. I don't care how you do it, as long as you do it with class. I love to see relievers who come in and get their three outs and then take it to the dugout. "
Torre said young players today arrive on the scene with a sense of entitlement.
"Players seem to come up today as if the game has been waiting for them to arrive," Torre said. "You have to earn the fact that you're a star. I think a lot of players think they've arrived before they actually have. ... Too many players have lost sight of the respect factor in the game."
In his current role, Torre monitored the recent sequence of hit batters in the Kansas City-Oakland series. In the past, he said, if a pitcher hit a batter intentionally, there was a retaliation, and then it was over. Today, he said it tends to keep going back and forth. "Somebody's going to get hurt," he said.
Rivera said he is "glued to the TV" watching the Yankees, and sometimes feels the urge to throw his remote. "But one thing I always say, 'Don't count the Yankees out,'" he said.