Joe Torre — the player — was tossup as Hall of Fame candidate
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media July 21, 2014 9:49PM
Updated: July 21, 2014 11:52PM
When six new members are inducted Sunday into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Chicagoans’ focus will be on Frank Thomas, who hit 448 of his 521 career home runs for the White Sox, and Greg Maddux, who earned 133 of his 355 career victories with the Cubs.
They’ll be going in with 305-game winner Tom Glavine, Maddux’s longtime teammate with the Braves, and the three winningest managers of the expansion era in Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.
Among the managers, Torre is especially intriguing because he was a near-Hall of Fame-level player for the Braves, Cardinals and Mets. Torre fell short with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, peaking at 22.2 percent of the vote in 1997. That was a time before metric tools, such as wins above replacement, were available.
By traditional numbers, Torre’s case is modest for an 18-year playing career that began with two at-bats in 1960. A nine-time All-Star and the National League most valuable player in 1971, Torre was a career .297 hitter with 252 home runs and 1,185 RBI.
By the Hall of Fame Monitor, which is designed to judge whether a player is likely to be elected, not whether he’s worthy, Torre scores a 96. The average Hall of Famer scores 100, leaving Torre in the firm ‘‘maybe’’ category.
With advanced metrics, the situation gets tricky. Do you evaluate Torre as a catcher, third baseman or first baseman? Torre caught 903 games, played third for 515 and closed with 787 at first. His lone Gold Glove came as a catcher for the Braves in 1965, and he never was a stellar defender once he moved from behind the plate. At Baseball-Reference.com, Torre is listed with a minus-0.4 defensive WAR for his career, though he was at plus-4.9 when his primary position was catcher.
On offense, his .817 OPS towered above the NL average of .713 in his era. His park-adjusted 129 OPS-plus means he produced at 129 percent of the NL average.
Torre’s career rWAR, the Baseball-Reference.com version of WAR, is 57.6. The Hall averages are 52.5 at catcher, 67.4 at third and 65.9 at first.
By JAWS, which averages career WAR with a player’s best seven seasons, Torre stands at 47.5. The Hall averages are 43.1 at catcher, 55.0 at third and 54.2 at first.
Torre’s most frequent position was catcher through 1968. After a season at first in 1969, he caught in 90 games and played third in 73 in 1970. In his catching seasons, his WAR was 38.9, more than two-thirds of his career value.
That makes evaluation tricky. Before his managerial career carried him to Cooperstown, Torre was right on the cusp. As a catcher, he was a Hall-caliber player. But his total body of work brings more of a Hall of Fame whisper than a shout.