He was a nine-time All-Star and the 1971 National League Most Valuable Player who totaled 2,342 hits in 18 big league seasons.
And Joe Torre was just getting warmed up. In his next big league life – during 29 seasons as a manager – Torre won four World Series titles.
Born July 18, 1940 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Torre followed in his brother Frank’s footsteps and signed with the Braves out of high school. He hit .344 with the Class C Eau Claire Braves in his first pro season in 1960 and appeared in two games with Milwaukee that fall. The next season, Torre finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting and even earned a handful of NL Most Valuable Player votes after hitting .278 with 10 homers and 42 RBI as the Braves' regular catcher.
Torre served as the Braves’ backup catcher in 1962, then took over the job full-time in 1963 when he hit .293 with 14 homers and 71 RBI while earning his first All-Star Game selection. Over the next five seasons, Torre became one of the best hitting backstops in the game, peaking with 36 home runs in 1966. He earned a Gold Glove Award in 1965.
But after a contract dispute, Torre found himself traded to St. Louis in Spring Training of 1969 in exchange for future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda. The Cardinals installed Torre at first base, and he responded with 18 homers, 101 RBI and a .289 average. After splitting time between catcher and third base in 1970 – and hitting 21 home runs to go with 100 RBI and a .325 batting average – Torre became a full-time third baseman in 1971, leading the NL with 230 hits with a .363 batting average, 24 home runs and 137 RBI. He was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Torre never repeated those numbers, but remained a productive corner infielder for the next several seasons. Then in October of 1974, the Cardinals sent Torre home to play for the Mets in a deal for Ray Sadecki and Tommy Moore.
“Right now, I picture him at third base,” said Mets manager Yogi Berra at the time of the trade.
However, the Mets’ management had other long-term ideas. After two seasons as a semi-regular in 1975 and 1976, the Mets hired Torre to manage the club 45 games into the 1977 season. Torre served as a player/manager briefly, making his final appearance as a player on June 17. He finished his playing career with 2,342 hits, a .297 batting average, 252 home runs and 1,185 RBI.
“(The Mets) came to me late in (1976) and told me I had a chance to go to the Yankees,” Torre told Newsday in 1996. “But I said I didn’t want to go if it was going to cost me a chance to manage (the Mets) in the future.”
Torre skippered the Mets through the 1981 season, posting a record of 286-420 before taking over the Braves in 1982. In Atlanta, Torre led the team to a 13-0 record to start the season en route to an 89-73 record and the Braves’ first NL West division title since 1969. The Braves lost to the Cardinals in the 1982 NLCS, and after 88 wins in 1983 and 80 in 1984 the Braves released him.
Torre worked as a broadcaster for the Angels from 1985-90 before replacing Whitey Herzog as the Cardinals’ manager during the 1990 season. From 1991-94, the Cardinals finished second or third every season before Torre was dismissed midway through the 1995 campaign.
Then in 1996, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired Torre as his team’s manager. Torre led New York to 92 wins that first season before winning the ALCS against the Orioles and then rallying from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Braves in the World Series.
The Yankees won 96 games and a Wild Card berth in 1997, then strung together three straight World Series titles from 1998-2000 – highlighted by the 114 games the 1998 team won during the regular season. The Yankees won the AL Pennant again in 2001, then posted three straight 100-plus win seasons, including another AL pennant in 2003. The Bronx Bombers advanced to the playoffs each year from 1996-2007 before Torre was let go – making in 12 playoff trips in 12 seasons for the Yankees under Torre.
“He’s a great manager,” said former Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius. “There is more to (managing) than who to pitch and play. It’s managing people, the press… and Joe does that all great. Players follow the tone set by the manager, and Joe is the calming influence of this team.”
Torre moved on to manage the Dodgers from 2008-10, winning two more division titles. In his final 15 seasons as a manager, Torre led his clubs to the playoffs 14 times.
“When you have the resume that he has and you see how he has done it, with a calmness that he has been able to display in many difficult situations… you know you are getting a quality human being,” said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti when Torre was hired.
Torre’s four World Series titles rank tied for fourth all time behind Joe McCarthy (7), Casey Stengel (7) and Connie Mack (5) and tied with Walter Alston. He finished his 29 seasons as a manager with a record of 2,326-1,997, good for a .538 career winning percentage. Only Connie Mack, John McGraw, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox have won more games as a big league manager.
Torre was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014.