#14: Joe Torre

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Catcher/First Baseman
Seasons With Braves: 1960-1968
Stats With Braves: .294/.356/.462, 142 HR, 552 RBI, 470 RS

Torre benefits more from my decision to count Milwaukee seasons than any other player. Aaron would still be a top 5 just based on his Atlanta tenure; Carty moved up a few spots. But Torre would have been a minimal qualifier (just three seasons, though excellent ones) in Atlanta, and would rank down with the short-career guys. Counting his six Milwaukee seasons (equivalent to four, really) he’s on the fringes of the top ten.

Joe was signed out of a Brooklyn high school in 1960 and in the majors later that year, for two pinch-hit appearances; I would guess that there was some sort of bonus rule behind that. Del Crandall was evidently hurt in 1961, and Torre took his place, all of 20 years old and he’s filling in for an eight-time All-Star. Torre had a big year and finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting, only to get kicked to the bench in 1962 when Crandall returned. Crandall had one of his better years, and Torre didn’t play well. But in 1963, Torre was back in the lineup every day and made the first of five consecutive All-Star teams, hitting .293/.350/.431. As it turned out, that was a bad year.

During that season, Torre also picked up a first baseman’s glove, and for the remainder of his Atlanta tenure would usually play first on his “days off”. It was, from all accounts, not a matter of his defense, which was considered to be pretty good, but just an attempt to get his bat in the lineup. Also, the Braves first basemen in the period were pretty lousy, except when Felipe Alou (acquired, with Ed Bailey, for Crandall after the 1963 season) was there.

In 1964, Torre hit .321/.365/.498 and finished fifth in the MVP voting. He more or less duplicated that in 1965, then hit .315/.382/.560 in the first season in Atlanta. I don’t understand why he didn’t do better in the MVP voting — he was sixteenth — unless voters were overestimating the impact of moving to a hitter’s park. He declined a bit in 1967-68. Some of that is merely apparent and caused by the general offensive decline, but he did appear to be fading. The Braves traded him to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda; that worked out okay in the short term for both teams, but in the long term it was a steal for the Cards.

Torre was primarily Cepeda’s replacement at first base in 1969, backing up the Unholy One. The Cards also came up with Ted Simmons at this time, so after shipping out the world’s biggest hot air factory, they had Simmons and Torre split time at catcher while Torre learned third base. In 1971, Torre won the MVP, playing third every day. He was okay through 1974, then wound up on the Mets.

Since he’s certainly going in as a manager, it doesn’t really matter now, but there used to be a fairly raucous Hall of Fame debate about Torre. To me, the question is if you see him as a catcher or as something else. His hitting numbers are certainly good enough if you consider him a catcher, but he played less than half his career games there. They’re certainly not good enough at first base, where he played a little less than behind the plate. At his third position, third base, they might be. (Oddly, the players he comes up as similar to are mostly slugging second basemen, Doerr and Sandberg, both in the Hall, as the top two.) If you look at it as seasons rather than games, he played sixteen seasons of 80 games or more, and was primarily a catcher in eight, a first baseman in five, a third baseman in three.

Joe Torre Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

35 thoughts on “#14: Joe Torre”

  1. I’ve been trying to understand why there were no comments about Torre as I posted this Weds. morning. Could it be that we’re too close to his ongoing career at this point? Or that enough has been written about him, including his own book and TV movie?

    He’s worth talking about. As a player, his team had to find a way to get his bat in the lineup. What would Torre’s career look like under free agency? Could he have dictated which positions he’d play? wsa he born to play DH?

    Sure, he’s a great manager, using the only standards that count for that job– wins and championships.

    But as a player, he was someone the opposing pitcher had to deal with every game and he played well enough to hold a major league job for over a decade.

    #12 ranking seems about right to me. Not one of our immortals, but 100% ballplayer.

  2. Kevin,
    I guess from my perspective its that I never really knew Joe was a Brave for that long and that good. When I started following baseball he was already a Cardinal and thats the team I associated him with. You are right though, he was a very very good player. His career offensive numbers are Hall worthy when you consider whom they’ve let in lately.

  3. Put me staunchly in the Joe Torre in the Hall of Fame corner. I grew up in the 60’s when Joe was playing, and he was a dominant player, his 1971 season with the Cardinals was a fantastic year. Mac, I think it’s interesting that he compares with Sandberg, a guy that I’ve heard over and over was a great player, I think Joe was definitely as good. I agree that Torre will get in as player/manager combo, but I think he was underrated as a player. By the way, Joe did a damn good job managing in ’82 leading us out of the wildnerness.

  4. I thought Joe was from Brooklyn, not St. Louis. I’m sure the reason he did not do better in the 1966 MVP voting was because the Braves were not in contention (although many had picked them to win the pennant that first year in Atlanta).

    I had a younger cousin in Atlanta who was crazy about Torre. But my cousin was a jerk and all my friends hated him, so they all hated Torre. We once had a ceremonial Torre baseball card burning. Obviously, Joe never recovered from that slight.

  5. A typical lineup from back then would be:

    Alou cf
    Millan 2b
    Hank rf
    Torre c
    Boyer 3b
    Deron Johnson 1b
    Lum/T.Aaron/Francona lf
    Sonny Jackson ss
    Pitcher

    If Carty was healthy he’d bat 5th and play left.

    Thus, you can see, the Braves really featured some slugging teams back then. Alou and Millan were .300 hitters, Hank was Hank, and Torre and Carty were hitting with guys on base all the time.

  6. The bottom half of the lineup was pretty awful, though. In 1968, which is I think the one year that lineup was in place (yes, it’s 1968, but these were bad lines even then):

    Boyer: .227 .275 .311
    Lum: .224 .277 .319
    Jackson: .226 .282 .268
    Johnson: .208 .285 .316

  7. Wow, I knew Torre was a good hitter, but for the pitcher-friendly 60’s that’s a very good line indeed. It actually gives Torre a 130 OPS+ over 4000 PA as a brave vs 115 for Javy’s 4300 PA. So now I’m wondering why Torre ranks behind Javy.

  8. Colin, I would say that the reasons are:

    1. Defense (I think Javy was a better defensive catcher, even though Torre won a gold glove and Javy never did)
    2. Impact (Javy’s teams all reached postseason, while Torre never played in a postseason game)
    3. Position (About 1000 of Torre’s PA are as a first baseman, while Javy was exclusively a catcher, except for a few DH appearances in interleague games)

    Plus I probably counted Milwaukee seasons as a little less meaningful.

  9. Joe was signed out of a Brooklyn high school in 1960 and in the majors later that year, for two pinch-hit appearances; I would guess that there was some sort of bonus rule behind that.

    It was a bone being thrown to Frank Torre, Joe’s big brother and a member of the Milwaukee club. Frank was an awful hitter, but Fred Haney kept trying to platoon Joe Adcock with him and Frank became something of a favorite. He was on his way out — playing time had dried up and his performance was bad. But just like Mike Glavine getting PT in spring training, 19 year old Joe was given two garbage ABs.

  10. Would this be a good place to start a discussion about the value of catchers? Whenever I read about the difficulty of evaluating defensive statistics, I find catchers at the heart of the confusion. Maybe they ought to be discussed seperately?

    Casey said that you gotta have a catcher–otherwise you have a lot of passed balls! I always start my All-Time teams with Johnny Bench and if I fool around with Baseball Mogul Itry to rig the farm system to produce starters and catchers.
    Many Red Sox fans believe losing their catcher shot down their season.

    But when was whe last time a catcher dominated a league? Piazza, maybe? What do you think?

  11. 25 mil for a 40 year old pitcher? Geez Zito’s gonna be in Clemen’s territory. No wonder the MLPA and MLB signed off on another agreement so quickly. Uhhhhhh, I guess Tommy’s gonna finish a Met…….unless we bring him back for his age 44 and 45 years :)

  12. As it relates to our starting staff, a lot of things gotta go right for the Braves in ’07, but I think our best-case scenario in that department is better than the Mets’ best-case scenario.

  13. There’s some good timing for you. Mota files for free agency on Tuesday and MLB announces a 50 game suspension for him on Wednesday. His agent may have lost a little negotiating power there.

  14. Mac – fair enough. I figured it had a lot do with the 1B thing and the Milwaukee thing, though I’m surprised at the defense aspect. Not that i think Javy was defensively bad. Quite the opposite – although he never excelled at throwing out baserunners, I think the performance of the pitching staff with him behind the plate suggests a guy who was good defensively at just about everything else. And the pitching staff was often pretty indifferent to baserunners (though javy didn’t spend too much time with the most notoriously indifferent Maddux).

  15. Obviously we won’t be ponying up anywhere near 2/25 for Glavine, nor should we. What is it with the Mets and their proactive offers of multiyear contracts for the 40+ set? I’m I going to wake up tomorrow and find out they’ve offered Brian Jordan 2 years, too?

    Don’t answer that, just let me be alone with my fantasy for a little while….

  16. @28
    Funny.
    I don’t get it either. Glavine in this market is worth 10 million with some kind of performance bonus attached. But 12.5………AND another year????? He has been ok to good for 3 of his 4 seasons in New York but but but…….. maybe I was just secretly hoping that he would take 9 and come back to Atlanta. 25 mil for ok to good, not even good to very good….Ok I rant.

  17. Glavine can stay where he’s at unless he’s willing to come for $5-7, anything over that is over-priced!

  18. Torre was the last player mgr till Pete Rose , I BET you did not know that (pun intended.

  19. CSG,

    I agree 100%….he was probably my favorite of the big three, but I can’t see spending like you said more that $5-7mil on him.

  20. I always thought Javy had the reputation as a poor defensive catcher. I never thought he was that good. Torre was apparently a very good catcher at one time. Interestingly, Torre actually got run out of Atlanta by Paul Richards, the GM at the time. They had some problems. I think Torre might have been involved with the union, which was the devil incarnate to old time baseball men at the time. I also remember that Torre got beaned–I think it was 1967–and didn’t really recover–until he left Atlanta, of course. I also thought Torre did a terrific job managing the Braves–with basically no pitching other than Niekro.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *