Joe Torre has been a baseball lifer. He grew up playing the sport and eventually made the majors. He enjoyed a stellar, borderline Hall of Fame career over 18 seasons. A nine time All Star and 1971 NL MVP, Torre stared throughout the 1960s and 1970s. After his retirement his tried his hand managing each of the three teams he previously played for, Mets, Cardinals and Braves. After his dismissal as manager of the Cardinals in 1995, he thought his life in baseball was over. In reality it was just beginning.
The tabloids cried “Clueless Joe” when he agreed to be latest manager under fanatical owner George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner had hired and fired over twenty managers in his tenure as owner at that point, including Billy Martin five times, and Torre had not much success as a manager previously. Prior to Torre, the average manager lasted only just over one season in the position. Torre would keep his job for the next eleven seasons. He would also make the playoffs each and every one of those eleven years in pinstripes.
Torre’s eleven year run in the Bronx is legendary. He won four World Series, including a three-peat from 1998-2000. He won six American League pennants. His 1998 team won 125 games and is widely considered one of the three greatest teams of all time. He was the calm captain of the ship that had to venture through some rough seas in the Bronx. Steinbrenner would still meddle in the day-to-day affairs. Torre had personality conflicts with some players, like Ruben Sierra, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco, and was known to play favorites. He was also known to destroy the arms in his bullpen.
He was not a perfect manager. A generation of Yankee fans are still confused as to why Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano weren’t at double play depth with one out in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The Curse of the Bambino also ended under his watch when Boston overcame a 3-1 series lead in 2004. He also refused to even consider any advanced metrics which became prevalent towards the end of his career. Several of the players on his teams were also linked to steroids, seemingly without his knowledge.
Casey Stengel used to say he was a really smart manager when he was managing the Yankees, and got dumb really quickly managing the Mets. Stengel knew that a manager will be a lot better when he managing the like of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra. Joe Torre was no exception. While manager of the Yankees he had the good fortune of managing a few future first ballot Hall of Famers in Jeter and Mariano Rivera, as well as several borderline cases like Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Tim Raines, Mike Mussina, Soriano, Robinson Cano, and Paul O’Neill. Others may never make it to Cooperstown due to their links to PEDs such as Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.
Joe Torre had an excellent career both before and after he managed the Yankees, but make no mistake, Torre is receiving his plaque in upstate New York because of his success in the Bronx. Torre had unparalleled success guiding supremely talented teams to the postseason year after year. In New York, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, and Torre was a winner.