Joe Torre and Major League Baseball have often been one and the same.
From his 17-year playing career and his 29 managerial campaigns to his five-plus years in the broadcasting booth and his current position as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, Torre has been immersed in the game for nearly all of his adult life.
"I know very few ballplayers who have ascended in the game as comfortably as Joe Torre has," said Tim McCarver, one of Torre's former Cardinals teammates. "His ascendency in the game was as natural as a staircase that went one step at a time, and he mastered every part of the game with which he was involved."
And while it's only one piece of Torre's distinguished baseball pedigree, his time with St. Louis was nonetheless significant. Torre played six seasons with the Cards from 1969-74, winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1971, the year he led the NL in batting with a .363 average, and he managed the club from 1990-95.
And now the upcoming Cooperstown inductee -- he'll go into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July -- is in the running for a place in the new Cardinals Hall of Fame gallery, located in Ballpark Village. Fans can go to cardinals.com/HOF to vote for up to two of the eight candidates: Torre, Ted Simmons, Jim Edmonds, Willie McGee, Bob Forsch, Keith Hernandez, Mark McGwire or Matt Morris.
Voting ends Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. CT.
The two leading vote-getters will be enshrined during an Aug. 16 ceremony at Ballpark Village, joining the 22 Cardinals who received automatic induction because they are either already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame or have had their uniform number retired by the club.
Torre arrived in St. Louis shortly before the 1969 season via a trade with the Braves, for whom he'd been a five-time All-Star catcher, and it was there where he enjoyed some of the best statistical seasons of his career. Playing primarily at first base in 1969, then catching again before moving permanently to third base in 1970, he drove in more than 100 runs in each of his first three seasons with the Cards.
In Torre's MVP season, he led the Major Leagues in hits with 230 and RBIs with 137. He also hit 24 homers. Torre batted .308 with a .382 on-base percentage in 918 games with St. Louis, and he was an All-Star four straight years from 1970-73.
"Anytime you play with the Cardinals, I always had a sense that you were regarded as royalty," Torre said. "There's such a respect in that city for members of the Cardinals. It was just such a cool feeling going there."
More important to Torre was that St. Louis was where he matured into the person he is today. Growing up in an abusive home took a toll on his confidence, Torre said, but his time with the Cards went a long way toward remedying that.
"My self-esteem wasn't very high; I didn't have the confidence that I probably should have," Torre said.
In his second or third season with the Cardinals, he remembers being caught off-guard when he was selected as a captain alongside Lou Brock.
"Evidently somebody recognized something in me that I didn't necessarily recognize myself," Torre said. "The fact that I was named captain certainly made me feel that I had to basically be a role model for other players and take on a little more responsibility."
Though his time playing in St. Louis lasted just six seasons, Torre would return years later as manager, taking over for Whitey Herzog midway through the 1990 season. In his first full season as skipper, his Cards, projected by many for a down year, defied expectations with an 84-win, second-place season.
"It was a club that just battled their tails off," Torre said, "I learned from [longtime coach] George Kissell a long time ago that that's the type of ballplayer that the city would embrace."
Torre's St. Louis teams never reached the postseason, and he was dismissed after the 1995 season as the Cardinals soon transitioned into a rebuilding phase under new ownership. He felt incomplete for what he never accomplished as a player or a manager -- winning a World Series.
"I always thought there was something missing out of my resume," Torre said. "I went to St. Louis [as a player] and the one thing that always caught my attention was walking through the office in there and seeing all the celebrations of all the championships."
Torre would later fill that championship void, leading the Yankees to the postseason in each of his 12 seasons as manager and winning the World Series four times, in 1996, '98, '99 and 2000.
"The only guy who was surprised initially with his managerial success with the Yankees was Joe, not his friends," McCarver said. "Everybody made a big deal about Joe not winning, not ever being in a World Series, but anybody who knew Joe, anybody who knows anything about the game, knew that it was only a matter of time. If given the right circumstances as a manager, Joe Torre wasn't going to screw it up."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com.