If judged only as a player, or manager, Joe Torre doesn’t make this list. He was a catcher for three years in Atlanta (though was with the Braves in Milwaukee for five years before that) and served three years as skipper. Each tenure followed a similar path: Terrific first season, solid second and disappointing third. Two weeks before the 1969 season he was traded for Orlando Cepeda, which is better than being replaced by Eddie Haas.
Torre was 25 when the Braves moved to Atlanta and, with the Hammer about to enter his mid-30s, appeared poised to become the franchise’s new cornerstone. He had hit 47 homers and driven in 189 his previous two years and was even better in 1966 (.315-36-101, .382 OBP, .560 slugging).
But a variety of factors ended his Braves career sooner than anyone expected.
On the field, the 1967 season was a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Joe Torre. After a slow start, his bat heated up and he was batting .302 on August 20 with 17 homers. However, he went into a slump at that point, batting only .213 with three homers in his last 40 games. For the season, he batted .277 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs.
Torre’s numbers fell off over even further in 1968 as he batted only .271. His power numbers were off significantly, and he had only 10 homers and 55 RBIs. The drop in his productivity in 1968 was heightened when he took a pitch from Chicago reliever Chuck Hartenstein off the cheek on April 18, causing hairline fractures of the left cheekbone and the roof of his mouth, and missed 27 games. Of even greater concern, his ability to throw out baserunners dropped to 26%, far less than the 48.6% and 46.7% figures of the prior two years. Also, during the 1968 season, Torre was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Torre served as player representative in his days with the Braves and strongly supported the hiring of Marvin Miller as executive director of the player’s union in 1966. In 1968, Joe fought hard for the collective bargaining agreement with the owners and this did not sit well with the Braves’ ownership.
His numbers would rebound in St. Louis, and in 1971 he was voted NL MVP, batting .363 and driving in 137. Torre’s playing days ended in Flushing, where his managerial career began. He was fired four years later but wouldn’t be out of work for long.
“I wanted someone not real old that had experience and didn’t have a drinking problem or whatever.” Ted Turner, at the 1982 press conference announcing Torre’s hiring.
Torre won his first 13 games and held the team together despite losing 19 of 21 in August en route to the Braves’ first playoff appearance in 13 years. They nearly missed the following year before settling into mediocrity in 1984.
His biggest contribution was helping Murph turn potential into consecutive MVP awards, convincing the young slugger that he could still hit homers without trying to pull everything. Ted fired Torre after the ’84 season; 12 years later he managed the Yanks to the first of two World Series victories vs. the Braves.