Joe Torre, the former Braves and Cardinals slugger and the former Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers manager was in town as one the top executives of Major League Baseball. Seeing Torre and reading quotes from him brought back some fond memories.
I don’t know Torre. I first started following Joe when he was a catcher with the Milwaukee Braves. His older brother, Frank Torre had been the first baseman for the Braves. When Frank retired he went to work for Rawlings, headquartered here in St. Louis. Frank was interviewed regularly before games and on the early form of sports talk shows. Beause of Frank, I started rooting for Joe, except when the Braves played the Cardinals.
Joe became a Cardinal in 1969 and moved to third base. In 1971 Torre won the National League batting crown hitting .363 with a 137 RBIs. I was a midnight rock and roll disc jockey in 1971, but first and foremost a Cardinals’ fan. Another disc jockey and I would attend every Cardinals Sunday home game that season. We would always try and get box seats on the third base side to watch Torre.
Years later when I was covering minor league baseball on the East Coast and especially the Baltimore Orioles farm system, I became good friends with Moe Drabowksy, who was the pitching coordinator for the Orioles minor league teams. Drabowksy had a very direct connection with Torre, and the summer of 1971.
When Drabowsky played for the Cardinals he shared an inexpensive apartment with Joe Torre. It was before free agency and big money for baseball players. The year after he hit .363 Torre and a 37-year-old relief pitcher, Drabowsky, were splitting rent on a two-bedroom apartment at the Crestwood Park Apartments located on Watson Road behind the old 66-Park-In movie theater. Not only did they share an apartment, they carpooled to the stadium.
Wednesday, Torre was the one who called World Series Game 6. A lot of time has passed between then and now.
Back then, Drabowsky would claim he had the most home runs of any Polish player in baseball. Everyone hearing this would want to point out that Stanley Frank Musial had 475 home runs to Drabowky’s five. The difference is that Musial was born to Polish immigrant parents in Pennsylvania, while Drabowksy was born in Ozanna, Poland in 1935. He and his parents left the country just before the Nazi invasion, and moved to the United States.
Moe was famous for being a prankster. He had pitched for both the Kansas City Athletics and a few years later the Kansas City Royals. Once, when the A’s were in Kansas City, he used the Royals’ bullpen phone and called the A’s bullpen, imitated the A’s manager and ordered a reliever to start warming up. At the time the A’s starting pitcher was throwing a shutout and had a big lead.
One time when I was in the minor league Frederick Keys press box, I saw Moe in action. By the third inning a local pizza joint would deliver pizza with a warming box. By the fifth inning the Keys mascot would give the pizza away to a lucky fan. One night the pizza arrived, no one from the club was around and Moe talked Orioles Farm Director Don Buford into eating the whole pizza with him, except the outside crust.
Come the fifth inning the kid in the Mascot suit picked up the pizza and handed it to a lucky fan, who opened the box and found nothing but a crust and a business card from Drabowsky, with a note for him to come to the press box. There, they gave the fan box seat tickets to an Orioles game.
Another time I was at the championship series for the South Atlantic title. As the Oriole’s farm club, the Delmarva Shorebirds, were running out to the field from under Perdue Stadium, Drabowksy used a fire extinguisher to spray the pitchers. He said his pitchers were so hot he had to cool them down to keep them from igniting. The powder from the fire extinguisher set off the stadium smoke alarms and the stadium was almost evacuated before the first pitch.
I tell these stories because Moe played parts of his last two years as a major league pitcher for the Cardinals (7-2 3.18 ERA). That was when he shared the apartment with Torre.
In 2007 Torre left the Yankees after guiding the Yankees under the constant watch of George Steinbrenner to 11 straight postseason playoffs. Torre was insulted when the Yankees offered him a $1-million cut in salary to $6 million a year. He then went to the Dodgers.
Torre is no longer making $7 million a year as a manager, but is the vice-president of Major League Baseball’s operations. Torre is now making decisions about the World Series. Anytime I get to see Joe, it brings back fond memories of the 1971 season and Moe. Drabowsky died from cancer in 2006.