Dec 10, 2013

Remembering Former Mets Manager Joe Torre: Upon His Hall of Fame Election (Part Two- Manager)

At the end of May 1977, the Mets were in last place & the organization was changing for the worst. The team fired manager Joe Frazier after posting a 15-30 record. They named Joe Torre, the eighth manager in Mets history & the first player / manager the club ever saw. He was also one of the last player/ managers, the third of the seventies. Pete Rose would be a player / manager with the Reds in the eighties.

After 18 days & playing in three games with two official at bats, he chose to retire from playing as to focus 100% on managing. The fact that he wasn’t hitting helped make his decision easier, after 26 games he was only batting .176 with one HR & 9 RBIs.

Manager: Torre began his tenure as Mets manager on Tuesday May 31st, 1977 at Shea Stadium in front of 6, 500 fans. That night the Mets beat the Montreal Expos 6-2 with Craig Swan earning the win, Bob Apodaca earning the save & John Milner driving in three runs.

The Mets won the first three games of Torre’s managerial career & went 6-1 in his first week. But after that it all went downhill, as his managing career didn’t start out as well as it went later on in his life.

In his early days he actually wasn’t all that good at managerial decisions, always playing the percentages and sacrificing way too much. In all fairness to him, the Mets were falling apart at the time. Tom Seaver was unhappy & was traded in July. The team (mainly Donald Grant) chose not to go after any of the high price free agents, who were now on the open market. Any players who were actually left from their pennant season of 1973 were now aging.

Torre’s 1977 Mets finished in last place, 37 games back of the Phillies, going 49-69 under his leadership. The woeful team finished last in hits, runs, HRs, batting average, on base % & slugging. He would finish last again in 1978 with a record of 66-96 (24 games back). The once awesome Mets pitching staff just four short years ago, now led the league in losses.

In 1979 they were no better going 63-99 finishing in last place, 35 games behind the Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. That season the Mets finished 11th in a field of twelve in HRs (74) on base % (.313) & runs scored with 593. The Mets improved to fifth place in 1980 going 69-95, but still 24 games out of first place.

The Mets hit just 61 HRs, last in the league & hit .257 (8th in the NL). The 1981 season was split due to the players strike, Torre’s Mets finished fifth in the first half (17-34) and fourth in the second half of the season (24-28).

By 1982 new ownership had taken over the team, as Nelson Doubleday & Fred Wilpon bought the team. They hired General Manager Frank Cashen & he began to make changes. Torre was one of the first to go, getting fired and being replaced by George Bamberger for the 1982 season. He had been the long time pitching coach for the Orioles strong staffs, under Cashen in Baltimore.

In his five years as Mets manager; Joe Torre was 286-420 with a .405 winning %. He finished last in his first three seasons, then fifth in his next season. In the strike shortened '81 season he finished fifth & fourth. 

Up to this point in time Rube Walker was still the team’s pitching coach, in his 14th year in that position. Joe Pignatano also had been around coaching with the Mets, since the days of Gil Hodges. Torre took his two loyal coaches with him to Atlanta when he landed a job as the Braves manager in 1982.

Moving to the Atlanta Braves the following season, he started out strong going 13-0 & had everybody talking about the hot start. He finished the year 89-73 winning the Western Division, the clubs first title since divisional play began in 1969 & Atlanta lost to the Amazing Mets. The Braves lost the 1982 NLCS getting swept by the St. Louis Cardinals.

The following season the Braves finished in second place but had their first consecutive winning seasons since moving from Milwaukee in 1966. In 1984 they fell to near .500 going 82-80 & Torre was fired. From there he went on to become a popular California Angel’s broadcaster from 1985-1990.

In August 1990, Torre returned to the dug out to manage another of his former teams, the St. Louis Cardinals. He took over for interim manager Red Schoendienst, who had filled in after Whitey Herzog had resigned. Torre guided St. Louis to a respectable 84-78 finish in 1991, good enough for a second place finish behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL East.

The team was 83-79 the following year and 87-75 in 1993, finishing third both times. In 1994 the league was divided into new divisions & the Cards tied for third place with a 53-61 record. In 1995 after a 20-27 start to the season he was let go as former Met; Mike Jorgensen took over the helm.

The AL New York club had finished second under Buck Showalter in 1995, but he was forced out by a the owner. Torre was hired to lead the club & was happy to get a chance to return home to the New York area. At first people raised their eyebrows & called him clueless Joe. But soon he proved them wrong, winning four World Series, six pennants & two Manger of the Year Awards in his twelve year run in the Bronx.

At the end of his run he was being criticized by management & the media who weren’t happy watching the rival Red Sox winning World Series. Torre was quickly hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers as their manager for the 2008 season.

He finished first that year, in first place beating the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. The Dodgers lost the NLCS to the Philadelphia Phillies. Torre's Dodgers finished first again in 2009 beating the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS in a sweep. But once again, they fell short to Philadelphia in the NLCS four games to one. After a 2010 season, not making the post season Torre retired. 

Beginning in 2011 he served as MLB Vice President of Baseball Operations. He left the position in 2012 to join a group who were bidding to buy out the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers. After the group bowed out, Torre returned to his MLB position. In his career he has managed 29 years, for five teams going 4329-2326 with a .538 winning %.

Family: Torre has been married three times & has four children. His brother Frank played first base for the Milwaukee Braves from 1956-1960 winning two pennants & one World Series title. He also played for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1962-1963, batting .273 lifetime with 404 hits 13 HRs 78 doubles & 179 RBIs.

Another Torre brother was a New York police officer & their sister was a Catholic Nun & principal of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Ozone Park, Queens NY. Torre also has an interest in horse racing, and owns shares of several horses, some who have competed in the Kentucky Derby.

On December 9th 2013 it was announced that he along with Tony LaRussa & Bobby Cox were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the expansion era committee.

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