Major figure in baseball history. Brooklyn native Joseph Paul Torre (b. 7/18/40) broke into the game in the shadow of his older brother Frank, whose middle name happened to be Joseph. Frank's great achievement was a .900 slugging average in the 1957 World Series, as the Milwaukee Braves stunningly dethroned the feared (and sometimes hated1) champion New York Yankees (Mickey Mantle, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen and more). It might be noted that Frank's performance was overshadowed by a youngster named Hank Aaron.

As his brother's career faded Joe also joined the Braves. Early in his career his reward(/punishment?) was the team's relocation to Atlanta. Joe performed well with the hapless Atlanta team, averaging .290 with 22 home runs per season there. Joe was the team's cleanup hitter, yet often the bases were already cleared by the overshadowing player who batted ahead of him, one Henry Aaron. But if anyone tried to pitch around Aaron, Joe might make them pay for it.

In what would later form a great irony, Joe became bitter in Atlanta. He was rumored to have fought on the club plane with the wildly popular Dominican "Beeg Boy" Rico Carty2. The final straw was the club's denial of his salary request of $70,0003 for the 1969 season (imagine that!). Well, you might say that the Saint Louis Cardinals thought a little more highly of Joe. They parted with slugger, former league MVP and future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda to get Joe in Saint Louis4.

Joe did something remarkable at that time. Understand that while with the Braves, the lumbering 225 pounder played catcher5. Someone as big and slow6 as him hardly could fit anywhere else, though he would switch over to play first base when Hall of Famer Phil Niekro pitched. (If Joe had any single deficiency in his game (besides speed) it would be his utter dumbfoundedness at catching the knuckleball. Phil had one real dancin' knuckler.7).

So what Joe did was shed about 50 pounds and become a third baseman! He may have been the only successful player to ever make such a switch. But the story doesn't stop there. It would be one thing for a pro player to make such a drastic positional switch, but that doesn't mean they would necessarily be any good at it—especially playing at an unnatural weight. Joe simply proceeded to lead the league in batting average and became the league Most Valuable Player. His batting average that year was a whopping .363.

Joe finished his playing career with a couple of seasons on the New York Mets. When all was said and done, his offensive and defensive contributions as a player were admirable. His lifetime batting average was .297 over more than 2,000 games. He had over 100 RBIs for 5 seasons. He had been named to nine All Star teams.

Joe Torre, Manager

Joe's love of the game required him to do more. He became the Mets' manager for the next 5 seasons. However it was an inauspicious beginning, never even winning more than 67 games.

Irony time: Joe must have forgotten or put aside his differences with Atlanta, because 1982 found him as the team manager! Not only that—he took them immediately to the division title. He must have done something right, with a team that had been the laughing stock of the league for pretty much all but one of their 16 years of existence (though Leo Durocher's woeful Cubs gave them a good run for it, haha).

Joe returned to his beloved Cardinals as manager from 1990-1995 but even his best year was only 6 games above .500. One might have felt that his best bet would be to head for the Old Timers game, and step aside for someone younger and better.

Well, you might say that George Steinbrenner thought a little more highly of Torre. He handed Joe the keys to arguably the biggest and most demanding coaching position there is: manager of the New York Yankees.

What then unfolded from this "has-been" is one of the most astonishing achievements in the game's history. He proceeded to lead the team to six division championships in his first seven years. That includes four World Series wins. If that was not heroic enough—it's already both astonishing and heroic—the man was diagnosed with prostate cancer while he was doing this.8

Joe survived. He survived well enough to lead his team to a World Series victory the very year he almost died.

Joe had already laid his tracks as the model of a man overcoming adversity. As his very first season with the Yankees entered the drama of post-season play, his brother Frank lay in a New York hospital awaiting a heart transplant. Despite Joe's clear agonizing, he summoned the strength to march on, doing no less than winning the World Series in the process, amid the tears of emotion wrenching across the baseball world. As the series closed, and the team cleared the dugout, the focus on Joe Torre's bravery was one of the great emotional moments in the history of the game. (Did I forget to mention who he beat? It was only that team that had fired him twice before - the Atlanta Braves. Real smart, Atlanta.)

The magnitude of these achievements is difficult to convey. Of his baseball managing one stated:

Sentiment may sometimes get the better of him, but has Joe Torre screwed up anything since becoming manager of the New York Yankees in 1996? Consider: For five seasons he has taken a collection of rookies and retreads, recovering drug addicts and born-again Christians, Cuban defectors and defective throwers, and created a workplace that, were it not for its particular job requirements, would surely qualify for Fortune's list of the 100 best places to work. He has managed up as well as down, taming a notorious boss while buffering his players from the worst of the New York media maelstrom. In the process, he has returned one of the world's most storied brands to its former dynastic glory, winning four World Series in five years: the Torre Restoration, you might call it.

- Fortune

It is near the end of the 2003 season as I write this. The Yankees appear to be heading to another title. In only his 44th year with the game, he's at full prime and peak of success. One wonders if he'll ever make the Hall Of Fame, because they require you to retire to do that. But don't hold your breath. Joe may be just hitting his stride!

Just a touch of trivia:

Slow? Oh yes. But on 07/18/1961 he was part of a triple steal. Ahead of him on base? Hank Aaron.

Slow? No question. But on 09/25/1964 he belted 2 triples. How many players even hit a triple at all in their entire career? On another date Joe "hit for the cycle," the only player to do that at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium until 1999.

Joe was hit by pitch 85 times. Don't go calling anyone from Brooklyn a sissy.

Only 4 players ever hit 2 home runs on Opening Day. Joe did it TWICE.

He played more games than any other catcher, though splitting duties. He holds at least 25 records for a catcher during the decade of the 1960s.

He authored Chasing The Dream, an autobiography, in 1997. Do you think he had enough material to draw upon?!

Ed. note: when I was a little boy I saw my first baseball game in 1966—starring the then hapless Atlanta Braves. The crowd always cheered wildly when number 44 stepped up to the plate. The cheers seemed merely polite whenever the next batter number 15 came up. I didn't understand the game really; I knew what a home run was, but relied on after-the-fact cheering to follow the rest. What I did notice was a lot of cheering after one at bat by number 15, and that after he batted, everyone got to stay on base, instead of trotting back to the dugout, which was what happened every prior time someone reached base.

So I decided to cheer for number 15 the next time he came up. My family and friends were highly embarrassed at the screaming display I made. Everyone looked at me strangely. I knew very, very close to nothing about the game of baseball, but in that moment in time I locked all my emotions on number 15, who in my ignorance seemed to have done something good the last time he batted.

Well, the funny stares didn't last long. It only took one pitch for number 15 to launch the ball deep into the outfield stands of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.

That part I understood.


  1. The Brooklyn paperball kid [Joe] mostly despised the Yankees for winning all the time. But he still understood they were the Yankees.- The Sporting News,1999
  2. Torre was hampered by a broken cheekbone in 1968. Some regarded Rico Carty as a strong Dominican boxer. Do the math...
  3. Torre currently manages a team with 20 players showing 2002 salaries of over $1,000,000. -
  4. When Torre braced himself to present his salary demands to Saint Louis, their response was only three words: "You've got it."
  5. Joe's playing years as catcher were an important aspect of his later managerial greatness. Esquire magazine once regarded that position as the second most difficult in all of sports, due to many factors, including having to understand each pitch from every pitcher on the team; having to know every nuance about every batter in the league, and how—and when—to pitch to them; directing the entire defense as to where a live ball should be sent; and protecting the most important base, home plate, by using their body as a human roadblock.

    Torre wasn't too shabby at it. He won the Golden Glove award in 1965.
  6. By the time he was 15, he'd fallen hopelessly in love.

    With baseball.

    He wore out the spinner on his Ethan Allen All-Star Baseball game. He memorized the fronts and backs of the baseball situation boards that came with the dice and player cards...- The Sporting News,1999

  7. Career average: below 1.3 stolen bases per season.
  8. When Niekro pitched, Joe was moved to first base, so the catcher would be... are you ready for this... Bob Uecker.

Welcome back, Joe. (Joe Torre back in baseball) (Brief Article)

Author/s: Dave Kindred

Issue: May 31, 1999

Of baseball's happy moments, the best so far this season was Joe Torre delivering the Yankees' lineup card at home plate in Fenway Park last week. Nowhere are the Yankees more certainly the cursed enemy. Yet when Torre exchanged lineups, Red Sox fans who had gathered for another evening of primal-scream therapy paused in their antipathy to do a good and wonderful thing.

They welcomed Torre back where he belongs.

Applause rose from all around. It was a waterfall's roar of sound. This joyful noise rose in the ballpark where the mighty and petulant Ted Williams would not so much as touch his cap bill in deference to hometowners who loved his work. Joe Torre raised high his cap in thanks and did a small turn to acknowledge fans in all corners of the jewel box that is Fenway Park.

We knew Torre would be back because he said he would be and his word is good. Still, it was cancer, and when they talk about prostate cancer and surgery and survival rates and you're 58 years old with mortality whispering in your ear, cancer's a scary thing. It makes baseball a little thing.- The Sporting News,1999


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