From the Editor's Vault...: November 5, 2007
The Postman Keeps Ringing - Our Editor-in-Chief Answers the Mail
I'm a Dodgers fan and my team just hired Joe Torre as manager. In a recent column, Mike Lupica of the Daily News said that Torre was risking his reputation by coming to LA. Do you agree that managing the Dodgers is a risk? I think they're a pretty good team. BleedDodgerBlu1958
Or the way the .431 winning percentage that Sparky Anderson's teams compiled in the last seven years of his career damaged his Hall of Fame standing?
Or the way that selling off his best players and managing generally losing teams for the last twenty years of his career hurt Connie Mack?
I think you see where I'm going with this, right?
Joe Torre could manage the Dodgers to three consecutive last-place finishes over the length of his contract and that block-long, black limousine still will appear in front of his home during his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility and whisk him off to Cooperstown. It's not just that he's been the most successful manager of the past 40 or so years. As a player, Joe Torre fashioned a career that arguably was Cooperstown-worthy all on it's own. To recap: Torre became the full-time starting catcher for the Milwaukee Braves in 1963 and held that position until 1968. During that time, he led all major league catchers in every major offensive category you can name, including on-base percentage, slugging average, batting average, hits, extra-base hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, runs scored, runs created above league average and(RCAA). Here are the top 10 catchers in OPS (On-base percentage Plus Slugging average) for that period and, as you can see, Torre leads in that category by a wide margin:
1 Joe Torre .831
2 Tom Haller .755
3 Bill Freehan .754
4 Earl Battey .751
5 John Romano .746
6 Tim McCarver .736
7 Jim Pagliaroni .734
8 Elston Howard .713
9 Joe Azcue .688
10 Johnny Edwards .680
From 1963 to 1968, the average major league catcher created (to use the term loosely) -7.5 runs below the league average per season. During that same time, Torre created 24.4 runs above the league average per season, which means he was 32 runs better per season, good for an extra three to four wins, than the average catcher. He was a dominant player at a key position over an extended period.
After the 1968 season, the Atlanta Braves traded Torre to the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis already had Tim McCarver, an All-Star in his own right and a superior defender, behind the plate, so the team asked Torre to switch positions, initially to first base and then to third. From 1969 to 1971, he finished among the top ten in 30 major offensive categories and placed 8th among National League hitters in OPS:
1 Willie McCovey 1.031
2 Hank Aaron 1.012
3 Willie Stargell .937
4 Roberto Clemente .928
5 Dick Allen .913
6 Rusty Staub .905
7 Billy Williams .898
8 Joe Torre .895
Torre won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1971, when he led the league in hitting (.361), finished second in on-base percentage (.421) and topped the league in seven other major offensive categories. I don't have his game log in front of me, but I remember reading that Torre reached base in all but 13 of the 161 games he played that season, an astounding performance.
In recent years, many analysts have touted former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo as a Hall of Fame candidate, and with good reason. However, Torre compares well with Santo, at least on offense. Santo's career OPS was 91 points above league average for his position. Torre's was 105 points better. In 2,324 games played, Santo created 253 runs above the league average. In 2,209 games, Torre created 289 runs above the norm. If you examine runs created above the average by position (RCAP), Torre's advantage widens, 314 to 200. Despite Santo defensive superiority, Torre is just as worthy a Hall of Fame candidate even if you only consider his accomplishments as a player.
But, of course, he wasn’t merely a productive player. Torre's career 2,067 wins ranks eighth among major league managers on the all-time list. If the Dodgers average just 60 wins a season over the length of his contract, he (presumably) will finish his career in fifth place on that list. Among the top 25 winningest managers in major league history, Torre has the best career stats as a player and it's not even close. Fred Clarke, who starred with the Louisville Colonels and the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1894 to 1915 , probably ranks second, and his career OPS (.814) was 59 points above the league average for the period in which he played. Torre's career .817 OPS is only three points higher than Clarke's, but it was 103 points higher than the league norm. When you consider Torre's playing career and his managerial accomplishments, he's obviously a Hall of Famer.
Whether he's risking his reputation as a winning manager, a manager who can make a difference, by hiring on with the Dodgers is another matter. I think it's spot-on to write that Torre’s moving to LA represents a substantial roll of the dice, a danger to the professional esteem he currently enjoys. Spot-on, that is, until you consider that:
1. The Dodgers already have a solid core of young talent at the major league level;
2. The Dodgers’ farm system is ranked as one of the top three in all of baseball;
3. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has a lot of cash on hand for augmenting his team with additional talent; and
4. The Dodgers compete in the weakest division in the majors.
That last may represent the most important element to consider when you're calculating the odds for Torre’s success in the near future. Even though the Arizona Diamondbacks won more games than any other National League team and the wild card Colorado Rockies did go on to the World Series, I doubt either club would have contended in any of the three American League divisions. If the Diamondbacks were to play 162 head-to-head games against the Boston Red Sox, the Sox probably would win 92 of them and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Tampa Bay Devils Rays would hold Arizona to .500 in a similar matchup. Hell, I can think of some teams from the Players’ League that would give the D’backs and the Rockies a tussle, and that circuit has been defunct since 1890. Which is to say that I think Mr. Torre – as Derek Jeter still calls him – could hardly have picked more wisely when he chose a new employer. It shouldn't surprise anyone if the Dodgers will win at least one National League West title during the next three seasons, and the team has an outside shot at dominating it's division throughout the new manager's tenure.