Dec 10, 2013

Rememebring New Hall of Famer Joe Torre (Part One- His Playing Career)

Joseph Paul Torre was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 18, 1940. He attended St. Francis Prep. School located in Brooklyn at the time, later moving to Queens.

The six foot two right hand hitting Torre was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. He hit .344 & won the batting championship in his only year in the minor leagues making it to the big leagues for good by 1961. He would spend nine years with the Braves, as a team mate of Hank Aaron & Eddie Mathews & Warren Spahn.

He moved with the franchise from Milwaukee to Atlanta, playing in Fulton County Stadium in 1966. He hit over .290 four times, batting over .300 twice. In his first full season, he came in second in the Rookie of the Year Award batting .278 with 10 HRs & 42 RBIs.

In 1964 he batted .321 with 109 RBIs (both 4th in the NL) & hit 20 HRs coming in fifth in the MVP voting for the 5th place Braves. In 1966, as the franchise began playing in Georgia; he hit a career high 36 HRs driving in another 101 runs, batting .315.

Torre was one of the leagues better catchers as well, leading all backstops in fielding twice & coming in the league's top five, five different times. He threw out 40% or more of would be base stealers seven times, leading the league once. His .990% lifetime as a catcher is 96th best all time. In his career he threw out 41%. He represented the Braves five times in the NL All Star Game. At the start of the 1969 season he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda.

The Cardinals had All Star Tim McCarver as their catcher, so Torre moved over to replace Cepeda as the team's first baseman. Torre hit .289 with 18 HRs 29 doubles & 101 RBIs (6th in the NL) in his first season with the Cards. The Braves won he Western Division but lost to the New York Mets in the NLCS.

In 1970 he took over back in his old position at catcher (90 games), when McCarver was traded away to the Philadelphia Phillies. Torre batted .325 (second in the NL) with 203 hits (second in the NL) 21 HRs 100 RBIs & a .398 on base %. He led the league with 161 games played, making another All Star team.

In 1971 he moved over to third base for good, as Ted Simmons was brought up as the clubs main catcher. Torre had his best year of his fine playing career, winning the NL MVP Award. Torre led the league with 230 hits, 137 RBIs & a .361 batting average.

He posted a .421 on base % with 24 HRs, 97 runs scored (5th in the NL) eight triples (5th in the NL) & 34 doubles (3rd in the NL). The Cardinals won 90 games finishing second to the World Champion to be Pittsburgh Pirates.

In 1972 he played 149 games, as his average fell off to .289 with 11 HRs & 81 RBIs. That year he began to see more time as a first baseman, becoming the full time first baseman in 1973. Over next two seasons, he made his final All Star appearance & there was talk that his days were behind him.

The New York Mets had tried to land Joe Torre in the past but were never able to seal a deal. The St. Louis Cardinals usually wanted one of the Mets good young pitchers in return.

Finally by 1975 the Cards were clearing the way at first base for a young Keith Hernandez, and had veteran Ron Fairly on hand to get them by the transition. Torre’s numbers had fallen off a bit, especially since his 1971 MVP year. In 1974 he played in 147 games batting .282 with 11 HRs 28 doubles & 70 RBIs while posting a strong .371 on base %. 

In October of 1974 the Cardinals sent Torre to the Mets for veteran pitcher Ray Sadecki & youngster Tommy Moore. Torre came from St. Louis with a $150,000 salary which was second to only Tom Seaver’s $175,000 on the Mets payroll.

The Mets was still trying to solve their long time third base problem, although Wayne Garrett had done a fine job the past two seasons. Torre was already very popular in New York and arrived at Shea Stadium with a lot of fanfare. Personally he was thrilled to be back at home, close to his family in Brooklyn.

Torre was the Mets third baseman, batting in the cleanup spot, on Opening Day at Shea Stadium in 1975. In the bottom of the 9th inning the score was tied 1-1 in a classic Tom Seaver- Steve Carlton pitchers’ duel. Felix Millan led off with a single & John Milner then walked. Joe Torre then was the hero of the day, as he singled home the walk off game winning run to beat the Phillies 2-1. The rest of his month did not go as well & as he finished off April batting .158 with just five RBIs.

On May 12th, he drove in all three runs, as Jon Matlack shut out the San Francisco Giants 3-0 at Shea Stadium. With the bases loades in the 7th inning, Torre cleared the bases, with a off Gary Lavalle. He was thrown at third base trying to stretch it into a triple. He had hit just three triples over the past two seasons. In mid May he was still hitting under .200, then had a big four hit day in Cincinnati which got him fired up. On May 20th, he had a four hit, three RBI day at Riverfront Stadium, adding a two run HR off Don Gullett as the Mets beat the Reds 6-2. He went on a 16 game hitting streak in June, raising his average over .280.

One June 8th, he did hit a triple, sliding into third & being safe this time. He drove in three runs with four hits, against his old Atlanta Braves team mates. On July 17th, he broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the 8th inning, with a game winning HR off the Braves Tom House leading to a 4-3 win. On July 20th he helped fuel a Mets come from behind three run 8th inning rally at Shea Stadium. Torre's single scored Felix Millan bringing the Mets to within a run. In the next at bat Dave Kingman hit a two run HR leading to the win.

On August 16th he hit a two run HR leading the Mets to a 4-2 win over the Giants at Shea Stadium, it was his last HR of the year. Injuries nagged him as he missed a week of action in each of the next two months.

Double Play Record: Joe Torre hit into 22 double plays that season (second most in the league). On July 21st, he set an MLB record by grounding into four double plays in a single game. Felix Millan had singled in each prior at bat, as went 4-4 on the night.

After the game Torre told the press “I'd like to thank Felix Mill├ín for making all of this possible." In his career the slow footed Torre grounded into 284 double plays (14th most all time) & led the league in that category three times.

On the 1975 season he hit.247 with six HRs, 16 doubles, three triples, 37 RBIs & a .317 on base %. At third base in 83 games he made eleven errors posting a .950 fielding %. Torre also saw action in 24 games at first base.

He rebounded in 1976, raising his average sixty points playing in 114 games. He was the only Met to bat over .300 hitting .306, with five HRs ten doubles 31 RBIs & a .358 on base %. He shared time at first base (78 games) with Ed Kranepool who also had a good year batting .292.

That season Mets Manager Joe Frazier, gave rookie; Roy Staiger the third base position. Frazier had Staiger as his main short stop in the minor leagues. He would only hit .220 with two HRs and never made it as the team's third baseman. The Mets finished the bicentennial year at 86-76, in third place & one of only five NL Teams to finish over the .500 mark.

On Tom Seavers Opening Day 1-0 shut out, Torre was the Mets first baseman, batting third. In May Torre had an eight game hit streak, highlighted by a two run HR in Cincinnati on May 16th, helping the Mets to a 7-5 win, in the first game of a double header.

On June 1st he hit a pair of solo HRs against the Pittsburgh Pirates but the Mets still lost the game 3-2. Torre ended that week batting .339 among the league's best, but fell to .299 by the All Star break.

Upon his return he got hot again; from July 27th through August 5th, he drove in runs in seven of ten games. He drove in runs in four straight games, leading to a seven game team win streak. On August 14th Torre & Staiger both singled, driving in runs helping Nino Espinosa beat future Met Pat Zachary & the Big Red Machine 2-1. He got his average up over .300 again going into September. On September 14th he hit a two run HR, off Jim Rooker helping the Mets to a 4-3 win over the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium. He played just a dozen games that month due to injury.

On Opening Day 1977 at Wrigley Field, Torre had two hits including a top of the 9th inning double which scored Bruce Boisclair & Dave Kingman with the winning runs in the 8-6 Mets win over the Cubs. On April 13th, he hit what turned out to be his last career HR, it came off St. Louis veteran Clay Carroll, & his old Cardinals team mates in a 7-3 loss at Shea Stadium.

In his Mets career Torre played in 254 games batting .267 with 193 hits 12 HRs 29 doubles 6 triples & 75 RBIs posting a .327 on base %.

In his total playing career he played in 2209 games (130th all time) with a .297 batting average (244th all time) 2342 hits (130th all time) 344 doubles, 59 triples 252 HRs (201st all time) 1185 RBIs (156th all time) & a .365 on base %. His 127 intentional walks are 72nd all time & his 655 extra base hits 221st all time.

In his career Torre played on nine All Star teams, won an MVP Award & a Hutch Award. He also led the league defensively in at least one category at three different positions. He played ten seasons as catcher (903 games) leading the league in fielding twice, caught stealing & percentage of throwing out base runners one time each.

He played 14 seasons at first base (787 games) leading the league in assists in 1974 & eight seasons at third base (515 games) leading the league in games & put outs in 1971.                         

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