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.
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.”