MILWAUKEE -- Joe Torre's best big league seasons were with the Cardinals, including his 1971 National League Most Valuable Player Award-winning campaign. He will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Yankee in July after managing that team to four World Series championships. Today, Torre directs on-field operations for Major League Baseball and finds himself swatting away questions about his candidacy to be the next Commissioner.
But Torre's long journey in the Major Leagues began on a Saturday afternoon at Milwaukee County Stadium, and it was those big league beginnings which were honored by the Brewers and the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association on Thursday. Torre was named the 13th member of the Milwaukee Braves Honor Roll at Miller Park.
"It will always be home for me, based on this is where it all started for me," Torre said.
It started Sept. 26, 1960, when Torre was called upon to pinch-hit for future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn in a game against the Pirates. He stepped into the batter's box against Pittsburgh's Harvey Haddix, who'd taken a perfect game into the 13th inning on the same field one season earlier, and was leading the Braves on this day, 2-0, in the eighth inning. Torre's single to center field sparked a tying rally, and Eddie Mathews smacked a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to win the game.
"I'll never forget that," Torre said. "You get to the big leagues and you think, 'Can I do this stuff?' Then you take the first pitch down the middle for Strike 1 and you think, 'I could have hit that.' I singled, got to first base, and the best news for me was that Lee Maye came out to run for me. My legs were shaking so bad.
"That's 50-plus years ago, and yet, the game is always brand new. I feel very fortunate to have broken in with the Milwaukee Braves organization."
That's because his brother, Frank, preceded him. Frank Torre, who is also on the Milwaukee Braves Honor Roll, but was unable to make the trip Thursday, played in Milwaukee from 1956-60. Joe Torre remembers visiting to see the Braves in the '57 and '58 World Series, and watching his big brother hit a pair of home runs to help beat the Yankees for Milwaukee's only World Series championship in '57.
"I got to know Spahnie and Eddie Mathews, Johnny Logan, all these guys. Henry [Aaron]," Joe Torre said. "They were all like big brothers to me. They made getting to the big leagues very comfortable for me."
Torre played nine seasons with the Braves, the first six in Milwaukee before the franchise moved to Atlanta, and he batted .294 with 142 home runs and 552 RBIs. He made three All-Star teams in Milwaukee and nine All-Star teams during his career. Torre's best season as a player was '71 in St. Louis, when he led the NL in hits (230), RBIs (137) and batting average (.363) and won the NL MVP Award.
Torre finished his Major League career with the Mets, then went on to become one of the most decorated managers in Major League history. He skippered the Mets (1977-81), Braves (1982-84), Cards (1990-95), Yankees (1996-2007) and Dodgers (2008-10), winning all four of his World Series rings with the Yanks. Torre was a unanimous choice of the Expansion Era Committee for enshrinement this summer in Cooperstown, N.Y.
As part of Thursday's ceremony, Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio announced a $10,000 donation from Brewers Community Foundation to Joe and Ali Torre's Safe At Home Foundation, which provides education to help eradicate domestic violence.
Attanasio grew up in the Bronx and remembers when Torre's Yankees visited Miller Park in 2005, Attanasio's first season.
"Here were the Yankees, and they were in Miller Park," Attanasio said. "I couldn't believe I was in this circumstance. Then the Yankees came out to hit batting practice and Joe walked out behind the batting cage. I was with Bob Uecker and I said, 'Wow, that's Joe Torre over there.' Bob said, 'So you want to meet him?'"
They have been friends since.
Among the other dozen players on the Honor Roll, which occupies a wall on the field-level concourse at Miller Park on the third-base side, are Torre's older brother, Frank, and Uecker.
Uecker and Torre were roommates, both on the road in hotels and in apartments in Milwaukee and Atlanta. The plural is useful there, because Uecker was kind enough to share a story about the two being evicted from one particular building.
"They put us in the family section first, which was a mistake," Uecker said at Thursday's event.
Then he got serious, or about as serious as Uecker can get.
"Joe Torre was one of the best players I've ever been around," Uecker said. "He was an outstanding catcher. To do what he did and become a Most Valuable Player, when he couldn't run? I mean, he couldn't get infield hits. Everything was hit right on the nose. That award that he picked up was truly a big-time hitting award."
Uecker joked that it was Torre who convinced the Braves to re-sign Uecker toward the end of his playing career. Atlanta needed someone to catch Phil Niekro's knuckleball.
"Not only because I could," Uecker said as Torre laughed in the front row, "but because Joe didn't want to. He said, 'Why don't we get this guy back from Philadelphia and let him do it?' Joe, you were a major part of my leading the league in passed balls."
It's a true story. Uecker led the Majors with 27 passed balls between the Phillies and Braves in 1967. He also led the league's catchers that year with 11 errors.
"I remember how helpful you were," Uecker told Torre. "As each ball went by me, you hollered, 'Over there! It's over there!' Which was a tremendous help."
The Milwaukee Braves Historical Association had a dinner planned for Thursday night to further honor Torre. The organization has plans in the works for another Honor Roll inductee later this year.
His plaque would get a place directly under Torre's.
"It's like this," Torre said, holding up his hand. "I wear this World Series ring, '96, because there will never be another first one. That's Milwaukee for me."