Classic Yankees: Joe Torre

Soon, we should see the #6 retired. Joe Torre is right up there with Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy (neither of whom wore a number) and Casey Stengel (#37 retired).  I’m not one who thinks Billy Martin’s #1 should be retired (compare his numbers to Ralph Houk’s for example, and no, I’m not saying Houk was better than Billy, and remember that out of Martin’s five tenures, he had only three seasons—1976, 1977 and 1983— in which he managed for the full season. Granted Houk II was the CBS years, but Houk I still merits his due for 1961-1963). There are various reasons I don’t think Billy deserved it, but I don’t think there is any question about Torre deserving the honor.

This Old Timer’s Day, Torre returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time in uniform since his resignation after the 2007 season. (He came back for the unveiling of the Boss’s monument late in 2010).

When the Yankees hired Torre, it was considered an awful decision. “Clueless Joe” read the NY Daily News headline. Torre had played, and quite well, from 1960-1977, and had managed the Mets, Braves and Cardinals before coming to the Yankees. Not once in all those years did he reach the World Series. Only once had he made it to the postseason.
Torre came up to the majors as a catcher in 1960 for the Milwaukee Braves. His brother Frank, a first baseman, had already helped the Braves to a WS title in 1957 and an NL pennant in 1958. It was almost three pennants in a row; the Dodgers beat the Braves in a playoff in 1959.

Torre went on to a fine playing career with the Braves (Mil./Atlanta) 1960-1968, St. Louis Cardinals (1969-1974) and the N.Y. Mets (1975-1977). He hit .297 with 252 HR (the same amount as Bobby Murcer). Five times he turned in 100 RBI seasons. He hit 36 HR in 1966. He was runner-up for the ROY in 1961 (.278-10-42), a year in which he turned 21 mid-year. He was a 9x All-Star. He won a Gold Glove in 1965. He finished 5th in the MVP voting for 1964, and won the award in 1971 after a season in which he hit .363-24-137. In that 1971 season, Torre led the majors in BA, hits, RBI and total bases. Besides those two top-five MVP finishes, Torre had four other seasons where he received MVP consideration. He played in 903 games at C in his career, 787 at 1B and 515 at 3B. He also got into two in LF.

For a short time in 1977, Torre was a player/manager for the Mets before retiring as a player. The Mets at that time, however, were just beginning a dreadful phase in their history, for shortly after Torre took over, management traded “The Franchise,” Tom Seaver, and Dave Kingman away. Torre went 49-68 in 1977, finishing last. That was followed by 66-96 and 63-99. Both were last-place finishes. In 1980, a 67-95 got them to fifth, but in 1981 it was 17-34 in the first half (5th) and 24-28 (4th) in the second half. His Mets’ tenure ended at 286-420, a .405 winning percentage.

It appeared as if Torre’s luck had changed, however, in 1982. Now the manager of the Atlanta Braves, he found himself in the postseason at last. Those Braves started the year 13-0, and hung on to win the NL West by one game with a record of 89-73. They were swept in the NLCS by St. Louis, however. In 1983 the Braves lost out by three games, going 88-74 and finishing second. Torre was let go after an 80-82 1984 record, only good for third place. Torre was 257-229, .529 for the Braves.

Torre broadcast for the Angels from 1985-1989.

He got another chance to manage in 1990 when the Cardinals took him on in midseason. The Cards went just 24-34 for Torre, and finished last. He finished 2nd in 1991, but with just 84 wins. The 1992 and 1993 Cardinals both finished 3rd, with 83 and 87 wins respectively. There was another third place finish in 1994, but it was one with a sub-.500 record of 53-61. When the Cardinals started 1995 out by going 20-27 and in 4th place, Torre was fired. In St. Louis, he was 351-354, a .498 winning percentage.

So it was that when the Yankees hired Torre to replace Buck Showalter, that Torre had a managerial record of 894-1003, and thus the criticism of the hiring.

In his Yankees’ tenure, which lasted from 1996 to 2007, Torre had a renaissance. He made the postseason in each of those years. In ten of those twelve years, the Yankees were AL East champions. They reached as the wild card in the other two seasons. They won six pennants and four World Series.

In Torre’s first year, he won the WS. No one can forget that postseason, with the uncertainty about his brother Frank getting a new heart. Then Frank winds up getting the heart on the off-day between Games 5 and 6 of the WS. The Yanks then won the series the next day after being down in the Series 0-2. The Yanks won the AL East with 92 wins on their way to the title. Torre won AL Mgr. of the Year.

In 1997, a wild card finish with 96 wins was followed by a disappointing loss in the ALDS, then came “the perfect season” of 1998. 114 wins. A WS championship. Torre named co-manager of the year.

World Series Championships followed in 1999 and 2000, with 98 and 87 wins respectively. The 2000 title was a bit of a pleasant surprise because the Yanks ended the season 3-15 and limped into the postseason. The Yanks win in the first Subway Series since 1956 gave Torre three consecutive WS titles, putting Torre in a class inhabited only by himself, Casey Stengel, and Joe McCarthy.

It almost was four in a row. In 2001 the team won 95 and the AL pennant, and sat three outs away. But Arizona came back off of Mo in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 and denied the Yankees the title.

After that, Torre led the Yanks to the postseason each year, but things got rougher. There was 103 wins in 2002, but an ALDS loss. In 2003 the Yanks won 101 and won the AL pennant thanks to Aaron Boone, but lost the WS in six. 2004 was something Yankee fans would like to forget. 101 wins again, but after taking a 3-0 lead in the ALCS, they lost the next four, becoming the first MLB team to flush a 3-0 lead in a best of seven series.

The next three years for Torre all saw ALDS losses after seasons of 95, 97 and 94 wins. It was getting especially difficult to make it to the postseason, especially in 2005, when a frantic comeback put the Yanks into the postseason.

Only in 1997 and 2007 did Torre’s Yankees teams settle for the wild card. They were AL East champs every other year.
Torre got criticism for his use (or overuse) of the bullpen, and how he managed relievers such as Tanyon Sturze and Scott Proctor. After the 2007 season, Torre and the Yankees couldn’t see eye to eye, and Torre resigned. He wasn’t out of baseball long, for he wound up with the Dodgers.

Torre led the Dodgers to NLCS appearances in 2008 and 2009 with 84 and 95 wins respectively. He resigned after the 2010 season (80-82) and now works for the Commissioner’s Office. In his years as a manager, Torre won 2326 games and lost 1997 for a .538 winning pct. (87-75 average). He won 1173 games as a Yankees manager, with a winning pct. of .605. He won six pennants, four WS. He is fifth all-time among managers for wins.

One day, the 71-year-old Torre’s #6 will be retired, along with the numbers of some players he managed, like Jeter’s #2, Rivera’s #42 and maybe others. It’s an honor he deserves.

Torre is second in Yankees history in games managed and second in wins. Only Stengel and McCarthy (seven each) won more WS titles as a Yankee manager than Torre.

Maybe in 2013, when they celebrate the 15th anniversary of that 1998 team, Torre’s number will be retired. Soon, the HOF will open its doors to him.

World Series Titles    Pennants    Postseason Appearances
Miller Huggins               3                                     6                       6 (no ALDS/ALCS)
Joe McCarthy                 7                                     8                       8 (no ALDS/ALCS)
Bucky Harris                   1                                     1                       1 (no ALDS/AL CS)
Casey Stengel                 7                                   10                      10 (no ALDS/ALCS)
Ralph Houk                    2                                      3                        3 (no ALDS/ALCS)
Yogi Berra                      0                                       1                        1 (no ALDS/ALCS)
Billy Martin                    1                                       2                       2
Bob Lemon                     1                                      2                      was manager in 1978 & 1981 postseasons
Dick Howser                  0                                       0                       1980 AL East champs, lost ALCS
Buck Showalter            0                                       0                       1995 wild card, lost in ALDS
Joe Torre                       4                                       6                        12 (10 AL East titles, 2 wild cards)
Joe Girardi                     1                                       1                        2
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One Response to Classic Yankees: Joe Torre

  1. Quinn says:

    God Bless Joe Torre. One of the greatest managers in all of baseball's history.