As he turned away from the podium on the steps of Keating Hall at the end of his 17-minute commencement address last Saturday morning, Tino Martinez looked to Stephen Freedman, Fordham’s provost, and asked, “Was that good enough?”
“Yeah, really good,” Freedman reassured.
“Thank you very much,” Tino replied.
If you watch the speech in full, it’s not difficult to discern why Tino, a former baseball player and hitting coach, might have been fishing for a compliment as he collected his notes and returned to his seat. Lathered in cliched tidbits of advice and worn sentiments of good fortune, the speech was disappointingly vague and seemed consistently disengaged with the Class of 2014.
Tino said deciding whether or not to address the graduating class, in which his daughter, Olivia, is a member, was a “tough choice.” But he ultimately decided to take advantage of the opportunity — and we should all be grateful.
“Father McShane wanted me to let all you guys know, if you return the shoes you wore last night at the party, he’ll send ya’ll a refund in the mail,” Tino joked at the beginning of his speech to few laughs, establishing an off-beat tone that would permeate the remainder of his address. (He was referring to previous night’s soggy Parent Appreciation Dinner.)
In fact, he seemed to get the most cheers when he cracked, “I know most of you students are already thinking, ‘When is this going to be over? I want to get to Arthur Avenue, go to Howl or Mugz’s and have a great time.'”
He added, “I understand. I feel the same way.”
In a well-intentioned, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to connect with most in the audience, Tino spoke about his career and life achievements in broad terms. His championship years playing for the Yankees were spoken of as if they were years tucked in a cubicle. Derek Jeter was a “co-worker,” a good batting average was “productivity.”
Specific stories about his time spent playing for the Yankees — aside from one funny anecdote about a Jesuit — were kept out of the speech. But wasn’t that the whole reason why he was selected as commencement speaker — after, of course, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor declined to deliver the address? It was his years spent playing professional baseball that made him qualified to stand behind that podium. But during the speech, it’s confusing to understand why he was chosen to address the Class of 2014 over anyone else.
There’s no doubt, his address would have been better — even for Red Sox fans — had Tino spoken from the heart about his experiences from Yankee Stadium and not worried so much about appealing to the masses. It would have meant more. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so nervous.
“When you’re playing well, you might receive a standing ovation,” Tino said. “When you’re not playing well, we get what is known as the ‘Bronx Cheer’.”
He continued, “I’m sure Father McShane threw a few shoes at the TV, calling me a bum and whatnot. And even our loyal fan Justice Sotomayor, I’m sure wasn’t very happy with me in the beginning either.”
Although Fr. McShane had touted Tino’s commitment to education, Tino did not discuss his days at the University of Tampa or the fact that he returned to the university in 2011 to receive his bachelor’s degree after abandoning his studies before graduating to pursue a career in baseball.
More expectedly, Tino did not discuss how he was forced to resign from his post as hitting coach for the Miami Marlins last July after allegations surfaced that he physically and verbally abused players.
Instead, he told the graduates to work toward building a strong resume because that’s what God will ask for when he decides whether or not you should be admitted into heaven.
“[God will look at my resume and get] to 2014 and He’ll say, ‘Commencement speaker at Fordham University and honorary doctorate degree? What was I thinking?'”
“And I’m like, ‘Hey that’s your doing, because you called Fr. McShane and told him to pick me and he couldn’t tell you no and I couldn’t tell him no, so here I am today,'” Tino said.
“You have opportunities out there,” Tino told the new graduates in closing. “There’s gonna be disappointment, there’s gonna be great times. Stay the course, stay passionate and your life will be happy, you’ll be productive. Don’t give up.”
Tino should be credited for delivering this year’s commencement address, a task that smoothly lends itself to criticism but is difficult to execute well. It is, however, worth pointing out that his address clearly stumbled short of imparting a substantive amount of valuable wisdom or practical advice to Fordham’s newest graduates. And that is a shame.
To the question of whether it was good enough, let’s leave that to the Class of 2014.
Point of View is an opinion-based column.