Most famous for managing the Yankees through their late 1990s dynasty, Joe Torre celebrates his 75th birthday today.
The right-handed catcher and infielder accumulated nine All-Star Game appearances in 18 Major League seasons. Even with a respectable .297 career batting average, the Hall of Fame inducted Torre in 2014 as a manager.
Not that batting a hair under .300 isn’t impressive, but that’s certainly the right move.
Torre played under manager Yogi Berra in the tail end of his playing career.
In 1977, Torre served as one of baseball’s last player-managers, coaching the Mets for 117 games. He enjoyed little success, not only there, but as the manager of Atlanta and St. Louis, too.
Spanning 14 seasons, he only coached one team to a first place divisional finish. The Yankees fired Buck Showalter in 1995 and immediately knew Torre was their guy. At least George Steinbrenner knew.
As Jack Curry writes, “Steinbrenner wanted Torre… so desperately that the Yankees did not even interview another candidate.”
But Curry also picks at why the “hardly overwhelming Torre” turned into a unanimous choice. Torre brought a .471 winning percentage and even more questions to the Bronx.
Steinbrenner and General Manager Bob Watson met with the 54-year old manager for just an hour before agreeing to hire him. It took much longer to learn that the Yankees exhausted three other resources before turning to Torre as the fourth choice.
On the surface, Torre looked like a figurehead – already with most of his assistants put in place by Steinbrenner. Bill Madden published an article just after Torre’s hiring, holding nothing back with the title “Crowning of a Puppet.”
Further, media thought he walked into an impossible situation. Working for Steinbrenner hadn’t worked out for 13 other managers to that point. Torre is no different, wrote Ian O’Connor.
O’Connor legitimately thought Torre made a career-altering mistake by taking the job.
In his first year, the Yanks won the World Series. (LINK: Pretty awesome footage from the nosebleeds.)
Derek Jeter started his career that season. He and Torre teamed up for Series wins again in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
But there is something to be said to the “figurehead” manager. Steinbrenner and Watson’s replacement Brian Cashman loaded the Yankees with talent. The 1998 lineup entirely existed between 26-31 years old, with the exception of Darryl Strawberry and Paul O’Neill.
That season they acquired everyday players Scott Brosius, and Chuck Knoblauch. In 1996, Tino Martinez joined the team. In ’97, they brought Chad Curtis aboard – all these players coming to the Bronx in their primes.
Not to mention signing David Wells, David Cone and reliever Mike Stanton.
The World Series looked like Torre’s to lose at that point, which he did twice. His relationship with Steinbrenner remained close until the Boss died in 2010. The two built an empire which took over baseball teams and casual fans.
He finished his career in an awkward departure from New York and the Dodgers’ manager. He turned a mediocre winning percentage to trailing only Connie Mack, John McGraw, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox in wins.