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#Braves 25: Joe Torre

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.

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The 4th Braves HOF’er

NahaGomez emailed me today with a great suggestion:

‎Isn’t it time to put Joe Torre in the Braves HOF?

Sure is.

Torre in 9 seasons as a Brave: .294 BA, .356 OBP, .462 slugging, 5 ASG’s. An interesting argument could be had ranking the Braves’ best catcher ever: Torre, Javy or McCann?

As manager: 257-229, 1 division championship.

 

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What do Joe Torre and Ron Roenicke have in common?

It turned out to be a crucial mistake, but the Brewers skipper can take some solace from last night’s snafu involving Will Smith, brought into the game without warming up in the bottom of the 7th.

A similar thing happened to a Hall of Fame manager 31 years ago, and it was no early season loss soon to be forgotten. That defeat helped place a dagger in the Braves’ heart in their bid for a second consecutive division crowd, though it’s better remembered for a R.J. Reynolds squeeze.

After Marshall flew out to open the bottom of the sixth, Brock walked, Reynolds singled him to second, and the Midas behind the recent Yankee dynasty, Atlanta manager Joe Torre, replaced Barker with Tommy Boggs.

Rick Monday, his heroic days behind him, batted for Fimple and was called out on strikes for the second out. But Ken Landreaux, the Dodgers’ regular center fielder, pinch-hit for Hooton and walked to load the bases.

Torre went to the mound and signaled for a pitcher to replace Boggs. None other than Terry Forster – the fall guy of 1982 – emerged from the right-field bullpen.

But then a strange thing happened. Torre signaled again – for a right-handed pitcher.

The strange thing was not that Torre wanted a righty to face Sax. It was that he wanted a righty when none had been warming up.

On the telecast, Vin Scully reported that Tony Brizzolara had warmed up earlier in the game, but in this inning, it had clearly been Forster who was backing up Boggs. Brizzolara had been cooling off for some time.

As a puzzled Forster stood on the edge of the warning track and the outfield grass, looking back and forth between the mound and the bullpen, Torre insisted that Brizzolara come in to face Sax.

In Brizzolara came. He threw four pitches to Sax – in the dirt, low, low and high. In the Dodgers’ third run came, and out went Torre to replace Brizzolara with Forster.

Roenicke likely remembers that game, as he was a back-up OF for the Dodgers. Hell, I wasn’t there and I’ll never forget it.

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The 20 worst A-Braves players: #18 Bob Uecker

There’s a reason Bob Uecker is self-deprecating. He really, really sucked — especially as an Atlanta Brave.

Uecker played his first and last major league games with the franchise, debuting as a Milwaukee Brave in 1962. He was re-acquired in June 1967 from the Phillies to be Joe Torre’s back-up but ended up starting 48 games, often as Knucksie’s personal catcher. Not that he was any good at it.

The Miller Lite pitchman led NL catchers in errors (11) and passed balls (27 , 25 as a Brave) despite only 59 starts. That’s more passed balls than Eddie Perez and Charlie O’Brien allowed in their careers.

Uecker was equally inept at the plate, managing but 23 hits (18 singles) in 158 Atlanta AB’s, striking out 51 times for a .146 BA. The only thing worse than his .236 OBP was a pitcher-like .215 slugging percentage. Mercifully, the Braves released Uecker four days after the season concluded. I’m surprised it took that long.

NOTE: Not ranked in order; Uecker may well be the worst of the worst. He certainly won’t be the last catcher to make out list.