Thursday, February 7, 2013

#499 - Rusty Torres

History really is a prism, isn’t it? The small moment in time covered by this set gave us the white light of professional baseball players in many different career arcs, but they were all playing ball in ’73. Then came the colors: a lot stayed in or returned to baseball; a whole bunch turned to real estate; quite a few passed away, some of them quite young; some did amazing things; and some got into a little trouble, but nothing truly horrific. This guy changes things a bunch with what he apparently did in 2012. It makes it difficult to write about him but as far as I know he hasn’t been declared guilty yet so let’s just move ahead. After being one of the pieces of the Graig Nettles trade, Rusty Torres got himself a fairly regular gig in the Cleveland outfield in ’73, splitting time in right with Oscar Gamble and a bunch of guys and playing behind George Hendrick in center. Rusty didn’t hit too well but his defense was pretty good. Here he shows his batting stance in Oakland. That’s Chris Chambliss behind him on the right and while that looks like a 25 on the back of the player on the left, that was Buddy Bell’s number and the guy here looks black. My nod goes to that being Oscar Gamble, who was 23.

Rusty Torres got his nickname while growing up because he had relatively blonde hair for his ethnicity or because he swung a stickball bat like a rusty gate. Take your pick. He hit the crap out of the ball in his Jamaica, Queens, NYC vocational high school and was drafted and signed from there by the Yankees in ’66. After military work he began playing in a ’67 summer split between Rookie ball and three A teams. He hit considerably higher at the lower level and in ’68 hit a tad light in A ball. In ’69 he did much better at that level, posting a .392 OBA and adding 14 stolen bases. In ’70 he was the fourth outfielder on his Double A team where outside a .374 OBA his numbers weren’t too hot. But in ’71 he moved up a notch anyway, got a starting gig in Triple A, and posted his best numbers including a .418 OBA. He made his debut for NY with a few games in right field at the end of that September. In ’72 he remained on the NY roster and played behind Johnny Callison in right but a light average got him some time back at Syracuse. He did pretty good work in the field, though, and after the season went to Cleveland with John Ellis, Jerry Kenney, and Charlie Spikes for Jerry Moses and Nettles.

In ’74 Torres did much more back-up than starting work spread pretty evenly between all three outfield spots. But his average slid as did his at bats and late in the season he went to California with Ken Suarez and cash for Frank Robinson. He spent all of ’75 in Triple A where he hit .306 with a .399 OBA and 64 RBI’s. The next year he moved up to become the de-facto starting center fielder as his 68 games there beat out anyone else’s in what was basically a musical chairs situation at that position. But like the last time he started Rusty hit only .205 and the next year with some new free agents in the line-up he worked sporadically, hitting only .156 in 77 at bats. Just prior to the ’78 season he was awarded free agency himself and he signed with Texas and for them in Triple A hit .346 with lots of power - 39 RBI’s in 107 at bats – in just over a month. Then he was on the road again, this time to the White Sox with Claudell Washington for former teammate Bobby Bonds. He hit .280 for Chicago with 55 RBI’s the rest of the way in Triple A and then .318 in a few late games up top. In ’79 it was all Chicago as he hit .253 in a season of outfield reserve work. He then signed with Kansas City as a free agent but didn’t hit too well in another reserve role and spent a bit of the year back in Triple A. He remained there in ’81 with Pittsburgh’s franchise where he hit .257 but with an excellent OBA of .377 and 21 homers with 74 RBI’s. In ’82, his last season as a player, he hooked up with Monterrey in the Mexican League. He hit .212 with 35 homers and 126 RBI’s in nine seasons of MLB work and .274 with 98 homers and a .390 OBA in the minors.  

Torres got into a bit of trouble shortly after his playing career, getting busted with cocaine in ’85. He later started an organization called Winning Beyond Winning, a non-profit that helped kids stay away from drugs through sports. He then got a job as a recreational supervisor for the town of Oyster Bay in Long Island. It was while working there in 2012 that he admitted to rubbing up against and exposing himself to an eight year old girl. Enough said on this guy.

Until his arrests, Torres’ most high-profile footnote was that he was a participant in three games forfeited by MLB, pretty rare since there have only been about a half-dozen all-time. In ’71 he was playing for NY in the final home Senators game when the fans mobbed the field before it was over. That one was obviously never going to be replayed so it was forfeited. The next two were big cultural highlights for baseball: the Cleveland ten cent beer night in ’74; and the White Sox anti-disco night in ’79.

I am sorry to associate anyone with this guy but here goes:

1. Torres and Johnny Callison ’72 Yankees;
2. Callison and Pat Corrales ’64 to ’65 Phillies.

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