Hall of Fame Watch
JOE, HO, HO
Joe Torre is on the list of 26 former ballplayers who are up for Hall of Fame consideration by the newly revamped Veterans Committee (Rob Neyer has a good article regarding the recent changes in his most recent column). In his book, “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame” Bill James listed Joe Torre as one of the two most qualified catchers who are not in the Hall (Ted Simmons was the other). But even if Torre is not elected by the Veterans Committee for his accomplishments as a player, there is little doubt that his success as a manager will eventually place him in Cooperstown.
The following excerpt is from Pat Jordan’s acutely observed memoir, “A False Spring”. While it doesn’t necessarily prove that Torre should be in the Hall of Fame, it does provide a revealing portrait of a young man at the start of what has turned out to be quite an impressive baseball career.
It is spring training, 1960 and Pat Jordan is struggling to make an impression as a pitcher in the Milwaukee Braves organization…
‘I was determined to impress…There was no task too menial or unpleasant (carrying the bats to and from the diamond) for which I did not volunteer. And when I suffered a minor yet painful sore arm, I told no one. I knew it wasn’t serious, was just a spring training sore arm that would heal with a few day’s rest, and so, when Billy asked for a batting practice pitcer one day, I couldn’t resist offering myself. My arm was so sore my pitches barely reached the plate. The batters, thrown off their timing by my lobs, swung so far ahead as to hit them foul or miss them entirely. They complained to my catcther, Joe Torre. He fired the ball back to me and said, “Put something on the damn ball!”
“Mind your own business,” I replied. I lobbed another pitch, and the batter swung and missed. He said something to Torre. Joe stepped in front of the plate. He held the ball up in front of his eyes and said, “If you can’t put something on this,” and then he fired it back to me, “get the hell off the mound.” He turned around and I threw the ball at the back of his head. I missed and the ball bounced off the screen. Joe flung down his glove and his mask and started toward me. We’d certainly have come to blows if [skipper] Billy Smith had not come between us. With a hand against each of our chests, he told us to cool off, forget it. I remember being suprised by the look on Billy’s face as he separated us. His eyes were wide and there was a tremor in his voice.
I was glad Billy stopped us. I had no desire to fight Joe Torre, who at 19 already had the looks and attitude of a 30-year old veteran. Joe was fat then, over 220 pounds, and his unbelievably dark skin and black brows were frightening. He looked like a fierce Bedouin tribesman whose distrust for everything could be read in the shifting whites of his eyes. Like myself, he too, was earnest that spring. Joe’s earnestness was genuine, however, not recently picked off the rack like mine. He was unwavering in his dedication to baseball. He tolerated no lapses of desire or effort from either himself or his teammates. Billy Smith called him a “hard-nosed sunuvabitch.” It was a term of endearment. Joe viewed my feeble lobs during batting practice as “unprofessional.” He was right. I should have either confessed a sore arm and not pitched, or else ignored the pain and thrown at good speed. My weak compromise hurt my teammates.
Yet this was Torre’s first spring training, too. He had acquired his professionalism from his brother Frank, then a star with Milwaukee; from his desire to prove he expected no favors from the Braves because of Frank of his own $30,000 bonus; from his Roman Catholic, Italian working-class upbringing in Brooklyn; and from his own nature. At 19 Joe was simply a mature and serious youth. He took everythying seriously—his baseball, his family, his religion, his brother’s career and even the Playboy bunny he would one day marry.
The night of our dispute in Waycross, I lay on my cot thinking that Billy Smith would admire for standing up to Joe. At that moment the scouts and managers and executives were assembling to pick tomorrow’s teams. I could almost hear Billy’s high voice as he picked me: “That’s my kinda player. Won’t take shit from no one.” But the following morning when I passed the bulletin board my name was under that of Travis Jackson, managaer of Davenport of the Class D Midwest League. Later that afternoon, I discovereed that what Billy Smith had actually said the night before was, “I won’t have no red-ass guinea on my club.” Surely he meant Torre, I thought. But his name was still under Billy’s, while mine remained under Travis’s for the rest of the spring. Why? How had Billy decided that I was the red-ass geinea?’