Mets Card of the Week: Joe Torre

1977 TOPPS JOE TORRE

People like to attach themselves to greatness by claiming to be at epic sporting events.

I don’t know if greatness is necessarily on the table here, but I actually was one of the 6,505 fans who saw the managerial debut of Joe Torre in 1977. Of course, we had no idea what we were in for that night.

Back in 1977 there was no SportsCenter, no WFAN and no sports blogs to feed the 24-hour beast. We got to Shea Stadium, settled into our seats and saw the message up on the main scoreboard, welcoming the club’s new manager.

Torre replaced Joe Frazier, who somehow led the 1976 Mets to 86 wins despite having three regulars with OBPs below .300, including two in the .270s. But Frazier was no Yogi Berra, much less the reincarnation of Gil Hodges, so he was let go after 45 games in his second season at the helm.

Of course, he was 15-30 in 1977 for a team that was about to begin a seven-year reign of error that ranked with the expansion Mets for the poorest records in franchise history.

Torre wasn’t the answer to the club’s long-standing problem at third base, so perhaps he could be the answer at manager. For awhile he was even a player manager, although he did not see action on the field in his managerial debut.

While I remember little of that night other than the new skipper, the Torre regime got off to a good start with a 6-2 win over the Expos. The Mets banged out 12 hits, with five players getting two apiece, including right fielder Ed Kranepool.

Rookie center fielder Lee Mazzilli went hitless that night, perhaps due to overwhelming defensive responsibilities as he was flanked in the outfield by Kranepool and Dave Kingman.

So it was fitting that Torre was swinging here on his last card as a player in 1977. The Mets were going to punt defense, stack the lineup with hitters and bash their way to victory under their new manager.

Unfortunately, management sent Rusty Staub out of town during the offseason, would send Kingman packing in two weeks and no one on the team with 400 PA finished with a SLG mark over .415 for the year. So much for Torre’s Thumpers and greatness.

But for one night we could envision Torre’s Mets managerial tenure being a big success. If we could equate his picture on this Topps card with his success as a manager, this was the follow-through on a screaming liner into the gap which resulted in a game-winning hit.

Unfortunately, the reality proved that this picture must have been taken on July 21st, 1975, the day when Torre tied a major league record by grounding into four double plays.

So, being at his first game as a professional manager carried little weight for many years. After he bombed with the Mets, Torre had a brief moment in the sun with the Braves in 1982 and then went back to a run-of-the-mill manager. In his first 15 years leading the dugout, Torre had just the one first-place finish in ’82 and never won 90 games.

But then he found greatness with his time piloting the Yankees, which will one day lead him into the Hall of Fame.

And I was there when it all started.

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