Homer Happy: Joe Torre
Joe Torre’s long and successful career as a major league manager should not have come as much of a surprise to those who knew him when he was a player. Joe Torre the catcher-first baseman was a heady player with great game instincts. He was also a heck of a hitter.
Torre was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. He made the big league club the following season, hitting .278 as a rookie catcher (and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year balloting to Billy Williams). By 1963, he was the Braves’ everyday catcher, hitting .293 with 14 home runs and 71 RBIs. He also made his first appearance on the National League All-Star team.
In 1964, Torre hit .321 with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 109 RBIs. In 1965, Torre’s batting average dropped 30 points, but his 27 home runs represented another career best. And that mark would last only one season.
In 1966, Torre had his best season of the 1960s. He hit .315 with a career-high 36 home runs and drove in 101 runs while scoring 83. He was named to the National League All-Star team for the fourth consecutive year.
After averaging 28 home runs and 97 RBIs from 1964 -1966, with a combined .310 batting average, Torre batted .277 with 20 home runs and 68 RBIs in 1967. The 1968 season returned even less from Torre’s bat: a .271 batting average with only ten home runs and 55 RBIs. In addition, Torre had become a liability in throwing out base stealers, and his active support of the Players’ Union and Marvin Miller made him further estranged from the Braves’ management.
So the Braves swapped Torre to the St. Louis Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda during spring training. The Cardinals already had a catcher in Tim McCarver, and simply made Torre the team’s everyday first baseman.
After nine years with the Braves, Torre responded favorably with the change of scenery, batting .289 in 1969 with 18 home runs and 101 RBIs. He would drive in 100 or more runs for three consecutive seasons while playing with the Cardinals, culminating in 1971 by leading the National league with a .363 batting average and 137 RBIs. Torre was a runaway choice for NL Most Valuable Player award in 1971.
Torre played for the Cardinals through the 1974 season and then was traded to the New York Mets. He could still hit for average (including a .306 batting average in 1976), but his power numbers were declining steadily and Torre retired after the 1977 season.
Torre finished his 18-year career with 2,342 hits and a .297 batting average. His retirement as a player opened the door for a second and even longer career as a baseball manager.