Having achieved unprecedented personal success while falling short of the ultimate team goal, Joe Torre’s six-year stay with the Cardinals came to an unsatisfying, though not unexpected, end.
Popular and productive, Torre hit .308 with 1,062 hits in 918 games for the Cardinals from 1969-74. His on-base percentage during that time was .382, nearly 20 points better than his career mark.
Though a multi-time all-star who regularly ranked among baseball’s top hitters, Torre exceeded all expectations in 1971 when he led the National League in hits (230), RBI (137) and batting average (.363) and was awarded the NL Most Valuable Player honor over Willie Stargell of the World Series champion Pirates.
Time for change
After the 1974 season, however, the Cardinals were ready to make Keith Hernandez, 21, their everyday first baseman. In an interview with United Press International, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said of Hernandez: “He looks like a tremendous prospect. We had to make room for him.”
Though Torre also played third base and catcher, the Cardinals were set at those positions with Ken Reitz and Ted Simmons.
At 34 and with a yearly salary of $150,000, Torre was deemed expendable.
Wrote the Associated Press: “His ample salary and his age may have been factors in arranging the deal. He was one of a half dozen Cardinals players earning more than $100,000.”
Torre, too, was expecting a departure. In his book “Chasing the Dream” (1997, Bantam), Torre wrote, “I knew I wasn’t going to be back with the Cardinals. They had brought up a young first baseman from the minor leagues named Keith Hernandez and made him eligible for the playoffs if we won the East.”
The Cardinals, though, finished in second place in the National League East Division in 1974 for the second consecutive year and for the third time in four seasons. They never qualified for the postseason during Torre’s time with the club.
Torre in 1974 hit .312 for the Cardinals in July and .320 in August. Then he slumped to a .200 batting mark with 22 strikeouts in September. It wasn’t until after the season that The Sporting News reported Torre had played the last month of the season with a cracked thumb.
“He’ll play anywhere,” Schoendienst said of Torre. “And he’ll play hurt.”
When Torre was acquired by the Cardinals from the Braves for slugger Orlando Cepeda in March 1969, the Cardinals were a premier team, the two-time defending National League champions. “Torre did a heck of a job for us,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told The Sporting News. “I’m sincere when I say he took me off the spot by doing so well for us after we traded Cepeda for him.”
Meet the Mets
The Braves almost had dealt Torre to the Mets instead of to the Cardinals. United Press International reported, “The Mets thought they had him before the 1969 season and Gil Hodges, who was then their manager, went so far as to tell Torre during spring training that, ‘You’ll be with us in a couple of days.’ But that deal fell through because the Mets refused to part with Amos Otis, then a red-hot prospect to play center field for New York.”
Six years later, the Mets finally got their man. It was the first trade for Mets general manager Joe McDonald, who would become general manager of the Cardinals from 1982-84.
“We’ve needed another right-handed hitter in our lineup and Torre gives us that,” Mets manager Yogi Berra said.
Said Torre, a Brooklyn native: “If I had to be traded anywhere, I’m glad I’m going to New York.”
Devine said Torre didn’t want to be a Cardinals reserve and that his first choice among teams to be dealt to was the Mets.
But, in his book, Torre revealed, “I was going to a team whose season had just ended with 91 losses. That was a very fragile time for me. On top of being unhappy with my marriage, I hit rock bottom in the big leagues with a losing team. And to make matters worse, I became a part-time player. I hated it _ and it showed.”
Aftermath of the deal
Though Torre was the Mets’ starting third baseman on Opening Day in 1975, he eventually was platooned that season at first base with Ed Kranepool and at third base with Wayne Garrett. Torre hit .247 in 114 games for the 1975 Mets.
“In 1975, for the first time in my life, I dreaded going to the ballpark,” Torre wrote. “Baseball felt like work. I thought maybe it was time to quit.”
Two years later, Torre became Mets player-manager. He would manage the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers _ winning four World Series titles with the Yankees _ and earning induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Meanwhile, the pitchers the Cardinals got from the Mets for Torre, had short stays with St. Louis.
Moore, 26, was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the Cardinals before he was traded in June with shortstop Ed Brinkman to the Rangers for outfielder Willie Davis.
Sadecki, 34, was in his second stint with St. Louis. He had been a 20-game winner for the 1964 Cardinals and got the win in Game 1 of the World Series that year, beating Whitey Ford and the Yankees. In 1975, Sadecki was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in eight relief appearances for the Cardinals before being traded in May with pitcher Elias Sosa to the Braves for pitcher Ron Reed and outfielder Wayne Nordhagen.
Nine years earlier, in May 1966, the Cardinals had traded Sadecki to the Giants for Cepeda.
In proving the adage that “what goes around, comes around,” the Cardinals dealt Sadecki for Cepeda, who later was traded to the Braves for Torre, who eventually was traded to the Mets for Sadecki.
Previously: Joe Torre, Nolan Ryan and the April streak