(Read Part I here)
Here is Torre’s previous managerial record:
1977-1981 New York Mets 281-420 Best finish 4th.
1982-1984 Atlanta Braves 257-229 Best finish 1st (eliminated in NLCS by St. Louis)
1990-1995 St. Louis Cardinals 351-354 Best finish 2nd
Now the 1977-1981 Mets were a dreadful team and his numbers from those years probably don’t mean a lot so dismissing them from any judgment probably is the fair thing to do. That leaves us with the two competitive teams he managed before the Yankees - the Braves and the Cardinals.
In looking at the standings from 1982 to 1984, the most striking thing about them is the parity in the divisions. The team that won the most games usually finished with a record of roughly 91-71 and the team with the worst record finished about 70-92 with five teams separating the two. In 1982, Torre took over and the team finished one game ahead of the LA Dodgers with a record of 89-73 for the Division Title. They went on to lose the WS. In 1983 the Braves finished three games behind the Dodgers (who finished 91-71). In 1984 Torre’s Braves finished second, 12 games behind San Diego (who finished 92-70). That essentially is a downward trend* which continued after Torre’s departure. In 1985, the Braves finished 29.0 games back with a record of 66-96.
How much of that blame can be laid at Torre’s door for the Braves decline is a matter of debate. As the pitching sunk, so did the Braves, and the organization would prove itself barren of starting pitching at the time. Atlanta would settle into a doldrums that would last until the 1991 season.
With the Cardinals the picture doesn’t become a lot clearer. When Joe took over the team, it was competitive but erratic having gone from a high of 86 wins the season before down to 70 in the season when Torre took over for the first time. Torre only managed 58 games in 1990 and was on the wrong side of a 24-34 record as the Cardinals finished sixth.
In his first full season, 1991, the Cards once again surged and finished second in the East with a record of 84-78. It would be their highest finish under Torre but not their highest win total, which would be 87 in 1993. The trend of decent but not overwhelming seasons continued until 1995 when the team under his leadership fell apart and had its first sub .500 season under his leadership. That collapse can largely be blamed on a lack of quality starting pitching.
He didn’t last long in the 1995 season. Just 47 games in with a 20-27 record he was dismissed. The team finished 62-81 in the strike shortened season. And while that might have suggested that this team was in a decline, the 1996 Cardinals under new skipper Tony LaRussa surged to a division title with a record of 84-74.
In looking at these Cardinal teams, one thing glares out of the numbers and rosters. Pitching. The difference between the 1993 and 1994-5 seasons? The pitchers moved into a place where they were past their prime yet Torre stuck with them and the team declined - and that was Torre’s fault. Just a year later under Tony LaRussa the Cardinals staff was reinvented with guys who’d been in the organization, but hadn’t been given the chance under Torre.
In Atlanta the story was different. Even if Torre had made moves to reinvent and bolster his staff there wasn’t anyone to turn to. No one can blame Joe for that.
* - Due to the shortened 1981 season we can’t fairly compare the 1981 and 1982 teams as to how successful they were, but only look at how the team moved going forward.