I enjoy this time of year as a writer. Part of the reason for that is the United Cardinal Bloggers and their Roundtable project.
The project itself is interesting. One person asks a question and, this year, 30 writers from around the internet chime in with their opinions. All of the responses get gathered and posted onto one of the United Cardinal Blogger sites. Anytime you get that many opinions, you come up with some great material, some fun debate, and every once in a while another idea comes up.
I credit this year’s roundtable for this article.
Throughout the many discussions I have heard about Tony LaRussa over the last week, it seems that most of the fans out there have a large amount of respect for the man, even if they did not necessarily like him a whole lot. What I hear quite often, however, is how fans were not sure if he was the right man because of his complete opposite approach to the game from former skipper Whitey Herzog.
Fans remember The White Rat fondly and rightfully so. The decade of the 1980′s were a remarkable one for St. Louis. In his tenure, Herzog put three new pennants firmly in place in St. Louis and followed one up with a World Championship. Herzog’s has a spot on the wall for the Cardinals and a spot in most fan’s hearts.
The problem is, as much as we would all like to forget the time period between them, Tony LaRussa did not take over the team from Whitey Herzog. Whitey resigned from the Cardinals in 1990 and LaRussa took his position at the helm to start the 1996 season. Between them, as most of us know, whether we want to admit it or not, was Joe Torre.
Torre took over as skipper for the Cardinals with 58 games left in the 1990 season. In September of 1989, the Cardinals laid to rest one of their greatest fans. August “Gussie” Anheuser Busch Jr, who was instrumental in buying and keeping the franchise in St. Louis, had finally reached the end of his 90 year old life.
When 1990 rolled around, the ownership of the franchise had lost interest in owning a baseball club and it became apparent on the field. Free agents were not being attracted to the team, the goal had become very business oriented, and Torre was the figurehead that most fans seen as the problem.
The years that Torre was in charge would see the Cardinals finish second in their division one time and then never finish above third place again. Amazingly, Torre was able to produce a 351-354 record in his tenure with the team, playing the game with very little star power outside of shortstop Ozzie Smith. That’s not to say that the team did not have some quality players, but our friends at Baseball Reference list the top player in each of Torre’s years as follows: Willie McGee (1990), Ozzie Smith (1991), Bob Tewksbury (1992), Greg Jefferies (1993), Mark Whiten (1994), and Brian Jordan (1995). Not exactly the best players in the league at any point.
Torre was a good baseball man with a strong history in the game that was stuck with an ownership group that would not put the right pieces on the field for him to manage. His first full year in charge of the team they would finish 84-78 and in second place, the best finish of his tenure. He would be the first manager in St. Louis with at least five years as their manager to not make the World Series since Branch Rickey ran the team from 1919 to 1925.
We have since watched Joe Torre move on and accomplish great things in New York and perform adequately in Los Angeles before taking a position with Major League Baseball. We know he is a good manager and a capable baseball mind.
The brewery sold the franchise to a group of investors prior to the 1996 season. Torre had been released the year before and the new ownership group brought in manager Tony LaRussa to lead the team, which immediately made the playoffs that season. Brian Jordan was once again the best player on the team that season, but a transition was starting to happen under the new leadership. The ownership would invest in the ballclub and LaRussa would lead them.
Joe Torre was simply a victim of circumstance. A guy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is a shame that his time is all but forgotten because of it.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
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