(Busch Stadium) When Joe Torre arrived via trade to the St. Louis Cardinals after 1968, he had already had been a five-time All-Star and had hit over 20 home runs in four seasons. But there was still something missing.
“You know when I came to St. Louis, it was interesting,” began Torre. “I always felt that I was sort of irresponsible when I was with the Braves. I just wasn’t mature. That’s what I admired Jeter about so much–at 21 years old, he was far advanced than I was at that age.
“You get traded, all of a sudden it sort of hits you like a wet towel–wake up. I came here, I was traded for Cepeda so the expectation was sizeable. I worked hard, harder mentally, physically I always felt that I worked hard.”
Things really kicked into gear for Torre after the 1969 season. Though he was traded for Cepeda, Torre had played first base for the Cardinals but with Tim McCarver having been traded to Philadelphia and Ted Simmons in the service, it was evident there was going to be a move back behind the plate.
“I was going to be catching the bulk of the first 40 games until (Simmons) gets out,” said Torre. “So I went on a diet in Spring Training, paid attention to my conditioning and then all of a sudden I became this player that–with help from Red Schoendienst about where to hold the bat and all that, I became a player that maybe I didn’t even think I was capable of being.”
Over his next six seasons in St. Louis, Torre played in 918 games and hit .308 with 98 home runs and 558 runs batted in.
“When you come over here and these Cardinals players had been in the World Series two years in a row and they were confident. They weren’t surprised that it had happened, they were confident. It was just a great atmosphere to be a part of. I learned a lot. Each guy–Tim McCarver, they were such a positive group of people. I think that did a great deal in making me the player I was from there on out.”
This Saturday, Torre was inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame–joining many of those former teammates who had a big impact on his career, including Bob Gibson.
“He was never positive, but he was always kidding,” said Torre. “All you had to do was watch him pitch and realize how important it was for him and you learn from that. To me, role models and leaders are not necessarily what they say it’s how they act. And Bob Gibson was one of those guys that came to work–came to work and gave you an honest days work.
“You realized, I guess from what they tell me about running a marathon, you get to a certain point in the 26-mile race that you either say ‘that’s enough’ or you find a way to push yourself through to go the rest of the way. Gibson was really symbolic of that type of approach to his career.”
The rewards were never more evident than in 1971, as Torre was named the National League Most Valuable Player after collecting 230 hits with .363 batting average. He also hit 24 home runs with 137 RBIs.
“It’s not as much work when things are falling into place,” smiled Torre. “Those days when you’re 0-4 and maybe it stretches out to two or three games, that’s the work. Otherwise, the kind of year I had–you get to go to the ballpark. It’s not that you had to go to the ballpark, you get to go to the ballpark. ’71–it took a lot of work and concentration, but when things were happening for me it’s a lot fun, it really is.”
Years later, Torre continued to have fun as the St. Louis Cardinals manager–even as the ownership was going through some changes after the passing of August A. Busch Jr. and many of the previous resources weren’t available to the team.
“I never had the mindset we don’t have the players or I deserve to get this player, why couldn’t we get this player–you’re hired to manage,” Torre said. “So like a card game, if somebody deals you a hand this the hand you’ve got, play it. Do the best you can, let’s see how good you are. And that was my philosophy.”
There was also something else Torre strived for as a manager.
“The whole thing about managing, at least in those days–it’s changed now with all the sabermetrics and stuff, but it’s dealing with people,” he said. “It’s dealing with people and trying to treat everybody fairly. That’s one thing, I hope that I accomplished. There’s going to be a guy here and a guy there that’s not going to agree with me, but that was my intention.”
photo credit: Bill Greenblatt/UPI