Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame adds former player-manager Joe Torre
By Fred Owens
Atlanta Braves will induct three notable former Braves on August 31. Today we look back at the Braves’ career of Joe Torre.
Today’s Atlanta Braves fans think of Joe Torre as the manager who led the Yankees to 12 postseasons and beat the Braves in two World Series. But before reaching those lofty heights, Torre wore the Braves’ uniform for nine years in the 1960s and managed them for three years in the 1980s.
Any discussion of Joe must begin with his brother Frank. The Boston Braves had signed 19-year-old first baseman Frank Joseph Torre on October 20, 1950. Frank played the 1951 season with Braves minor league teams in Denver and Hartford, then served two years in the Army, including a tour in Korea.
Frank was nine years older than Joseph Paul Torre but, according to his SABR biography, became Joe’s mentor and father figure after throwing his abusive police detective father out in 1951. Frank returned from Korea and played with the Braves until June 1960.
Signed, sealed, and delivered
Joe played first base and pitched like Frank, but his carry tool was his bat. He hit .648 in the 1958 All-American Amateur Baseball Association tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but he was fat and slow, so scouts ignored him.
Frank pulled Joe aside and told him that scouts would pay attention if he switched to catching. It worked; Joe caught during the 1959 season and Braves’ scout Honey Russell convinced the club to sign him and give him a $22,500 bonus, roughly the equivalent of $229,106 today.
Considering what we saw in the recent draft, the size of his bonus suggests that Honey Russell thought a lot of 19-year-old Joe Torre.
Slimmer, faster, stronger
Torre lost 20 pounds after signing and batted .346 in the fall Florida Instructional League. Torre continued to mash after the Braves assigned him to Class-C Eau Claire in 1960. In 117 games, he batted .344/.450/.553/1.003, including 23 doubles, three triples, and 16 home runs, striking out 45 times, walking 70, and stealing seven bases.
The Braves called him up for two games at the end of September and promoted him to AAA to start 1961. In 27 games with Louisville, Torre batted .342/.378/.532/.910 with eight doubles, two triples, and three homers in 119 PA. The Braves said, okay, we’re convinced and called him up on May 19.
In his first season with the Braves, Torre finished 21st in NL MVP voting and second in Rookie of the Year voting behind future Hall of Famer Billy Williams.