Edgar Martinez is inching closer to Hall of Fame election. He reached 58.6% last year and with a big bump, he might get in.
If he does and they have those events when all the living Hall of Famers get together, I hope Joe Torre comes over to him and says “Thank you.”
If it weren’t for Edgar Martinez and his amazing series against the Yankees in 1995, Joe Torre would not be in the Hall of Fame.
Oh don’t get me wrong. If Edgar Martinez did not get that game winning double in the bottom of the 11th in Game 5 of the Division Series, or didn’t bat .571 with a 1.000 slugging percentage against the Yankees, Torre would still be a respected man in baseball.
He was an MVP as a player, part of a proud baseball family with his brother Frank Torre and spent decades as a manager and broadcaster for several organizations.
But he became a Hall of Famer, one of the biggest and most beloved figures in all of baseball and managed a team in the wake of September 11th that led the league in overt dramatic symbolism.
That wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t become the Yankee manager at the right time.
The Brooklyn born Torre overcame an abusive father to follow in the footsteps of his brother Frank and played for the Milwaukee Braves starting in 1960. By 1963, Torre was an All Star catcher, hitting 20 homers a year, driving in 109 in 1964 and hit .315 in 1966 with an OPS of .943 as the Braves moved from Wisconsin to Atlanta.
In 1968, Torre was dealt to the two time defending NL Champion Cardinals in a deal for Orlando Cepeda. At this point, Torre was transitioning to third base. The result was in 1971, he had his best season.
He led the league with 230 hits, 137 RBI and a .363 average. He also had the most total bases in the National League and, though nobody knew it then, had the highest offensive WAR in the NL. He was named the MVP of the National League in 1971.
The Cardinals, who won two titles and another pennant in the 1960’s, stopped winning in the 1970’s with Torre on the roster.
He had a few more All Star seasons after his MVP but his borderline Hall of Fame career was winding down. He was traded to the Mets after the 1974 season. He hit .306 as a part time player in 1976 but by 1977, he was done.
The Mets released him but gave him a different job. He was named manager, replacing Joe Frazier.
He was screwed. Not long after installing him into the job, they traded away Tom Seaver. Then they dealt Dave Kingman. Jerry Koosman was next. It wasn’t a great time to be the manager of the Mets and frankly, Torre did nothing as manager to distinguish himself.
He had very little good will in New York, despite being a native son. The Mets were so bad under him that they got some good draft picks, selecting Darryl Strawberry with one of them. But Torre got the boot after the 1981 season.
He found a landing spot in Atlanta and he got off to the best start a new manager could go on. The Braves won their first 13 games under Torre, a National LEague record. They would need every one of those 13 as Atlanta won the division by a single game over the defending World Champion Dodgers and 2 games over the upstart San Francisco Giants.
Finally Torre was in the post season. It didn’t last long. After Game 1 of the best of 5 NLCS against the Cardinals was rained out after it started, Torre and company went on to be swept. The Cardinals won the title. The Braves won the heart of the South. Dale Murphy would win back to back MVPs and become one of the most beloved players in Atlanta history.
Torre couldn’t get the Braves back to the playoffs however and was let go after 1984.
After Atlanta, he became a solid color commentator, working for both the California Angels and for NBC and ESPN. Torre has a solid set of pipes, a relaxed and personable style and lots of stories to tell. There is no doubt that if his managerial career did not take off, he would have had a long broadcasting life somewhere.
He managed the Cardinals between 1990 and 1995, but they did not go to the post season under his watch. When the year ended, he looked like he was primed to head back to the booth. His reputation secure as a fine former player and a baseball lifer.
Then the Yankees collapsed in the playoffs after Edgar Martinez played like a man possessed. George Steinbrenner, desperate to show everyone he was still boss, did not bring back Buck Showalter, the manager who basically rebuilt the team.
The move to let Showalter go was intensely unpopular, especially after the Yankees had a brilliant 1994 cut short by the strike and had a huge comeback to even get into the post season.
Torre was brought in and was dubbed “Clueless Joe” by the press. The great mind of Showalter was canned for a former Met, Brave and Cardinal manager who had one Division Title to his credit.
The match turned out to be one made in heaven. Torre, knowing this was his last chance to win as a manager, was a calm and even keel father figure for the young Yankee team. He handled the veterans and young stars perfectly and kept the Steinbrenner craziness away from the clubhouse. His brother Frank needed a heart transplant during the 1996 post season and suddenly the grandfatherly figure with the sad eyes became a symbol of love and family in New York.
They won the pennant, the first in Joe Torre’s career. Then he outmanaged that asshole Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees won their first title since 1978 and for Yankee fans, it was one they savored forever.
Had the Yankees lost in the Division Series (and they were losing late in 3 of the last 4 games against Texas), Torre might have been fired. Maybe he would have if they lost to Atlanta.
But they didn’t. Torre was impossible to fire. The World Series titles piled up, winning it all in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
And Torre, wearing the NYPD and fire department hats post September 11th, became a reliable father figure for a wounded country after the attacks. The Yankees took dramatic games against the A’s, Mariners and Diamondbacks before falling in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.
By then he was an all time ambassador of baseball. No manager lasted longer under Steinbrenner. Only Joe McCarthy lasted longer in Yankee history.
He would go on to manage the Dodgers to the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 and became the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for MLB in 2011.
In 2014, he was selected to the Hall of Fame as a manager and later the Yankees retired his number.
All of these opportunities would have been denied to him if the Yankees had advanced under Showalter in 1995. If they made it to the ALCS against Cleveland, Buck would have returned. The entire modern history of the Yankees would have been different. Maybe they would have won titles under Showalter. Maybe they wouldn’t have.
But Martinez went on that hitting tear, Showalter lost his job and Torre took over. There is a direct line to that event and Torre being in the Hall of Fame.
I truly hope Torre thanked Martinez.
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