Joe Torre the Player

I remember back in the late 1990’s when I told my dad that Joe Torre (the symbol of the Yankees to me) was the scum of the earth, and I also remember my horror (at the time) when my dad told me he was both a player and a manager for the Braves.

Ranking fifth (for now) on the all-time managerial wins list, Joe Torre will make it into the Hall of Fame, but lost in his brilliance and success as a manager is what some (but probably isn’t) might call a Hall of Fame playing career.

After a brief call-up in 1960 as a 19-year old catcher, Joe Torre would become more of an everyday player in 1961 on a Milwaukee Braves team that included Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. His first season was a pretty good one as he went on to come in second in the Rookie of the Year voting (to Billy Williams, who had an awesome rookie season) with a .278/.330/.424 line with 10 home runs and 21 doubles. After a frustrating 1962, he broke out in 1963, and for the next 7 seasons, he would be one of the best catchers in the National League.

Over that time (1963-1970), he made 6 All-Star appearances, won a Gold Glove, and played in 135 game in all but one of those seasons. His OPS+ usually sat in the 120-140 range, which is pretty good for a catcher but he was playing quite a bit at first base as well. In 1966 (the first in Atlanta), Torre had his best season during the stretch hitting .315/.382/.560 with 31 HR, 101 RBI, 20 2B, and only 1 more strikeout than walk (61 to 60). He fell off a bit the next season and even more the following season, and he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 1969 season for Orlando Cepeda, who played fairly well for a couple of seasons but was clearly no longer the force he was in San Francisco at the beginning of the decade.

Joe Torre revived his career in St. Louis, but it was mostly as a first baseman and third baseman. In 1969, he bounced back by playing 144 of the 161 games at first, but he did play over half of his games at catcher in 1970. During both of those seasons, his batting average and power went back up, and he drove in 100 runs in both seasons. Prior to the 1971 season, the Cardinals and Torre decided it would be best if he played third base to clear a spot for young 21-year old Ted Simmons, who went on to do pretty well that season. But Torre did better. Having his best season at the age of 30, Torre hit .363/.421/.555 with 24 HR, 137 RBI, and 230 H. The average and RBI totals were league-bests, but his 24 home runs were no match for Willie Stargell’s 48. Torre was named the MVP for the first and only time.

Torre remained a solid player for the next few seasons, but he never neared his 1971 totals again. He was traded to the Mets after the 1974 season where he served as a player-coach and player-manager before retiringas a player in 1977 to focus on full managing responsibilities.

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