Thursday, August 1, 2013

#568 - Mike Torrez

July was sort of a lost month posting-wise so it’s good to come back to an action shot, this one of Mike Torrez going through his pitching motion at Shea, which will be one of many homes for him down the road. Mike was expected to have a big year in ’73 after his huge improvement the prior year and if he even approached the success he had in ’72 it’s very likely the Expos would have made the playoffs. But things roll that way sometimes and he wasn’t the only guy on the staff to go south in ’73 as Bailor Moore and staff ace Bill Stoneman had tough years as well. The good news for Mike, though, was that his year would be an abberation in what was a pretty good run for him in the Seventies. Mike was a location guy who could throw some heat. I remember during the ’77 season how Phil Rizzuto would explain how his job was to keep nibbling at the corners, which explained his relatively high walk totals, at leaset compared to his strikeouts. I am pretty sure that’s how he pitched pretty much his whole career, and it wasn’t a bad one so let’s check it out.

Mike Torrez grew up in Topeka, Kansas, where in high school he was a basketball star and only played baseball in summer leagues because his school dropped the sport. By happenstance one of his coaches was a scout for St. Louis and on his recommendation the Cards signed Mike in ’64, after he finished his senior American Legion season. His career began a bit less than swimmingly the next summer when he was 4-8 with a 4.79 ERA in A ball. He fixed that in ’66 when he went 7-4 at the same level, cut his walks in half, and had a 2.50 ERA. The second half of that season was spent in Double A and while Mike went only 3-9, his ERA remained low at 2.62 so in ’67 he moved up to Triple A. There he went 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA before making his MLB debut that September. In ’68 he put up some nice early numbers as a spot guy in St. Louis but with all the innings hogs the team had, he wasn’t getting enough work and he returned to Triple A to go 8-2 with a 3.24 ERA. Both years he missed post-season work. In ’69 he stayed in St. Louis the whole season, again doing spot work, and posting a very good record while putting up an NL-average ERA. In ’70 he joined the rotation and his innings moved up considerably, but so did his ERA as his record went the other way. After a lackluster start to the ’71 season he went to Montreal for pitcher Bob Reynolds.

Going to the Expos was not exactly a cure for Torrez’s lost season. Montreal initially sent him to Triple A Winnipeg, where in a spot role he went 2-4 with an 8.16 ERA and the usual high number of walks. It would later be revealed that Mike was out of shape, both physically and emotionally, in part because of a rough divorce he was undertaking. But he pitched well in his only game up top, got in shape over the winter, and had a good spring training in ’72. Then he put up his biggest season to date after returning to the rotation, comleting 13 of his starts and finally recording more strikeouts than walks. After his step back in ’73 he went 15-8 with a 3.57 ERA the next year and got his K/BB ratio on the right side again. But it would be his final season in Montreal as, in one of the worst trades ever, the Expos sent him and Ken Singleton to Baltimore for Dave McNally, Rich Coggins, and a minor leaguer. Coggins would have that weird thyroid thing that would minimize his playing time up north and McNally retired pretty much immediately. In the meantime Singleton began his career as an offensive force in the AL and Mike went 20-9 with a 3.06 ERA and 16 complete games. He did lead the AL in walks but with that better defense behind him and the season he was having, he could afford that luxury. But then he was gone again, this time to Oakland, who was looking to unload two of its disgruntled stars before they all left to free agency. So Mike, Don Baylor, and Paul Mitchell (not the hair guy) went to the A’s for Ken Holtzman and Reggie Jackson. Mike wouldn’t win 20 this time but he would still have an excellent year, going 16-12 for a team that nearly won the division again. He recorded four shutouts and cut his walk total by over a third, both of which contributed to a career-best 2.50 ERA. In ’77 he began the season 3-1, a real achievement for the decimated A’s, before hitting the road again, this time to the Yankees, where he went for Dock Ellis, Larry Murray, and Marty Perez. While Mike only went 14-12 the rest of the way for NY, he ate a lot of innings with his 15 complete games, and he helped provide a nice balance to lefthanders Ron Guidry and Don Gullett. While he would give an iffy performance in the playoffs against Kansas City, he became a real stopper in the Series, going 2-0 against LA with a 2.50 ERA. 15 K’s, and only five walks in his two starts. Mike liked NY and was looking to stay there but when contract negotiations came up the Bombers were looking for a five-year deal and Boston offered seven so Mike moved yet again, this time to the Red Sox as a free agent.

Torrez would post identical records of 16-13 his first two seasons in Boston and, while he continued to eat up innings and posted a better-than-average ERA, his most high profile moments for the Sox were negatives: in ’78 he gave up the Bucky Dent homer in the one-game playoff with the Yankees; and in ’79 he led the AL in both earned runs and walks. In ’80 his ERA popped to over 5.00 as he went 9-16 for his first losing season since ’73. In ’81 he was rolling pretty well but the strike sort of killed his momentum though he finished the year with very ’69-ish numbers of 10-3 with a 3.68 ERA. After a 9-9 season in ’82 with another fat ERA, he was sent back to NY following the season, this time to the Mets. For a pretty bad team, Mike almost did the negative Triple Crown thing, leading the NL in losses, earned runs, and walks, going 10-17 with a 4.38 ERA. After a 1-5 start to the ’84 season he was cut and then picked up by Oakland. Back with the A’s his numbers weren’t too hot either in Oakland or for his few Triple A games, and he was again released. In ’85 he hooked up with the independent Miami Marlins of the Class A Florida State League. He did well enough, going 7-8 with a 2.80 ERA in his 19 starts but got no takers. His pitching career over, Mike finished 185-160 with a 3.96 ERA, 117 complete games, and 15 shutouts. In the post-season he went 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA in four games.

Following his career Torrez returned to the NYC area where in ’86 he became a marketing guy for an office furniture and supply company which he did through ’94. Later that year he founded MAT Premiums, a business that attaches logos to pretty much anything. He is still running the business, though now he commutes to its east coast base from back in Kansas, where he returned in the mid-2000’s. He has an interview on the Jimmy Scott blog that is linked to here.

Mike isn’t a lover of capital letters in his signature. His star bullets are rightfully all about ’72. This is his third card in which the cartoon recognizes his affinity for cars, though that hobby didn’t come up in the above interview.

Mike’s longest stop was with the Sox, so let’s see how he gets with the ’73 version:

1. Torrez and Carlton Fisk ’78 to ’80 Red Sox (I could also have used Yaz, Tiant, Lee, and Dwight Evans);
2. Fisk was on the ’73 Red Sox.

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