July 21, 2017

Out of Left Field: Three Cheers for Joe Torre

October 19, 2007 by · 3 Comments 

I never thought I’d say this about a Yankee, but I love Joe Torre. That’s right, I have a major man crush on the former Yankee skipper after he told George Steinbrenner and his sons, Uday and Qusay, where they could stick their ridiculous contract offer. It wasn’t the amount that was ridiculous—if you’ve been paying attention Torre was making twice as much as the next highest paid manager and you could hardly call $5 million with another alleged $3 million in incentives “ridiculous”—it was the length (one year) and the way it was presented that pissed Torre off and had him opining that the offer was “insulting.”It was clear that the Steinbrenner faction was low-balling Torre on purpose, hoping that he’d reject their offer, so they could replace him, which is what George has wanted to do for at least a couple years now. And if Torre had accepted their offer, they would have had one of the best managers in baseball at $2.5 million less than he’d made in 2006.

But for Torre it wasn’t about the money; it was about the way the Steinbrenners negotiated with him, which is to say they didn’t. “It [Torre’s contract proposal] was dismissed real quickly,” Torre explained to reporters. “It was either the offer or nothing. I just felt the contract offer, the terms of the contract were probably the thing I had the toughest time with. The one year, for one thing. The incentives, for another thing. The fact I’ve been here 12 years and I didn’t think motivation was needed.”

The Steinbrenners made their offer, then simply waved goodbye when Torre rejected it. There was no back and forth, there was no give and take, there was just a take-it-or-leave-it offer thrust in front of Torre’s face and, to his credit, he left it.

Good for Joe. He deserves better.

Joe Torre: Overrated or Hall of Famer?

I read on a message board that Joe Torre was overrated as a manager and that the Yankees wouldn’t miss him. I found that humorous since almost every Yankee manager in history has been considered either “overrated” or a “push-button” manager. Joe McCarthy often came under fire for having the luxury of running one of the greatest lineups in history out on the field every day. How could he lose when he had the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Ben Chapman, Earle Combs, Tommy Henrich, Joe Gordon, Charlie Keller, and Phil Rizzuto playing for him at one time or another and a pitching staff that included Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Johnny Allen, Spud Chandler, and Johnny Murphy?

That prompted me to open The Bill James Guide To Baseball Managers From 1870 to Today, which includes a point system for ranking managers (by the way, McCarthy is the greatest manager of all-time if James’ +/- system is used; McCarthy’s teams won 126 more games than expected, putting him 10 points above McGraw). The book was published in 1997, Torre’s second season in New York. To that point in his career, Torre had managed four different teams (the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, and Yankees) over 15 years and had a career record of 986-1073 (.479). He led the 1982 Atlanta Braves to a division title, before being swept by the Cards in the ’82 NLCS, then led the ’96 Yankees to its first World Series title since 1978.

In October 1996, he became the darling of New York.

“There stood Torre, the manager who put such a human face on this organization that even the most ardent Yankee haters had to pause,” waxed Claire Smith in the New York Times. Bernie Williams “spoke for a team that saw in Torre not just a leader, but a mentor and a friend.” Darryl Strawberry was equally enamored with the Yankee skipper. “Joe Torre believed in all of the players…we all had understood our roles, put it together, worked as a team and it worked out well.”

The Orioles won the American League East division title in 1997 while the Yankees earned the wild card. It would be the last time in the Joe Torre era that the Yankees would fail to win the division title until 2007 when the Red Sox finally broke the Yankees’ stranglehold. The Yankees would go on to win three more World Series titles and five more A.L. pennants under Torre, who fashioned a won/loss record of 1173-767 (.605) while with the Bronx Bombers.

According to James’ point system, Torre earned only six points while with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, and 33% of those came from his ’82 N.L. West division title. At the time the book came out, Torre was seven points from making his top 50 list (actually there were 52), putting him well behind peers such as Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa, and Bobby Cox.

But now that we have another 10 years of records to review how does Torre rank as of 2007?

Before I get into the rankings, I should explain James’ point system. James admitted, “What I can’t tell you is that there is any compelling logic to this system, or that there is any reason why this system is right, and another system is wrong…I would argue, however, that a) the arbitrary cutoffs are reasonable, and b) any similar system, designed to measure the successes of major league managers, would yield almost identical rankings for the 15 or 20 managers, regardless of precisely where cutoffs were established, or how different accomplishments were weighted.”

Here is how he assigned points:

Posting a winning record 1 Point
Winning the division 2 Points
Winning the league 3 Points
Winning the World Series 4 Points
Winning 100 games 1 Point
Finishing 20 games over .500 1 Point

“The first four of those are basic levels, and are scored as 1, 2, 3, and 4,” wrote James. “If you win the World Series, that’s a four-point season. If you win the league but lose the World Series, that’s a three-point season. If you win your division but not the league, that’s a two-point season. If you finish over .500 but don’t win the division, that’s a one-point season.”

“To these four levels, we add one point if the team finishes 20 games over .500, and a second point if they win 100 games. Thus a perfect season—a season in which the team wins the World Championship and wins 100 games—is worth six points…”

In 1997 the top 10 managers of all-time (according to James’ point system) were:

Manager PTS.
1. John McGraw 79
2. Connie Mack 72
3. Joe McCarthy 71
4. Casey Stengel 52
5. Walter Alston 51
6. Sparky Anderson 49
7. Earl Weaver 42
Harry Wright 42
9. Leo Durocher 38
  Bill McKechnie 38

Bobby Cox was tied with Billy Martin for 20th place with 29 points, LaRussa was 22nd with 28 points, and Piniella was 47th with 13 points.

Considering that the three above are still managing and Torre was still managing until today, we can assume that all four have moved up the list and have possibly cracked the top 10, especially Cox and Torre.

Since 1996, Cox has added 32 points to his resume and now has 61 total points, putting him in fourth place behind McGraw, Mack, and McCarthy. LaRussa has added 23 points to give him 51 in his career, which is good for a fifth place tie with Walter Alston. Piniella has added only 12 more points to give him 25, tying him with Ralph Houk and Bucky Harris for 25th place all-time.

Torre has been the most successful of the bunch, adding 43 points to his total, giving him 49 in his career and putting him in an eighth-place tie with Sparky Anderson.

Most points through 2007:

Manager PTS.
1. John McGraw 79
2. Connie Mack 72
3. Joe McCarthy 71
4. Bobby Cox 61
5. Casey Stengel 52
6. Walter Alston 51
  Tony LaRussa 51
8. Sparky Anderson 49
  Joe Torre 49
10. Earl Weaver 42
Harry Wright 42

Eight of the above are in the Hall of Fame (McGraw, Mack, McCarthy, Stengel, Alston, Anderson, Weaver, and Wright). It’s not hard to imagine the three active managers on this list being elected to the Hall of Fame someday, especially Torre, who also had a very good career as a player. He racked up more than 2,300 hits, batted .297 in 7,874 at-bats, recorded an OPS+ of 128, won a batting title and an MVP Award in 1971, and was named to nine All-Star teams during his 18-year career. His HOF standards score (39.9) and HOF Monitor score (96.0) leave him just shy of what a likely Hall of Famer would produce, but when you combine his playing career with his managerial career, there’s no doubt in my mind that Torre is a Hall of Famer.

Hell, he should be inducted to the Hall of Fame just for telling George Steinbrenner to stick his contract offer up his ass.

Comments

3 Responses to “Out of Left Field: Three Cheers for Joe Torre”
  1. Cary says:

    Joe Torre has my full respect. I think the evil twins having more input into Yankee management bodes well for the rest of the league. Trying to quantify managerial success is a weird thing. Organizations as a whole seem a lot more important in baseball than the manager himself, though he and the choices he makes for his coaching staff do have a big impact. Seeing Leo the Lip’s name brings back a lot of memories. He would have told those boys where to stick their offer too. As painful as the ’69 season was for a young Cub fan, there was a poem in Mad magazine that I instantly recognized as a classic:

    When Onassis goes Broke

    When Onassis goes broke
    When the H-bomb’s a joke
    When bookies no longer take bets
    When bacon is kosher,
    Then Leo Durocher
    Will take seven straight
    From the Mets.

  2. Mike Lynch says:

    Cary,

    That’s a great poem. I’ve never heard that one before. Thanks for sharing it!

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