August 1, 1990: Cardinals name Joe Torre manager as Whiteyball era ends

On August 1, 1990, the St. Louis Cardinals officially moved on from the “Whiteyball” era when they brought former Cardinals star Joe Torre back to take the managerial position vacated by Whitey Herzog just three weeks earlier.

“During the selection process, I interviewed a number of very good candidates,” Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said, “but I kept coming back to Joe Torre. We couldn’t find anyone better anywhere on earth.”[1]

Herzog’s 10 years in St. Louis included the 1982 World Series championship and National League pennants in 1985 and 1987, but after the Cardinals got off to a 33-47 record in 1990, Herzog resigned on July 6.

Torre, who played for the Cardinals from 1969 until 1974 and won the 1971 National League MVP, already was familiar with replacing a Cardinals legend. After all, he arrived in St. Louis in the trade that sent 1967 MVP Orlando Cepeda to the Braves. Over six seasons wearing the birds on the bat, Torre hit .308 with 98 homers and 558 RBIs, including 24 homers and 137 RBIs in his MVP campaign.

“To come back here and put on the Cardinal uniform again, I can’t tell you what it means to me,” Torre said. “I have goosebumps because St. Louis has always been a second home to me and now I have to say it’s my first home.”[2]

Following the 1974 season, the Cardinals traded Torre to the Mets, where he played the final three seasons of his career, including a 1977 season in which he served as player/manager. Torre managed the Mets for five years, compiling a 286-420 record before going to Atlanta, where he led the Braves to the 1982 NL West championship in his first season with the team. The Braves won 88 games and placed second the following year. After the Braves went 80-82 and placed third in 1984, Torre was dismissed.

“He got a lot out of the players he had,” Cardinals reliever Tom Niedenfuer said. “Pascual Perez had some big years. Gene Garber, who people won’t think of as a premier-type closer, had 30-some saves. (Bob) Horner was there, and he never really produced after (Torre) left.”[3]

Before coming to St. Louis, Torre had spent six seasons in the Angels’ broadcast booth.

“I’m not coming in here to replace Whitey,” he said. “It’s impossible to replace him. I can’t go in and try to copy him or think about the things he did; I’d come out on the losing end. It’s like me going out and trying to hit Nolan Ryan and thinking about how many games he’s won. I can’t do that. I just have to go out and do the best job I can do.”[4]

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Torre inherited a roster that not only sat 14 games out of first place with a 46-58 record, but also included eight players who were set to become free agents: Willie McGee, Terry Pendleton, Vince Coleman, Ken Dayley, John Tudor, Denny Walling, Dave Collins, and Danny Cox.

“I’m gone. I’m out of here,” said McGee, the former National League MVP who would be traded to the Oakland Athletics for Felix Jose, Stan Royer, and minor leaguer Daryl Green later that month. “They’ve already told me that, basically. That’s the way I feel. I have no other feelings inside. If I wasn’t (gone), I would be signed by now. I’m not. So I’m gone.”[5]

Torre recognized that the team’s lack of success and lack of direction meant he was in for a challenge in his first few months as manager.

“What I plan to do is talk to every single player on the team on a one-to-one basis and try to explain to them what I’m going to try to accomplish over the next few months,” Torre said. “The one thing I’ve always tried to be is as honest as you can possibly be in this job with the players. I can’t guarantee anybody that they’re going to be here; that’s not my job. The one thing is, hopefully I’ll see enough of them, and a lot of them, to be able to make an honest determination on what we’d like to see on the field next year.”[6]

The new skipper said he didn’t plan to immediately make major changes to a team that had gone 13-11 under interim manager Red Schoendienst.

“I’m not talking about Joe Torre coming in and changing everything they do here,” Torre said. “I like the way they do things in the Cardinals organization. I’ve always been a guy who likes to move, likes to make things happen. I think you have to play according to what kind of ballpark you’re playing in and in this ballpark, speed and contact are important. But you have to be flexible enough to win in other ballparks.”[7]

Rather than turning the season around, Torre’s chief job in the Cardinals’ final 58 games of the season was to get to know his players and make plans for the future of the ballclub.

“The only thing I expect out of my players is effort on the field,” Torre said. “If they’re 0-for-4 and they’ve given me their best effort and haven’t cheated me in any way, or their teammates, then they’ve earned their money. If a guy gets two hits and doesn’t hustle, he’s not earning his money. That’s how I judge a player, not on how much money he gets.”[8]

Pitcher Joe Magrane said, “Our job is not to break down the manager’s job, but common sense would tell you that his job is to break down who he thinks he can play with and who he thinks he can win with.”[9]

If nothing else, Torre entered the job knowing he had a friend in Maxvill, a former teammate of Torre’s during his playing days in St. Louis. During both his previous managerial stints with the Mets and Braves, Torre hired Maxvill to be his third-base coach.

“He’s the best candidate around,” Maxvill said in announcing Torre’s hire. “I can’t think of anybody better or I would have hired him.”[10]

Torre was always the frontrunner in a candidate pool that included Don Baylor, Hal Lanier, Pat Corrales, Gene Tenace, Gaylen Pitts, and Mike Jorgensen. Baylor, who wouldn’t get his chance to manage a major-league team until the expansion Rockies made him their manager in 1993, was the only other candidate who confirmed that he participated in a second interview.

Cardinals president and chief executive officer Fred Kuhlmann said, “I can’t say he would have been it (if Torre didn’t take the job), but he certainly would have had our consideration. He’s a rising star. He’s got to have a future.

“The big factor in choosing Joe over Don is that Joe has managerial experience. I think it would be important that Don try to get to that at some point, and I don’t mean at the major-league level. It would be good if he had at least minor-league experience.”[11]

Maxvill said he measured each candidate based upon 12 criteria and not only interviewed the candidates but spoke to others who knew the candidates to get their perspectives.[12]

“Believe me, it’s been a tough 3 1/2, four weeks here,” Maxvill said. “I’ve been getting on and off airplanes a lot, which is a tremendous amount of fun, but it had to be done. … We owe it to the fans to do a thorough job, and I hope they believe me when I say that we believe we’ve done the best job possible and have explored every avenue to find the proper guy – and we believe definitely Joe Torre’s the man.”[13]

Not everyone, however, was convinced that the hire wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

“I don’t know why they didn’t do it on July 7,” Herzog joked, referring to the day after his resignation. “He was going to be the guy.”[14]

“Despite the earnest denials issued Wednesday, it’s obvious that Maxvill didn’t need to summon a pack of bloodhounds to help him conduct this ‘search,’” wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz. “He had to turn the pages of a little black book until he found Torre’s phone number. Then he had to dial correctly. That was the extent of this exploration. The decision to name Torre was probably made before Whitey Herzog’s uniform could be laundered and pressed the day he resigned.”[15]

While Torre’s Cardinals went just 24-34 during the rest of the 1990 season, they won 84 games and placed second in the NL East in 1991. The Cardinals enjoyed winning seasons in each of the next two years, culminating in an 87-win season in 1993.

During the strike-shortened 1994 season, however, the Cardinals fell to 53-61, and the Cardinals were just 20-27 in 1995 when Torre was fired. In six seasons as the Cardinals’ manager, he compiled a 351-354 record. At the time of his dismissal, only the Dodgers’ Tommy Lasorda, the Pirates’ Jim Leyland, and the Braves’ Bobby Cox had been in their positions longer among National League managers.[16]

Despite his tenure, Torre had seen the writing on the wall. The 1995 season represented the final year of his contract, and the previous season the Cardinals sought permission to speak to Leyland about managing the Cardinals, a request the Pirates denied. The Cardinals also had inquired about Oakland’s Tony La Russa, who had re-signed with the Athletics but had an opt-out if the club was sold.[17]

Though Torre never reached the playoffs in St. Louis, the Yankees named the native New Yorker their manager in 1996. Torre led the Yankees to the World Series championship that season, and after winning 96 games and finishing second in the AL East in 1997, he led the Yankees to the World Series championship in each of the next three seasons. He won two more pennants in 2001 and 2003, and in 12 years in New York he finished with six American League pennants and four World Series titles.

In a 29-year managerial career that also included three seasons with the Dodgers from 2008-2010, Torre compiled 2,326 wins. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2016.


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[1] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards pick Torre to manage – St. Louis 2nd home, Torre says,” Belleville News-Democrat, August 2, 1990.

[2] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards pick Torre to manage – St. Louis 2nd home, Torre says,” Belleville News-Democrat, August 2, 1990.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Players Put Under Microscope,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[4] Dan O’Neill, “Torre To Study His Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[5] Rick Hummel, “McGee Looks To Future: ‘I’m Out Of Here,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[6] Dan O’Neill, “Torre To Study His Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[7] Dan O’Neill, “Torre To Study His Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[8] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards pick Torre to manage – St. Louis 2nd home, Torre says,” Belleville News-Democrat, August 2, 1990.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Players Put Under Microscope,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[10] Vahe Gregorian, “‘Cardinals Identity’ Tips Scales In Torre’s Favor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[11] Rick Hummel, “‘Rising Star’ Baylor Got Second Interview,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[12] Vahe Gregorian, “‘Cardinals Identity’ Tips Scales In Torre’s Favor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[13] Vahe Gregorian, “‘Cardinals Identity’ Tips Scales In Torre’s Favor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Herzog Says Free Agents Should Be Cards’ Top Priority,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[15] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards’ Maxvill Plays It Safe By Hiring Torre,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 1990.

[16] Jeff Gordon, “Sports Shake-Up Shocks Faithful,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 18, 1995.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Cards Swing 2-Edged Sword: Cut Loose Torre After 351-354 Mark In Five Seasons,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 17, 1995.