10 moments that defined Joe Torre's career

July 18th, 2023

If Joe Torre had never filled out a lineup card, a playing career that included nine All-Star selections and the 1971 National League Most Valuable Player Award would have merited consideration for a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Torre's second act as a manager -- especially a dozen years overseeing a Yankees dynasty that produced four World Series championships – clinched his place among the game's greatest. Inducted to the Hall in 2014, Torre is the only man who can claim to have notched 2,000 hits and 2,000 managerial wins.

"There is a power to both patience and persistence," Torre said. "Baseball is a game of life. It's not perfect, but it feels like it is. That's the magic of it. We are responsible for giving it the respect that it deserves. Our sport is part of the American soul, and it's ours to borrow just for a while, to take care of it for a time, and then pass it on to the next generation."

Here are 10 moments that helped to define Torre's career.

1. King of the hill, top of the heap

They called him "Clueless Joe" the day after the press conference, announcing that Torre had no idea what he was getting into by taking the Yankees' managerial job. Torre's previous managerial stints with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals inspired little confidence that he would survive in George M. Steinbrenner's mercurial crosshairs. Yet Torre's serenity and stature made him the perfect man to lead the Yankees into a new era.

Torre steered the 1996 Yankees to 92 wins in the regular season before winning the American League Championship Series against the Orioles, then rallying from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Braves in the World Series. Torre displayed no panic, even warning Steinbrenner that they might lose Game 2 to Greg Maddux, but would take care of business on the road because "Atlanta is my town." He made good on that promise, then celebrated his first World Series championship after Game 6.

2. 125 wins

Still stinging from their early ouster in the 1997 AL Division Series, the '98 Yankees opened the season on the road – and did so quite poorly, losing four of their first five games to the Angels, Athletics and Mariners. Torre called a meeting before the sixth game, lambasting his club for its lackadaisical effort, then opened the floor to veterans like David Cone and Paul O'Neill.

The Yanks scored six runs in the first inning that night in Seattle, starting a magical roll that would power them to a then-record 114 wins in the regular season (including David Wells' perfect game in May) plus 11 more to dismantle the Rangers, Indians and Padres. Torre enjoyed four championship celebrations ('96, '98, '99, 2000) over a remarkable five-year span, but the '98 Yankees were his mightiest roster.

3. The MVP

The Cardinals moved Torre from catcher to a full-time role at third base in 1971, placing Ted Simmons (also a future Hall of Famer) behind the plate. It was a decision that saved Torre from the physical and mental fatigue of catching, allowing Torre's offense to blossom. Torre led the Majors with a .363 batting average, 230 hits, 137 RBIs and 352 total bases that season, winning the National League's MVP award.

4. 2,000 and 2,000

Torre made baseball history on June 7, 2007, overseeing a 10-3 victory over the White Sox in Chicago that marked his 2,000th managerial win (a tally that included 286 with the Mets, 257 with the Braves and 351 with the Cardinals). Torre logged 2,342 hits as a player, making him the first man to notch at least 2,000 hits and 2,000 managerial wins. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera recorded the final out and presented the ball to Torre, who pinched Rivera's cheek in appreciation.

“When I took this job 12 years ago, I was closer to losing 2,000 than I was to winning 2,000,” Torre said then.

5. A remarkable streak

Torre established a Major League record by steering his clubs to 14 consecutive victories in World Series play, beginning with the Yankees' 5-2 win over the Braves in Game 3 of the 1996 Fall Classic through their 6-5 win over the Mets in Game 2 of the 2000 Subway Series. As fans who experienced that era first-hand could attest, the Yankees seemed as though they were invincible in October, due in part to Torre's calming influence.

6. All-Star long ball

Voted as the NL's starting catcher for three straight years from 1964-66, Torre had perhaps his brightest All-Star moment in the 1965 All-Star Game at Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium, belting a two-run homer in the first inning off the Orioles' Milt Pappas. Torre spent all nine innings behind the plate in the NL's 6-5 win, guiding future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.

7. Launching pad

Torre hit the first home run in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 12, 1966, part of a two-homer performance as the Braves fell to the Pirates, 3-2, in 13 innings. The season-opening show began a year that saw Torre slug a career-high 36 home runs while leading all NL catchers with a 48.6% caught stealing mark.

8. He's a winner

After Torre's Mets managerial tenure produced 286 wins against 420 losses, he tasted success for the first time in 1982, replacing Bobby Cox as the Braves' skipper and opening the season with 13 consecutive victories. Atlanta finished 89–73 and captured the National League West, its first playoff appearance since 1969. Torre was named the Associated Press' Manager of the Year, becoming the first person to win both that and an MVP Award.

9. L.A. story

Though best remembered for his Yankees tenure, Torre's final three seasons in the dugout produced a pair of National League West titles, with the Dodgers finishing 84-78 in 2008 and 95-67 in 2009. That gave Torre 13 consecutive postseason appearances before Los Angeles finished 80-82 in 2010. Torre's 2,326th and final managerial win came on Oct. 3, 2010, with the Dodgers defeating the D-backs by a 3-1 score at Chavez Ravine.

10. Double trouble

Though not necessarily a career highlight, Torre did become the third player in Major League history and the first National Leaguer to hit into four double plays in the same game, doing so for the Mets on July 21, 1975 against the Astros. Felix Millan singled in all four of his at-bats ahead of Torre, who later quipped: "I couldn't have set a record without Millan. He ought to get an assist."