Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17, 1969: The Cards Swap Orlando Cepeda For Joe Torre

     On March 17, 1969, Bing Devine engineered a deal that sent first baseman Orlando Cepeda to the Atlanta  Braves in exchange for catcher/third baseman Joe Torre. The trade was not well received in St. Louis. Cepeda took home the league's MVP award in '67. That same year he helped bring another World Series title to the organization, and the next year he would help them win another pennant. While the Cardinals did win the National League pennant in '68, Cepeda's batting average sank to .248, at 31 years of age he was reaching a turning point in his career which had a downhill slope on the other side. On the other hand, Torre was 28-years-old at the time and was just beginning to peak. The trade turned out to be a great deal for the Birds as Torre spent the next six seasons in St. Louis, batting .308 with 96 homers. Torre's greatest achievement while wearing the birds on the bat came in 1971, when he took home the league's MVP award.

     The wheels were in motion to move Torre out of the Braves several months before the deal was made. Torre had been in a verbal feud with the vice president of the Braves organization Paul Richards since the early part of that year. As an active member of the players association, Torre was fighting to improve the players pension plan. As you could imagine this did not go over well with those who had the money he was trying to help spend. As the feud escalated Torre refused to sign his contract with the Braves. He was demanding more money as well as an apology from Richards. They were at a point of irreconcilable differences, as Richards was quoted as to saying "Torre could hold out to Thanksgiving." The Braves organization engaged in trade talks with the New York Mets for several months before realizing that they would not be able to get a deal done. Then came a conversation with Bing Devine. Four hours later, Torre was headed to St. Louis.

     The initial plan for Torre was for him to man first base, as well as back up catcher Tim McCarver. His versatility made him a valuable commodity, as the team had a prospect by the name of Joe Hague who they had hoped to give a legitimate shot with the big club. Hague did not live up to expectations, however, Torre did. His first year with the Birds he stood at first base during 144 games and just 17 games behind the dish. In 1970 he split catching duties with an up and coming catcher by the name of Ted Simmons. When he wasn't catching, he was holding down third base. Torre was great mentor for the kid who would catch games for the Cardinals until the end of the 1980 season. With the emergence of Simmons, Torre moved over to third base permanently. He was taking over for Mike Shannon, who had been diagnosed with a kidney disease, which led to his playing days coming to an end. The 1970 season had been a career year for Torre at the plate, as he knocked in 100 runs while batting .325. The MVP year in '71 was one for the ages.

     During that MVP campaign Torre belted out a .363 average, with 230 hits, and 137 RBI's. 24 of those 230 hits were home runs, and another 34 of them were doubles. The season began with a 22 game hitting streak, and by the time the All Star break rolled around Torre was selected as the starting third baseman for the National League squad. At that point he already had 118 hits and 60 ribbies. He was playing like a man on fire and no one could extinguish his flames. He never went more than 10 consecutive at-bats without a hit as he forged a legendary season. When Torre was named the league's MVP, he was the tenth Cardinal to receive the honor and he was the first National League third baseman to win the award in 59 years. Torre never did get to experience winning a World Series in St. Louis, however, he was one of the most productive men in the league while he wore the Cardinals uniform. He helped the club finish in second place in '73 and '74 and even hit for the cycle with those birds on the bat across his chest.

     This generation might remember Joe Torre as the skipper of the club before Tony LaRussa arrived on the scene. What they might not know is that when he stepped on the diamond as a player he was an offensive force who gave Cardinals fans a reason to cheer on many summer days throughout the early seventies. In 1974, Kenny Reitz was the heir apparent at third, and with Torre now 34-years-old the club decided to move him to the New York Mets. Coincidentally, they got Tommy Moore and Ray Sadecki in return. Sadecki had been a part of the deal that brought Cepeda to the Cardinals in 1966. By the time the Cardinals dealt Torre in '74, Cepeda's playing days had come to an end. It's safe to say the deal worked out in St. Louis.

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