In 2003, Jeff Torborg began the season as the manager of the Florida Marlins. He had been a manager over several decades and won a Manager of the Year in the 1990’s.
Now a seasoned veteran who had managed for several different franchises, he found himself in Florida in what might have been his last big shot.
That year, the Florida Marlins stunned all of baseball by winning the World Series over the New York Yankees. They did so being led by their veteran manager, a seasoned veteran of many franchises who won a Manager of the Year in the 1990’s.
Only it wasn’t Jeff Torborg who was managing the team when they won.
I couldn’t help but feel for Torborg when Jack McKeon took over the team and got the glory.
A star high school player from New Jersey, Torborg became a backup catcher on the Dodgers during their glory years of the 1960’s. He earned a World Series ring in 1965 and played on another pennant winner in 1966, although he never actually played in the World Series those years.
He played in LA from 1964 to 1970. From 1971 to 1973, he played for the Angels before transitioning to coaching.
In 1977, the Indians fired Frank Robinson as manager and put Jeff Torborg in the skipper role. The Indians had some talent on their squad but it could not translate on the field. His only full season managing Cleveland, 1978, they lost 90 games.
When the Tribe started 43-52 in 1979, Torborg was let go and Dave Garcia came in. The Indians would finish the season above .500.
For years afterwards, Torborg became a fixture in the Yankee coaching staff. Oddly, even though the Yankees averaged at least one managerial change a year, Torborg never got a chance to manage in the Bronx.
The White Sox came calling in 1989 after Jim Fregosi was shown the door. He had a rocky first year but the young talented squad blossomed in 1990, the final year of Comiskey Park.
The team had a combination of veteran hitters like Carlton Fisk, Ron Kittle and Ivan Calderon and young bats like Robin Ventura, Lance Johnson and young phenom Frank Thomas. They also had Sammy Sosa, but he was too skinny and didn’t have enough power.
Bobby Thigpen saved a record 57 games and Jack McDowell, Greg Hibbard, Melido Perez and Eric King made for a solid staff.
By July 7th, they were tied for first place and stayed close into August. The A’s would go on to win the AL West, but Chicago’s 94 win season came out of nowhere and was better than the AL East Champion Red Sox’s final tally.
Torborg won Manager of the Year and became on the shortlist of elite managers. After another winning season in 1991, he was coveted by several teams. He went to New York. The Mets were retooling with the additions of Bobby Bonilla, Bret Saberhagen and Eddie Murray and had thoughts of unseating the Pirates for NL East champs.
Now with Torborg replacing Bud Harrleson, the Mets looked to be great again.
Instead 1992 was an abject disaster. Bonilla and Saberhagen were not the stars New York was hoping for and the Mets lost 92 games. They began 1993 13-25 and that was it. Torborg was first and Dallas Green took over. The 1993 Mets are considered to be one of the worst in franchise history.
The taste of being involved in those Mets years seemed to wipe out the positivity of the White Sox success. He did not return to managing for the rest of the 1990’s. He worked as a broadcaster for several outlets.
His friend, Jeffrey Loria, revived his managerial career. When Loria ran the Expos, he brought in Torborg to supplant Felipe Alou to finish the 2001 season. When Loria left the Expos to run the Marlins, he brought Torborg with him.
The Marlins had talent and finished 2002 near .500. But they started 2003 with a new free agent signing, Ivan Rodriguez, and Wild Card aspirations. Instead they stumbled to a 16-22 start.
That prompted the hiring of Jack McKeon and Torborg was shown the door. The Marlins went 75-49 the rest of the way, stunned the Giants in the Division Series, caused agony to Cub fans and caught an exhausted post Aaron Boone Yankee squad off guard.
The Marlins were champs and it was McKeon, who had been Manager of the Year with the 1999 Reds, soaking in champagne.
Torborg retired to New Jersey and now is suffering from Parkinsons.
He had a long and varied baseball life that just barely missed that ultimate pinnacle as a manager.
I hope he got a winners share from the 2003 Marlins.