Making a Hall of Fame case for the legendary player, manager and world series champion
By Howard G. Ruben
For most hardcore Dodgers fans, the ongoing melodrama between Jamie and Frank McCourt has more than frayed our collective nerves, worn our patience and bored us to tears.
While the battling ex-Bostonians met recently with L.A. Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman about a proposal to settle the case of who owns the team, I had a rare serendipitous opportunity to meet former manager Joe Torre who was sitting outside a local food court waiting for his wife.
The five minute conversation that ensued more than made up for the endless stories about who did what to whom and who deserves to own one of sport’s most hallowed franchises.
Joe Torre is not only a future lock for the Hall of Fame as a manager; he’s a hell of a nice guy and one of the classiest in sports that I’ve ever met. He took the time to tell me about his immediate plans (“we’ll decide at the end of the year but would love to stay in L.A. I am done with managing but would like to be around the game in some capacity.”); showed me the gorgeous World Series ring I admired on his finger (his 1996 world title ring while manager of the Yankees. “It means the most to me because it was my first”); and told me how much he enjoyed his all too brief stint managing the Dodgers (“it’s been a lot of fun. We love it here.”).
- Torre is the only major league manager to win at least 2,000 games and have 2,000 hits as a player. His 2,326 wins rank him fifth all-time for Major League Baseball managers. He has a .538 winning percentage after managing in 4,329 games.
- Only three other managers in major league history have won more World Series than Torre—Casey Stengel, Yankees (seven), Joe McCarthy, Yankees (seven) and Connie Mack, Athletics (five). Torre and Walter Alston (Dodgers) are tied with four. That’s more than Sparky Anderson, Miller Huggins or John McGraw, all of whom won three.
- Torre’s early managerial career with the Braves, Mets and Cardinals was mediocre, mostly because he was handed inferior teams. When he came to the Yankees in 1996, city scribes referred to him as “Clueless Joe.” He silenced the critics right away, winning a World Series in his first year there. Torre managed the Yankees from 1996-2007.
- Under Torre, the Bronx Bombers reached the post season each year and won 10 American League East Division titles, six American League pennants, four World Series titles, and overall compiled a .605 winning percentage. So much for “Clueless.”
- Managers Leo Durocher (24 years, three Pennants, one World Series), Earl Weaver (17 seasons, four Pennants, one World Series), Tom Lasorda (20 seasons, four Pennants, two World Series) and Al Lopez (two Pennants) all are in the Hall of Fame and none of them accomplished what Torre did.
- Torre was overlooked for the Hall as a player, probably because he played a number of positions and never won a World Championship or made the playoffs with his teams. The statistics, however, are Hall of Fame numbers: nine-time All Star, .297 career batting average, 252 homeruns, 1,185 runs batted in; drove in 100 runs and hit over .300 five times in his career.
- In 1971, he delivered one of the best seasons in major league history, leading the league with a .363 batting average, 230 hits and 137 RBI, and running away with the Most Valuable Player Award.
Judged separately, Joe Torre was a great player and a great manager. His combined career, spanning 50 years as player and manager, is utterly remarkable. The criteria to make it into the Hall as a player is based on: “the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship and character. Contributions to the teams he played on are also considered.”
Forget the statistics for a moment, even though they warrant induction. Consider integrity, sportsmanship and character. Joe Torre should be inducted on those merits alone. While his former employers fight and bicker in court over control of a baseball team, Joe Torre can rightfully lay claim to ownership of a baseball career that is above the fray, of championship caliber and filled with the grace of a true gentleman.