Torre, Joseph Paul ("Joe")

views updated

TORRE, Joseph Paul ("Joe")

(b. 18 July 1940 in Brooklyn, New York), professional baseball player and manager; considered one of the best hitters of the 1960s and 1970s, and later one of baseball's most successful managers as head of the New York Yankees.

Torre was the youngest of five children born to Joseph P. Torre, a New York City detective, and Margaret Rofrano, a homemaker. Raised in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn, he attended high school at Saint Francis Preparatory School, but did not play on the baseball team until his junior year. Instead, he was a standout for several seasons with a top-flight youth sandlot club called the Brooklyn Cadets, which played in several leagues. Playing for Saint Francis in his final two years of high school, he was an outstanding player with good hitting power, but at 245 pounds Torre did not impress major league scouts because of his lack of speed.

After graduating from Saint Francis in 1959, Torre went to work as a page at the American Stock Exchange and returned to playing with the Brooklyn Cadets. By late summer he had impressed scouts as a definite prospect as a catcher because of his hitting talent, and in August the Milwaukee Braves (with whom his brother Frank was playing) signed him to a contract for $22,500. Having pared his weight down to 220 pounds, that fall he was sent to the Instructional League, where he led the league in hitting with a .364 average.

He was assigned to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, of the Northern League (Class C) for the 1960 season, and there he led the league with a .344 average while hitting sixteen home runs, which earned him a late-season call-up by the Milwaukee Braves. Torre made his major league debut on 25 September 1960 against Pittsburgh. Opening the 1961 season with Louisville of the American Association, he hit .342 in twenty-seven games and was then called up in May to the major leagues—this time for good—by Milwaukee.

Torre played for the Braves through the 1968 season, and during that time he achieved a reputation as one of the game's best-hitting catchers. With quick hands at the plate, he could hit for both power and average. A very durable ballplayer, he was seldom injured. He was recognized as one of the top defensive catchers in the National League (NL); Torre also demonstrated his versatility by often playing first base and later becoming a regular third baseman.

The Milwaukee Braves of those years included such power hitters as Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, and Joe Adcock, and Torre chipped in several excellent seasons that included 1964 (.321 batting average, 20 home runs, and 109 RBI), 1965 (27 home runs and 80 RBI), and 1966 (.315 batting average, 36 home runs, and 101 RBI). For his efforts he was named to the NL All-Star team from 1963 to 1967, and also was selected to travel to Vietnam after the 1966 season as part of a tour of baseball personalities.

Torre was married on 21 October 1963 to Jacqueline Ann Reed, with whom he had one son. The marriage ended in divorce in late 1964. He then married Diane Romaine in January 1968, and the couple had one daughter.

Torre was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in March 1969 in exchange for future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda. Playing first and third base, Torre went on a hitting spree through the next three seasons—1969 to 1971. After finishing second in batting in the NL for 1970 with an average of .325, he lost twenty pounds to get his weight down to 200 coming into the 1971 season. Torre opened the year with a 22-game hitting streak, closed it by hitting safely in 35 of the last 37 games, and finished as the league leader in batting average (.363), hits (230), and RBI (137). Torre was named the NL's Most Valuable Player, and the Sporting News Player of the Year for the major leagues in 1971.

Torre was named to the NL All-Star team from 1970 through 1973, but on 13 October 1974 he was traded to the New York Mets. He played two full seasons with the Mets (1975 to 1976), and was then named player-manager of the team on 31 May 1977, but retired as a player on 18 June 1977. Torre had appeared in eighteen seasons as a major league player; he finished with career marks that included a .297 batting average, 2,342 base hits, 344 doubles, 252 home runs, and 1,185 RBI. He managed the Mets through five seasons (1977 to 1981), during which they never finished higher than fifth place, and he was fired after the 1981 season.

Hired as manager of the Atlanta Braves for the 1982 season, his new club opened that year with a thirteen-game winning streak and then cruised to the NL West crown. Despite losing the NL playoff to St. Louis, Torre was named Manager of the Year by the Associated Press. However, he never got along well with team owner Ted Turner, and after leading the Braves to a pair of NL West second place finishes in 1983 and 1984, Torre was released. He then worked as a television broadcaster for the California Angels for six seasons (1985 to 1990), during which he was married for the third time, to Alice, on 23 August 1987; the couple has one daughter.

Late in the 1990 season Torre was hired by the St. Louis Cardinals, and managed the club until fired in June 1995, as the team had continued to struggle during his tenure as manager. He was then hired as manager of the New York Yankees for the 1996 season and led his new club to the American League championship that season. After losing the first two games of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, the Yankees then swept four straight for the title. Torre was named American League Manager of the Year and the Sporting News Sportsman of the Year.

Always known for his positive attitude and ability to use his players effectively, Torre led the Yankees to another World Series title in 1998, compiling an American League record 114 wins in the regular season (125 overall), and he was again named Manager of the Year. During spring training in March 1999, Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was operated on at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He returned to the team on 18 May 1999 and went on to guide the Yankees to World Series titles in 1999 and 2000, along with a seventh-game loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 Series. Through the 2001 season Torre had compiled an overall record of 1,476 wins and 1,390 losses during his twenty seasons as a major league manager.

As a manager Torre is considered to be a good communicator, a good strategist, and an excellent handler of players. His intensity and ability to get the most out of his teams, and the record he achieved in the 1990s, has made him one of the top managers in baseball at the end of the twentieth century. And, while he never garnered much support for induction to the Hall of Fame as a player, there is no question about the outstanding statistics he compiled as one of baseball's top hitters during his career.

Torre has coauthored an autobiography with Tom Verducci, Chasing the Dream: My Lifelong Journey to the World Series (1997), which is valuable for details of his early life and post–playing years. Many feature articles have also dealt with his life and days in baseball, and among the best are Neal Russo, "Swat King Torre—Player of the Year," Sporting News (23 Oct. 1971); Ken Shouler, "Grand Yankee," Cigar Aficionado (May-June 1997); and Colleen Roach, "Joe Torre—Touching All the Bases," Westchester Wag (Oct. 1999).

Raymond Schmidt

About this article

Torre, Joseph Paul ("Joe")

Updated About content Print Article