August 23, 2019

Should Joe Torre Already Be in the Hall of Fame?

October 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

October 22, 2013

Joe Torre will be eligible for baseball’s Hall of Fame as a manager next year and it is the widespread assumption he will be voted in easily, if not unanimously.  A look at Torre’s resume backs this up: he won six pennants and four World Series and his 2,326 victories are fifth all-time.  The only managers among baseball’s top 11 all-time winners who aren’t in the Hall, besides Torre, are Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa who will also be eligible next year and should also get in.

A closer examination of Torre’s 29 years as a big league skipper, though, also leads to some questions.

Torre managed the New York Mets from 1977 to 1981 and never had a winning season.  He managed the Atlanta Braves from 1982 to 1984 and had two winning seasons, including a division title in ’82, and one loser.  With the St. Louis Cardinals from 1990 to 1995 he had three winning seasons but no playoff appearances.

Then he went to the New York Yankees.  Six pennants, four parades and 1, 173 victories.

And we cannot forget his final three years with the Los Angeles Dodgers: two division titles and one year just below .500 at 80-82.

Why did Torre get hired by the Braves after doing so poorly with the Mets?  Why did the Cardinals bring him on after doing so-so with the Braves?  Why did he get hired by the Yankees after doing nothing special with the Cardinals?

Torre could manage and baseball people knew that.

He was also lucky.  You have to be to last 29 years in the dugout.  Those Yankees teams were loaded and many managers could have won with them.  But not every manager could have won it all four times.   But the point here is not to assail Torre’s managerial skills.  He was good, he was fortunate, he was tough, he was a survivor and he’ll be enshrined in Cooperstown for that.  The point here is to raise the question of whether Joe Torre should already be in the Hall as a player.

Torre was a catcher and infielder for the Braves, Cardinals and Mets from 1961 to 1977.  He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in  ’61, played in nine All-Star games and was National League MVP in 1971 when he hit .363 and won the NL batting title.

Torre had 2,342 career hits, 1,185 RBI, a career batting average of .297, a career slugging percentage of .452 and won a gold glove in 1965.

Torre has a higher career batting average than Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Orlando Cepeda, Duke Snider, Lou Boudreau and Barry Larkin.

His career On-base Percentage of .364 is higher than that of Billy Williams and Ichiro Suzuki.  He won an MVP, something Derek Jeter, Lou Brock, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett and Wade Boggs never did.

Torre’s career WAR was 57.4.  Puckett’s was 50.8; Bill Mazeroski’s was 36.1.  Brock?  45.2.

Yet, as a player, Joe Torre has never even sniffed the Hall of Fame.  The highest percentage of votes Torre ever received for induction to Cooperstown came in 1997, his final year of eligibility, when he was selected on 22.2% of the ballots, far short of the 75% necessary.

Why?

There is certainly much more to a career than numbers.  Some Guys we know are just better than their numbers show.  Some guys are just, we know, not as good as their numbers might indicate.  Where does Joe Torre fall?

One thing Torre never did was appear in the postseason.  Strange, isn’t it, that the man who defined playoff excellence as a manager never experienced even a game of it as a player?  Torre had a handful of second place finishes as a player but never won a division and, back in his time, there was no wild card.  How different would his regular season numbers look if he had reached the postseason a few times?  What if he had been a World Series hero?

If ifs and buts were candy and nuts Joe Torre might have had a plaque a long time ago.

Torre isn’t in the Hall as a player, but will be as a manager.  The only ways to get in the Hall of Fame are as a player, manager, umpire or executive/pioneer.  But what about guys who were pretty good, but not great, at two or more of those things?

Dusty Baker isn’t in Cooperstown as a player and shouldn’t be as a manager but if you combine all he did should that count?  Could we someday legitimately wonder the same thing about Kirk Gibson?  Joe Girardi?  Robin Ventura?

The Hall of Fame represents excellence.   The question of what defines excellence is not always an easy one.  If you were building a baseball team would you rather have two or three guys who were great, or six or seven guys who were very good?

Joe Torre could win with either lineup.  He would probably bat himself eighth.

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