Rating Torre's Hall of Fame credentialsJoe Torre deserved entry as a player
Torre's playing career a lifetime batting average of .297, 252 home runs, 1,185 RBIs, a batting title and a Most Valuable Player award should have made him a strong candidate for enshrinement in Cooperstown, yet the closest he came to election was in 1997, his final year of eligibility, when he received 105 votes, leaving him 148 votes short of election.
Torre's failure to garner more than 22.2 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America is baffling, considering his production. Perhaps the reason is that voters could not figure at what position to evaluate Torre, who was a catcher for 903 games, a first baseman for 787 games and a third baseman for 515 games. Clearly, he rates among the best of all-time at any of the three.
There are 13 catchers currently in the Hall of Fame (exclusive of Negro Leaguers) and Torre had a higher lifetime batting average than eight of them (Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roger Bresnahan, Roy Campanella, Gary Carter, Rick Ferrell, Ray Schalk, Carlton Fisk), more home runs than nine of them (Bresnahan, Campanella, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Buck Ewing, Ferrell, Gabby Hartnett, Ernie Lombardi and Schalk), and more RBI than eight of them (Bresnahan, Campanella, Cochrane, Ewing, Ferrell, Hartnett, Lombardi and Schalk).
Interestingly, Torre's offensive numbers are almost identical to those of Hartnett, regarded as one of the three or four greatest catchers ever. Each had a lifetime average of .297, Hartnett for 20 seasons, Torre for 17. But Torre has the edge on Hartnett in home runs (252-236), and RBI, 1,185-1,179.
Among first basemen and third basemen in the Hall of Fame, Torre compares no less favorably. Of the 18 first basemen enshrined in Cooperstown, Torre has a higher lifetime batting average than five (Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray and Tony Perez), more hits than Jim Bottomley, Hank Greenberg, Killebrew, McCovey, Johnny Mize and Bill Terry, more home runs than Bottomley, George Sisler and Terry, and more RBI than Sisler and Terry.
Of the 10 Hall of Fame third basemen, Torre has a higher average than Jimmy Collins, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt, more hits than Frank Baker, Collins, George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, Mathews and Schmidt, more home runs than Baker, Wade Boggs, Collins, Kell, Lindstrom and Pie Traynor and more RBI than Baker, Boggs, Collins, Kell and Lindstrom.
It would appear that Hall of Fame voters gave short shrift to Torre as a player, and so his chances for the Hall of Fame will hinge solely on his record as a manager. His playing record might not hurt, but will it help? So far, it hasn't helped get Gil Hodges elected.
Of the 16 managers in the Hall of Fame, none can match Torre's playing record. Only John McGraw, a lifetime .334 batter for 16 seasons, was a top-flight player and only McGraw, Casey Stengel and Al Lopez were above average. All three, as well as the other 13, are in the Hall of Fame for their managerial accomplishments, and that, too, is how Torre will earn his ticket to immortality.
(Next week, we'll examine Torre's managerial credentials for induction in the Hall of Fame).