Tuesday, September 7, 2010

#15 - Joe Torre

Joe Torre gets an action shot, the first one in a few cards, but still the fourth one out of ten, a pretty good ratio. It looks like Joe just got brushed back. Maybe he hit a homer his previous at bat. Similar to the subject of the prior post, this was Torre's last card in a Cardinals uniform as he was air brushed into a Mets uniform in '75. Joe was an All-Star in '73 and had a pretty hot start to the season, with an average of around .340 at vote time. But he was in decline mode and his light power to that point - only 25 RBI's through mid-June - presaged a second half during which he hit below .260. He put in a lot more games at first - which he shared with Tim McCarver - than at third, and it wouldn't be too long before he was on his new career path. I am so blind that I cannot tell if we are seeing another away uniform, but I think so. The white of the uniform is not quite as bright as the white in the piping. If so the crowd was probably cheering the brushback. My guess is he's at Shea, his future home.

Joe Torre was signed by the then Milwaukee Braves in '59 after growing up in Brooklyn under some tough circumstances. Joe's dad was abusive and he would be helped a bunch by his brother Frank, who was then playing for the Braves. Joe was a hell of a local player but was deemed too chubby by lots of scouts and it took some persuading by Frank to the Milwaukee administration to take Joe. But Frank was a good scout and after a kick-ass year in C ball in '60 - Joe put up a line of .344/16/74 with a .450 OBA - Frank's little brother got a hit in his first game up top. After kicking off '61 with a .342 clip in Triple A, Joe came up for good.

Torre was a catcher when he began his career but the Braves already had a perennial All-Star at that position in Del Crandall. But Crandall got hurt early in the '61 season and after a couple other veteran guys didn't show too much Joe got pulled into the lineup. He had a monster arm and his first few seasons behind the plate Joe would pick runners off at a pretty significant premium to league averages. His rookie year he got 49% (vs an NL average of 38%) and that defense couple with some pretty good plate numbers got Joe second place in that year's ROY voting - Billy Williams won - and a place on the Topps Rookie team. In '62 Crandall was healthy so he returned to the starting spot and Joe's at bats pretty much halved. In '63 Del's average declined fast though he was still Warren Spahn's guy behind the plate so he and Joe split starting time and Joe got some other starts at first, position roles that would continue the next few seasons. In '64 Del left and Joe went on a nice three-year run, averaging a line of .310/28/97 with a .373 OBA and being named an All-Star each season. He also won a Gold Glove in '65. In '67 he hit a bit of a wall and in '68 an early season hand injury and the general offensive malaise that pervaded the '68 season pulled Joe's numbers down pretty significantly. By then Joe was the Braves player rep and he declined the contract offered him following the '68 season, one in which his offered salary was reduced. So it was no surprise when Joe was then traded to St. Louis for Orlando Cepeda.

Torre didn't have the best timing as a player to get some Series action. He came up to Milwaukee just after the team made two Series trips and he got to St. Louis just after the team made two Series trips. Another parallel was that the Cards already had an All-Star catcher in Tim McCarver so when Joe got there he took the spot of the guy for whom he'd been traded and nearly all his playing time was spent at first base. That year Joe began the best three-year run of his career with numbers that bettered Cepeda's. Then in '70 starting third baseman Mike Shannon began a quick career wind-down due to nephritis. And McCarver was traded to the Phillies as part of the Curt Flood deal which brought Dick Allen to the Cards. So in spring training of '70 Joe went into overdrive with coach George Kissell to learn how to play third. During the season he swapped time behind the plate with new kid Ted Simmons, Allen took over first, and Joe put in nearly half his field time at third in a pretty seamless move. He returned to the All-Star game that year on the heels of another excellent offensive season. Then Joe exploded in '71 as he played third exclusively while leading the NL in hits, batting average, and RBI's in his MVP season. Two All-Star seasons followed the next years but '72 was a big discount offensively and '73 a bit less of one. After putting up numbers in '74 during which Joe spent nearly all his time at first - his line was .282/11/70 - he was traded to the Mets for Ray Sadecki and Tommie Moore.

In '75 Torre returned to third for the Mets with a little bit of time at first. He split time at both positions with a bunch of guys, primarily Ed Kranepool, Wayne Garrett, and Dave Kingman. So his at bats came way down as did his average, which landed at .247 with a similar move lower in his power stats. In '76 he again played the infield corners, splitting time at third with Ray Staiger, and did some pinch hitting work, while moving his average up to .306. In '77 Joe did nearly all pinch work before being named mi-year as manager of the team. It would be his final year as a player and he finished with a .297 average with 252 homers, 1,185 RBI's, and a .365 OBA. He was an All-Star nine times.

Torre inherited a pretty ugly team with that "77 Mets squad that got only uglier after the geniuses upstairs traded away Tom Seaver. So Joe's introduction to managing wasn't a great one. But he would ultimately have a long and successful run in that role, putting in time in NY ('77-'81), Atlanta ('82-'84), St. Louis ('90-'95), the Yankees ('96-2007), and LA ('2008-present). During that gap in the late Eighties he was an announcer for the Angels. He won a division title his first year with the Braves, ten with the Yankees, and two with LA. He grabbed six pennants with the Yankees, as well as four Series titles, and was named Manager of the Year twice (in '96 and '98). Through the end of '09 he is 2,246-1,915 for his career. Joe's other big achievement post-playing career has been the creation and managing of his Safe at Home Foundation, which does lots of work with abused spouses and kids.

'71 was Torre's MVP year, so its presence is primary on the back of the card. Torre was born in Brooklyn and if you believe the tabloids, he may be back working in the City pretty soon, but not for the Yankees.

I am going to bring up an old guy for the link but it counts:

1. Torre and Gene Oliver '63 to '67 Braves;
2. Oliver and Paul Popovich '69 Cubs.

Gene Oliver was primarily a catcher during the '60's. He was also a first baseman and outfielder. He was primarily a backup. He went to Northwestern and sounds like he was a pretty interesting guy. He passed away in 2007 from lung cancer.

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