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I realize writing this has no bearing on whether or not Joe Torre will ever get in to The Baseball Hall of Fame…as a player.
And I also realize he will be in as a first ballot manager in the next ten years, so there’s almost no point in this long diatribe on the Veteran’s Committee’s irresponsibility of not putting Joe Torre in the Hall ten years ahead of time. Right?
Well, no. Wrong. There is.
Torre was a hell of a ball player, once being called by famed Beat Generation writer, Jack Kerouac, “the best catcher since Roy Campanella.” That was in 1965, the only year he won a gold glove for any position. And he played three of them very well. He played them well enough to play over 500 games at games at each of them (catcher, first and third).
I suppose the biggest problem, when 1983 came around (his first year of eligibility), was that writers were having a difficult time deciding what to induct him as. And it’s a good question but somebody should have come up with an answer. Somebody should have found a logical manner in which he could be inducted without having him stay embarrassingly on the ballot for fifteen years, never getting more than 22% of the vote in 1997 – one year after his World Series victory as manager of the Yankees. (Biased much?)
So somebody should have devised a well thought out plan to make sure a player like Torre wouldn’t have to wait. Well, somebody did. Me. And I propose the Utility spot as an official Hall of Fame position for a player like a Joe Torre to get inducted in with. Of course there are some guidelines:
Now, the last stipulations might seem odd, but it’s really contingent upon the other three requirements. Basically, it’s designed to rule out the modern day definition of the utility player that comes off the bench. That’s not to say that there’s not a place for those players in baseball. There’s just not a place for them in the Hall of Fame.
And this really isn’t new, considering Pete Rose fills all of those out to the tee and more. If Rose hadn’t been banned from baseball, he would’ve have been de facto, the first “utility” player in the Hall. I know he would have bet on it.
All kidding aside, Torre as a utility player needs to be compared to players already in the Hall. That’s the best way to go about it. It’s probably also best to situate yourself in the time period he played in, which was the Expansion Era. And anyone will tell you that the era was not the time to be a hitter. Its nom de guerre could aptly be called, “The Pitching Era.”
As a catcher:
There are thirteen true catchers in the Hall and virtually all of them played the majority of their careers primarily as a catcher. So for the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume all their numbers are as a catcher, and discount the fifty games or so they might have been outfielders or first basemen. Also, all numbers being compared are based on a 162 game average. For example, if Player A hits 15 homeruns in only 81 games, his 162 game average would be 30. And those are the numbers I’ll be using for Torre versus other catchers.
Joe Torre’s primary catching years were from 1961-1968. During that time he averaged .294 in over 3,698 at-bats and played in 1,035 games. He was an All-Star five times and received MVP votes in three, breaking the top five in 1964.
Regarding his numbers by comparison to other Hall catchers, there were only six other players with a higher OBP, five with a better batting average, six with a better OPS and five with a better slugging percentage. But, virtually all of them were better in RBI per year. Statistically speaking, as an offensive threat, he ranked somewhere in the middle, but with a better Slugging Percentage and OPS than Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench, arguably the best power catchers of the past forty years. Torre was a more productive catcher. He also had a higher batting average than them, including Yogi Berra.
What was most astonishing was the fielding percentage and caught stealing percentage. While there were only six players with a better caught stealing percentage of 41%, there was only one out of thirteen with a higher fielding percentage, and that was Gabby Hartnett.
Perhaps the more important issue and more telling is the Pitching Era that Torre played in with Fisk and Bench. In 1967 Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown with a batting average of .301. Runs per game were down almost two full runs. In 1968 we saw a 30 game winner and a 1.12 ERA. For Torre to have beaten out players whom some writers and fans dub “the greatest,” is a remarkable and overlooked feat. He proved not only to be a successful offensive threat, but a defensive one as well.
As a corner infielder:
Torre fluctuated between first base and third base from 1969-1976. During that time he won the 1971 MVP Award as a third basemen and appeared in four All-Star games.
The reason I can’t divide the two positions is because first and foremost, I’m lazy. And also, he only played 107 games as a catcher during that time frame, so it’s fair to say that those were primarily first and third base seasons for Torre. Basically, it’s easier.
And I’ll only be comparing his numbers to third basemen for the sake of this argument. (It makes me look better). I’ll be excluding Paul Molitor who spent nearly 400 more games as a designated hitter and Cal Ripken Jr. who was primarily a shortstop. That leaves us with eleven true third basemen. Again, it’s important to emphasize that Torre began his corner infielder switch during the heart of the Pitching Era.
When I took his numbers on a 162 game average and compared them to those of a Hall of Famer’s, I found that he drove in more runs than ten of the eleven players. The only person who had him beat was Mike Schmidt. Only six had better batting averages, five had better OPS’s, four had a better slugging percentage, and four had better OBP’s.
On average that puts him ahead of the middle of the pack. I mean, the guys we’re talking about who were ahead of him were mainly Boggs, Brett, Matthews and Schmidt. Those players were elite, and yet Torre was close in nearly every category. In fact, the only two that beat him out for homerun average were Matthews and Schmidt, and both of those guys have over 500 career homeruns. And despite not hitting a lot of homeruns, he maintained a high OPS; due mainly in part to his 1971 MVP season in which he batted .363 with 230 hits. The only other third baseman in the Hall to win an MVP and lead the league in batting average was George Brett, who only played 117 games that year. To be fair to Joe Torre, he played 161 games and racked up 55 more hits than Brett did.
If Joe Torre’s career teaches us anything, it’s that there is room for players with diverse careers. You simply need to go back and review it in parts. I’m a big advocate of eras and how well the player compares to players already in the Hall of Fame.
And as the years go by, it’s unlikely that we’ll see players like Joe Torre or a Pete Rose. There are few players playing today like a Chone Figgins who can play multiple positions for great lengths of time. But first things first I suppose. They need to recognize the designated hitter as a Hall of Fame position and then they can create either a utility position or something dignified sounding like, “All-Purpose Position Player.”
There’s no doubt that Torre will be in the Hall someday as a manager. The Veteran’s Committee handles all manager and special player selections, like Joe Gordon who got in last year. It took the committee 39 years to put him in and by then Gordon was long gone. I fear that the same will happen to Joe Torre if there isn’t a critical review (like this one) done by both the Baseball Writer’s Association of America and the Veteran’s Committee. Who knows, they might even be able to change their position as well.
Joe Torre was a player/manager for the Mets in his final season in 1977, much like Hall of Famer John McGraw, who led his team to a World Series victory in 1905. Joe Torre has gone on to win 4.
Joe Torre has more 100 RBI seasons than Mickey Mantle, George Brett, Cal Ripken, Billy Williams, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson and Andre Dawson. All of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
Joe Torre has the 3rd most hits by a third baseman in a single season (230), behind only Wade Boggs (240) and Freddie Lindstrom (231). Both are in the Hall of Fame.
There are only three inactive players with at least 9 All-Star appearances, 2000 career hits and an MVP Award who are not in the Hall of Fame: Barry Larkin, Steve Garvey and Joe Torre.
Topics: Baseball Hall Of Fame, Bearing, Beat Generation, Diatribe, Fifteen Years, Gold Glove, Good Question, Hall of Fame, Irresponsibility, Jack Kerouac, Joe Torre, Logical Manner, MVP, Roy Campanella, S Committee, Stipulations, Veteran, World Series, World Series Victory, Yankees