Today, Joe Torre was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame by the expansion era committee. Mr. Torre, as Derek Jeter calls him, may have earned his HOF credentials as manager of the cross-town Bronx Bombers, but he nonetheless holds a dear place in the hearts of Mets fans of a certain age as well – or at least mine.
As young kids, my cousin and I played a lot of stick ball in the park together, but not before arguing over the right to emulate our favorite Mets players.
He always wanted to be Kingman, and made sure to call first dibs. Many times we just fought over Kingman. Nowadays, the mental flashback cracks us up. Two cousins beating each other up for the right to be Dave Kingman seems ponderous today, but that exemplified the passion we shared as Mets fans, or our shared stupidity as cousins swimming in the same gene pool.
In addition to Kingman, my cousin also usually picked Cleon Jones, and Jerry Grote because he aspired to be a catcher. Pitching wise, I always let him be Tom Seaver, because I was more of a Jerry Koosman fan anyway. I took reliever Skip Lockwood, and my cousin often grabbed Jon Matlack.
We were eight/nine years old by the way, and the park was only across the street, so our moms oversaw everything.
One particularly hot day in the summer of 1976, I trumped him. I called dibs on Joe Torre. He looked at me horrified, and declared angrily that he was Joe Torre! I wasn’t having it, and threw the first punch.
A former National League MVP, Joe Torre was acquired by the Mets from the St. Louis Cardinals on October 13, 1974, in exchange for Tommy Moore and Ray Sadecki. In 1975, Torre played in 114 games, primarily at third and first base. In 361 at-bats, he struggled, hitting only .247, and posted a .317 OBP, with 6 home runs and 31 RBI.
In 1976, Joe Torre bounced back to enjoy a swan song season, posting a .306 batting average in 310 trips to the plate, and posted a greatly improved .358 OBP, with 5 home runs and 31 RBI. His contributions helped the Mets achieve their second best ever regular season record to that point, with an 86-76 mark. In his first season at the helm, Joe Frazier was manager that season.
After starting the 1977 season with a 15-30 record, Joe Frazier was fired, and Joe Torre named player/manager of the Mets. For eighteen games, he served in that manner, and called on himself to make two pinch-hit appearances. On June 17, 1977, Joe Torre took his final at-bat as a player.
The years 1977 through 1981, Joe Torre’s tenure as Mets manager, are commonly known as the Dark Years of Flushing. Unbeknownst to him, Torre was appointed skipper of a sinking ship. The late Joan Payson’s passing coincided with the advent of free agency. The team’s remaining figureheads, M. Donald Grant, and Mrs. Payson’s daughter, Lorinda de Roulet, would have nothing to do with inaugurating the new age of free agency, and instead, began preparations to sell the team. General manager Joe McDonald was forced into a hasty rebuilding, in part due to player age, but primarily because ownership would not ante up for their own increasing salaries, much less future considerations. Signing free agents or increasing salary became strictly prohibited. In nearly five full seasons managing the Mets under those conditions, Joe Torre posted an unfortunate 286-420 record.
On the other hand, while GM Joe McDonald was responsible for accumulating a bevy of young minor league talent, that would eventually assist the Mets in realizing World Series glory once again, it was Joe Torre who schooled many of those players on professionalism at the major league level. Lee Mazzilli, Mookie Wilson, Hubie Brooks, Neil Allen, Wally Backman, Jesse Orosco, and others like Mike Scott and Jeff Reardon, all made their MLB debut playing for Joe Torre. In Mazzilli’s case, he was a rookie in ’76, but his career years came playing for Torre. The same goes for John Stearns, who, along with Mazzilli, became all-stars playing for Joe.
Under new ownership, the Mets and Joe Torre parted ways after the 1981 regular season. As we now know, Joe Torre’s work in New York was only just beginning.
Joe Torre was additionally special to us, and by us, I mean Brooklyn. In 1940, he was born unto the Borough of Kings, and attended James Madison High School. Members of his family still live in the Marine Park section of our quaint little village. I played in a different circuit, but growing up, many of my friends played for Joe Torre Little League. So, then or now, being one of us, always transcended being a Met or Yankee fan.
Congratulations Joe Torre. He’s always been a member of Brooklyn’s Hall of Fame, and I think it goes without saying that we Mets fans still remember his time in Queens fondly. Above all, he is a true New York City baseball legend, right up there with the titans – John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel.
I emulated Joe Torre as an eight/nine year old playing stick ball in Brooklyn. Really, what greater legacy is there?