It may come as a surprise to some younger Mets fans who think of Joe Torre only as the former New York Yankees manager who won four World Series with the Bombers from 1996 to 2000 – when he beat our beloved Mets.
Joe Torre also served in the unique role as a player-manager for the Amazins in 1977. The card above, No. 109 from the Topps 1978 set, reflects two pictures of Torre serving in both his roles in the major leagues.
Joe Torre began his Mets career when he was traded to the Mets after the 1974 season by the St. Louis Cardinals for young right-handed pitching prospect Tommy Moore and veteran left-handed swingman Ray Sadecki. Moore did not develop as a prospect, finishing his big league career with a 2-4 record and an ERA of 5.40. Sadecki went 4-3 with a 4.03 ERA in 1975 and finished a fine career in baseball in 1977 back with the Mets, who were managed by the man he was traded for – Joe Torre. In his 18-year career Sadecki went 135-131 with a 3.78 ERA, 85 complete games and seven saves.
With the Mets in 1975, Torre was a big money contract, earning $105,000 per year. The 1971 MVP and an All-Star as recently as 1973, the Mets were hoping for Torre’s veteran bat to help the team rebound from a disappointing 1974 season in which the team went 71-91 under manager Yogi Berra. The 1974 team was well-armed with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack along with George Stone (only four-man rotations in 1974) but no one hit more than 20 homers on the team and only one starter hit better than .270.
Splitting time with Ed Kranepool at first base and Wayne Garret at third, in 1975 the 34-year old Torre had a poor season, hitting .247 with only six homers and 35 RBIs in 400 plate appearances. In addition, he became the first National League batter to hit into four double plays in the same game. Second baseman Felix Millan singled four times in the game batting ahead of Torre who would say after the game: “I’d like to thank Felix Millan for making this possible.” The fat lady was singing for Mets Manager Yogi Berra in the middle of the season and the team ended the year with Roy McMillan at the helm. The club went 82-80, finishing in third place.
With Joe Frazier at the helm for the entire 1976 season, Joe Torre had a rebound season in 1976, hitting .306, with a .358 on base percentage and a .406 slugging percentage. His OPS of 764 was 24 percent better than the National League average in 1976. The team finish 86 – 76 in 1976, another third place finish as the Reds swept the Yankees in the World Series.
The 1977 team started poorly under Joe Frazier with a 15 – 30 record, and in May Joe Torre was named player-manager of the Mets. 1977 season is not remembered fondly by most Mets fans as in June the Mets management executed the Midnight massacre, trading franchise icon Tom Seaver to the Reds and outfielder Dave Kingman (who had led the team in home runs in both 1975 and 1976) to the Giants.
The player part of the Mets player-manager had a terrible season in 1977, batting only .176 with one homer. The manager part of the Mets player-manager did only slight better. The Mets went 49-68 under Torre in 1977, finishing in last place. The .419 winning percentage under Torre was actually the best winning percentage any Mets team would have under him which isn’t saying much. The team was actually worse for the next four seasons and Torre was fired after the strike-shortened 1981 season by the team’s new owners.
Torre would become one of the last two player managers the National League would ever see, the other being Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds.