Joe Torre on Yadier Molina and Catching

When Dave Cameron recently wrote about Yadier Molina’s MVP-quality season, he included a chart that listed the best catcher seasons in baseball history. It was based on wRC+ and the name on the top of the list probably came as a surprise to many. It was Joe Torre.

The legendary manager, and current MLB executive, was an outstanding player from 1960 to 1977. Spending the bulk of his career with the Braves and Cardinals, he hit .297/.365/.452, with 252 home runs and was a perennial All-Star. He won a batting title, an MVP award and a Gold Glove. None of them came in the season he posted the record wRC+.

Torre was at Comerica Park for last weekend’s Tigers-A’s series. Prior to Game One, he took a few minutes to talk about Molina and his own days behind the dish.

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Joe Torre: “I’m a little biased, but catchers get overlooked a lot. I know, from having been a manager, how much we rely on a catcher. There is so much more responsibility associated with what he does. When I played, if I went hitless in a game that I caught, and we won, I felt that I was useful. I also played a lot of first base. [In St. Louis] we had Tim McCarver and Ted Simmons, so they played me there to keep me in the lineup.

“I felt that I was a solid catcher. I had good hands; I could catch the ball and get rid of it. Del Crandall taught me how to get rid of it quickly. I didn’t have a Johnny Bench arm. To me, catching is being able to go back there and be unselfish and make sure you’re in the pitcher’s head. That’s the toughest thing to do, especially in our offensive [era]. If you make an out, sometimes you carry it out there to the field. If that happens with a catcher, it shows up right away.

“Molina has turned into a lot better hitter than I thought he was going to. He’s got some pop to right field. He hit a ball that way that would have been out of the ballpark [on Friday night]. He’s a terrific catcher, that kid.

“He’s special. There’s no question. I know that Tony LaRussa had Albert [Pujols] — and Albert certainly continues to be special — but this kid was very, very special to Tony.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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j cheatman
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j cheatman
3 years 9 months ago

How do you not love Joe Torre. Class manager, class guy.

Jim
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Jim
3 years 9 months ago

Fun fact: Torre was the last manager to have been a player/manager (Pete Rose did the player / manager thing later, but Torre stuck around longer as a manager, obviously).

TiensyGohan
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TiensyGohan
3 years 9 months ago

Because Torre ruined Russell Martin and Broxton’s careers with the Dodgers is how I can not like him.

YanksFanInBeantown
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YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 9 months ago

Don’t forget Scott Proctor and Paul Quantrill!

Preston
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Preston
3 years 9 months ago

Yeah I love it, Torre ruined players by playing them to much, now the Yankees ruin players by babying them. Maybe players just get hurt/burn out without anybody else to blame other than the fact that throwing a baseball with that kind of torque in your arm and body causes harm (or squatting for hours on end in the case of Martin).
P.S. Russell Martin and Jonathan Broxton still have careers.

Jim
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Jim
3 years 9 months ago

Mark Prior and Kerry Wood would like to have a word with you.

Preston
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Preston
3 years 9 months ago

Mark Prior and Kerry Wood couldn’t stay healthy as relievers either. Look, I’m not saying their isn’t such thing as over-working pitchers. I’m sure there is. I’m also sure that there is a point where coddling young pitchers and keeping them on pitch counts and skipping starts stunts their growth. However each person is a different case, and there isn’t really anyway to conclusively show what is too much work and what is not enough. So we should probably stop saying things like manager/gm x ruined player y’s career because he overworked him/used silly restrictive rules. Each guy is trying to do what his experience and the doctors tell them is okay and the players go along.

gnomez
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gnomez
3 years 9 months ago

Prior and Wood couldn’t stay healthy as relievers because they had nothing left at that point.

astrostl
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astrostl
3 years 9 months ago

70.8 career WAR too. I’d vote him into both the player and manager Halls, if I could.

Jim
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Jim
3 years 9 months ago

Assuming he makes the Hall of Fame as a manager, I think it’d be a close thing between him and John McGraw (and his .466 career OBP) for who was the best player amongst HoF managers.

Bob
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Bob
3 years 9 months ago

Torre fascinates.
Not a particularly good manager with Atlanta. Or with the Mets. Or with St. Louis. Then he’s given a *fourth* chance, and becomes a legendary, HOF-quality Leader Of Men. Right guy with the right team, at the right time. (In other words, a lotta luck involved.)

Not sayin’ he doesn’t belong in the HOF for his spectacular Yankee career. He absolutely does, of course. But if he doesn’t get that fourth opportunity, he’s just a footnote — beyond his stellar playing career.

And speaking of Joe T’s playing career: does Fangraphs incorporate any of the newfangled catcher defense metrics (pitch framing and blocking, to be precise) retroactively for older backstops, or is there insufficient play-by-play data?

Jim
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Jim
3 years 9 months ago

You can say that about any number of people, “what might have beens” if they hadn’t gotten their third or fourth chance. If teams at the turn of the century had realized there was value in high OBP / SLG guys who didn’t hit for average, Gavvy Cravath would be in the Hall of Fame, instead of having had to wait around until he was in his 30’s to get a full time gig.

My personal favorite “what might have been,” of course, is Sam Rice. If he hadn’t gone into a suicidal depression after his wife, two children, both parents, and two sisters were killed in a tornado when he was at a baseball tryoutin 1912, he almost certainly would hold the all-time career record for hits.

jsolid
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jsolid
3 years 9 months ago

wow that’s old school.

Jon L.
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Jon L.
3 years 9 months ago

I don’t know the details about Sam Rice, but this claim doesn’t make sense. He had 177 hits at age 27, 179 at 29. If we thus very unreasonably claim that he would have averaged 178 hits from 22-26, that gives him an extra 828 hits, for a career total of 3,815 hits. That’s assuming that’s starting his career younger wouldn’t have caused him to wear down sooner, but I suspect it would have.

Balthazar
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Balthazar
3 years 9 months ago

Joe Torre’s trajectory as a manager suggests a thesis that great manager’s are made more than appointed. Torre early in his managerial career was quite abrasive with his players. He also was not especialy good at talent evaluation. He didn’t get the best out of his squads in no small consequence, and was jettisoned without anyone’s regrets. Then . . . he mellowed. He did a lot less of the intimidation routine. His considerable skills at working a bullpen and a pitching staff overall had matured to excellence by the time he got the Yankees. Some of that was of course the luck to be named to lead a team with a core of superior players, obviously. But once Torre, essentially, quit beating himself and just worked to get the best talent on the field at the right time, he won big.

Torre _learned_ how to manage. That isn’t about tactics or that kind of stuff but about deploying skillsets and bolstering performance attitudes. He didn’t start as a good ‘people manager,’ but he learned how to be one. This is something we don’t really think about much, but we should. Most managers are effectively thrown in the fire. Managing big leaguers is different than at other levels, or has been for several generations. The manager can still be a king down in the minors, but he has to manage personalities, work around contracts, and function as No. 2 to a GM every day in MLB. And that’s before the added pressure at the big league level, and managing the media and its impacts. Many folks who might become good managers never get the chance to learn and improve because the team is bad or they just don’t get it in the one/two opportunities they’ll have to manage. It’s hard to think of very many guys who were on top of it from the day they got the bigs. Ron Gardenhire maybe? Sciosia?? Even Bobby Cox god better as he got more reps. And Tony LaR, not my favorite, but one could argue he improved too.

Some guys _NEVER_ improve, no matter how long some team owner lets them stickaround. Sparky Anderson comes to mind (or name your own personal unfavorite). But many effective managers need a couple of years of OJT before they round into shape—and the position doesn’t lend itself to that at all nowadays, fronting direction of a nine+ figure corporation.

Bob
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Bob
3 years 9 months ago

No, you actually can’t say that about very many other managers, I don’t think. Maybe none.

And what does Sam Rice’s family tragedy, or the mis-valuation of Gavvy’s skillset, have to do with a triple-crash manager being let back into the driver’s seat? I don’t see any relationship, factually or philosophically, between these things.

A fourth chance, after, basically, three flops? (And moreover, the fourth chance coming from an uber-talented superrich and megaprestigious organization that could pick and choose from among pretty much anyone they wanted.)

If you were the NYY GM back then, would you have even considered a three-time loser like Torre? I wouldn’t have.

Shows what I know. ;)

azibuck
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azibuck
3 years 9 months ago

Maybe you should look a little deeper. The Mets teams he managed were awful. Their best player was Lee Mazzilli. He did fine with the Braves, and they were better under Torre than they were before or after. His STL teams were nothing special, and they muddled around .500 in his tenure. Then they hired Larussa and… they muddled around .500 for another 4 years before becoming a consistent winner.

So with the Yankees he was the right guy, right team, etc. But you’re wildly overstating it with “three time loser.”

James d.
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3 years 9 months ago

The Yankee GM (Bob Watson, I believe) was somewhat on an island with the Torre hire, with criticism most notably from ever-classy New York Post — “Clueless Joe” — http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/ex-yankees-manager-joe-torre-front-back-pages-clueless-joe-bombers-legend-gallery-1.55145

gnomez
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gnomez
3 years 9 months ago

Some of those STL teams were just weird. Todd Zeile led the 91 Cardinals in HR with 11 and they still finished in second place. Yes, eleven.

J.P. Widely
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3 years 9 months ago

Joe Torre was an excellent color guy for the Angels TV broadcast, too. A man of many talents.

James d.
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3 years 9 months ago

Aren’t we all forgetting about Casey Stengel? 1 winning season in 9 years with 2 teams, never finishing above 5th in an 8-team league, then jumps to the Yankees: http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/stengca01.shtml
Granted, the Yankees were going to win some pennants with anyone, but they had only won 1 pennant in the 1944-48 period, and Stengel comes in and wins 10 in 12 years. He was only a two-time “loser,” granted, but he’s the standard-bearer for second (and third and fourth) chances.

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