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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.