With his character and the way he gave back to the game, Frank Torre was far more than just Joe Torre’s big brother.
Frank Torre spent seven seasons in the majors as a first baseman with the Milwaukee Braves and Philadelphia Phillies. He was known more for his defensive prowess at first base than his hitting, leading the National League twice in fielding but hitting only 13 career home runs. During his career he was often platooned with a right-handed hitter or was inserted in the late innings as a defensive replacement.
Torre wasn’t your average baseball lifer. True, he remained involved in the game after his on-field career ended, but unlike former players who stayed in the game in a coaching or administrative capacity, Frank got into the business of selling balls and bats to major leaguers and the public alike.
Frank Joseph Torre was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 30, 1931, the fourth of Joseph and Margaret Torre’s five children (brother Joe came 8½ years later). His father was a detective with the New York police department, then became a scout for the Milwaukee Braves from 1955 to 1961 and the Baltimore Orioles from 1962 until he died in 1971. He was physically abusive to their mother and verbally abusive to the children. In the book he wrote with Joe Torre, The Yankee Years, Tom Verducci wrote, “He so feared his father that if (Joe) Torre saw his father’s car parked outside the house when he came home from school, Torre would just keep on walking.”
Joe also told the story about how Frank’s courage brought the terror to an end: “One winter, when I was 12, my older brother Frank [then 20] said to my father, ‘We want you out of the house. We don’t want anything other than the house we live in. We don’t want anything from you. Just leave.’ And he left.”
Despite growing up in a difficult family situation, Frank was an excellent athlete; he was a highly regarded left-handed pitcher at James Madison High School, even though he wanted to play first base. He was so good that he was chosen to pitch in the 1949 Hearst all-star game in New York. The game was founded by New York Journal-American sports editor Max Kase in 1945. It pitted players from New York high schools against their peers from across the country and continued until the late 1970s. Pitcher Torre lost the game to future teammate Gene Conley.
Torre finally got his chance as an infielder after he signed with the Boston Braves as a free agent in 1951. The scout who signed him was John “Honey” Russell, for whom scouting was a sideline. Russell was better known as a basketball coach at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and was also the first coach of the Boston Celtics in the NBA. “I’d like to see him there (first base),” said Russell in a 1954 interview. “His only weakness is that he can’t run very fast, but he can do everything else – field, hit and throw.”
Russell’s assessment that Torre was more effective at first base than on the mound proved correct. “When I reported to Hartford [Class A Eastern League] in 1951, Tommy Holmes, then managing there, gave me my chance to play first base,” said Torre. “Later that season, with Denver [Class A Western League], Andy Cohen gave me a chance to pitch in a losing game. The first batter hit a home run almost a mile, but I retired the side and that was the first and only inning I pitched in Organized Ball.”
Torre was drafted into the US Army in 1952. He spent 14 months in Korea and was discharged in time for spring training 1954. Before shipping out, he was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was the cleanup hitter on the military base’s ballclub.
Torre played with Double-A Atlanta (Southern Association) in 1954, and was promoted to Triple-A Toledo (American Association) in 1955 before making it to the big leagues in 1956. While his .327 batting average at Toledo, seven home runs, and 73 RBIs were impressive in themselves, Torre also came to the Braves with a solid reputation as an excellent defensive first baseman. George Selkirk, his manager at Toledo, called him “the greatest fielding first baseman” he had seen in his 29 years in baseball. Torre also had an excellent eye at the plate, having struck out only 53 times in 1,309 minor-league at-bats.
Those numbers and that reputation were essential if Torre was to crack the Milwaukee lineup in 1956. The Braves were an up-and-coming power in the NL, having finished second to the eventual World Series champion Brooklyn Dodgers the previous season. As well, they had an established first baseman in Joe Adcock. Adcock’s solid 1956 season, in which he hit 38 home runs and had 103 RBIs, limited Torre’s playing time during his rookie year to 159 at-bats with a .258 batting average, no home runs, and only 16 runs batted in. He finished second among the league’s first basemen in fielding percentage (.993).
Although Torre’s numbers weren’t going to win him Rookie of the Year honors, he did have his moments. Adcock’s excellent season got off to a poor start, and Torre took over at first base on May 20 after Adcock’s batting average dipped to .197. Torre proceeded to hit safely in the first eight games he started. On May 26 he drove in both runs in an 11-inning 2-1 win over Cincinnati, and followed that up the next day with four hits in a 7-2 Braves victory over the Redlegs (the franchise was known as the Redlegs from 1954-1959 because they didn’t want their name associated with communism during the McCarthy era). Adcock reasserted his place in the lineup on June 17 when he belted three homers in a doubleheader sweep of the Dodgers. That sweep wasn’t enough, however, as the Braves again finished in second place in what turned out to be a last hurrah for the Boys of Summer.
Torre began the 1957 season as a pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement at first base, but that all changed on June 23, when Adcock broke his leg in a collision at second base. While management knew that the team was just as good defensively with Torre at first, he could not produce power numbers as Adcock could. His playing every day also meant that the team’s depth took a hit. “Their bench was not overpowering to begin with, and without Torre it became downright weak,” wrote Bob Wolf in The Sporting News.
The Braves stayed in the race despite Adcock’s injury as Torre proved to be more than a capable replacement. In fact, manager Fred Haney didn’t rush to reinsert Adcock into the regular lineup when he returned to action on Labor Day. He didn’t need to, as Torre’s performance on the holiday attested. Frank reached base seven times and tied a modern record for a nine-inning game with six runs scored as the Braves walloped the Cubs 23-10 in the first game of a doubleheader. For the season, Torre batted .272 with five home runs and 40 RBIs. He also had the highest fielding percentage in the NL among first basemen (.996).
That season Milwaukee won the franchise’s first pennant since moving to the city from Boston in 1953 by a convincing eight games over the St. Louis Cardinals and defeated the New York Yankees in a World Series that went the distance. The 1957 fall classic is known for Lew Burdette’s three victories over the Bronx Bombers, but Torre had a spectacular Series as well, hitting .300 with two home runs (only Hank Aaron, with three, had more, while Adcock didn’t have any) and three RBIs, along with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Torre was the only player besides Aaron who both played in all seven games and hit .300 or better. His fourth-inning shot in Game Four was his first home run ever at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
As 1958 spring training got under way, Braves manager Fred Haney was saying that he was going to platoon Torre and Adcock at first base with Torre facing right-handers and Adcock in against lefties. Torre accepted the situation well. “Sure you’re sharper if you play all the time, but I’ve arrived at the point where I’m ready whenever Fred calls on me to play,” he said. “It just means I’ll have to work harder in practice to stay in shape.”
The platoon system worked well early. By mid-May, the two had combined for a .314 batting average, and Adcock had already hit six home runs with 12 RBIs. Torre finally hit his first homer of the season on May 22, his first-ever regular-season home run in front of the hometown fans. Since they were both hitting so well, Haney decided to keep Torre at first and switch Adcock to left field. It had been so long since Adcock had played outfield that he had to borrow the glove he had given his 13-year-old brother-in-law as a present.
Torre ended up having his best offensive season as a major leaguer as Milwaukee repeated as NL champion. He had career highs in games played (138), home runs (six), RBIs (55), and batting average (.309). He also retained his NL fielding percentage title (.994). Then he had a dreadful World Series as the Yankees returned the favor from the previous year and defeated the Braves in seven games. Torre again played every game, but hit only .176 with no homers and only one RBI. He also committed two errors in Game Seven, leading to two Yankee runs.
Adcock began the 1959 season as the regular first baseman until a slow start by the team prompted Haney to return to the platooning system. Each player ended up appearing in 115 games, and while Adcock’s numbers remained consistent (.292, 25 home runs, 76 RBIs), Torre’s numbers fell off a cliff (.228, one home run, 33 RBIs). He continued his excellent fielding, as he finished second in the league in fielding percentage (.994). As a team, the Braves made a valiant effort to win their third consecutive pennant, but lost a best-of-three playoff to the Los Angeles Dodgers in two straight games.
Frank’s 1960 season got off to a poor start when he landed in the hospital briefly with a kidney ailment. It didn’t get any better when it became apparent that Adcock had learned to hit the ball the other way. Adcock had an all-star season, batting .298 with 25 home runs and 91 RBIs. Torre, on the other hand, found out that glove was not enough and was optioned along with his .205 batting average to the Triple-A Louisville Colonels of the American Association on June 30. Torre, understandably, was not happy. “I can’t afford not to go to Louisville,” he said, “but I won’t continue playing in the minors after this year. I’d give up the game first.”
He stayed with Louisville for most of its season and was a September call-up to Milwaukee but did not appear in a game. All in all, Torre played in only 21 games for the Braves in 1960 and hit .205 with no home runs and five RBIs. He then returned to Louisville to help them win the Junior World Series in six games over the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. He even contributed a homer in the clincher.
Apparently Torre’s threat to quit if he remained in the minors for 1961 proved hollow, as he continued to play in the minor leagues. The Braves assigned him to Louisville in December 1960, but he spent the 1961 season with their other Triple-A affiliate, the Vancouver Mounties. His numbers were respectable: a .307 batting average, 13 home runs (a career best), and 63 RBIs, but he never suited up for Milwaukee again. While he was riding the buses, brother Joe began his major-league career as a catcher with the Braves on May 20. The Philadelphia Phillies purchased Frank’s contract on December 2, 1961.
Torre’s 1962 season was modest as he again played a backup role behind the Phillies’ regular first baseman, Roy Sievers. He was homerless for the third time in his major-league career, although he did hit .310 in 168 at-bats with 20 RBIs. One highlight for Torre was his first game against the Braves, on May 3. He had a double, two singles, and three runs batted in as he led his new team to a 9-8 victory. On that day, Frank played on the same major-league diamond as Joe for the first time, although Joe had to leave the game in the second inning after being hit on the elbow by a pitch.
Frank saw even less playing time in 1963, appearing in only 92 games and batting .250. He hit what turned out to be his last major-league home run on September 28 against Phil Ortega of the Dodgers in a 12-3 Phillies rout of the eventual World Series champions. Torre called it a career for good after his contract was sold to Triple-A Little Rock of the American Association.
After his playing career ended, Frank entered the sporting-goods business. Initially he and Joe operated a sporting-goods store. Frank then joined Adirondack Bats and became manager of the company’s professional division. Part of that job consisted of visiting all the major-league spring-training facilities in a trailer that served as a portable bat factory (Yes, the trailer was referred to as a “bat-mobile”) that provided custom-made bats to major leaguers. Inside the trailer were Adirondack craftsmen, as well as a special lathe and other equipment that produced a custom bat in 30 minutes that even included the player’s own signature.
Torre later became a vice president at Rawlings Sporting Goods. Both Rawlings and Adirondack were divisions of the same company, A-T-O Incorporated.
The brothers Torre shared the spotlight in October 1996 when Frank underwent heart transplant surgery the night before Joe won his first World Series championship as manager of the New York Yankees. The operation was performed by Dr. Mehmet Oz, who later hosted the Dr. Oz Show on TV. That seemed appropriate for the father of five and grandfather of 11, who played with heart and was a wizard with the glove. Torre and Oz celebrated the tenth anniversary of the surgery in 2006.
A new heart gave Torre a chance to continue charitable work and to receive honors for his contributions and achievements. After recovering from the heart transplant, he became active in promoting organ donation and in 1999 received Street and Smith’s Mickey Mantle Foundation Courage Award for his efforts in raising awareness about organ donation.
Torre was elected to James Madison High’s Wall of Fame in 2002. Other alumni so honored include US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, baseball labor executive Marvin Miller, and Nobel Prize winners Robert Solow (economics) and Stanley Cohen (medicine).
In 2007 Torre needed another organ, this time a kidney; his daughter Elizabeth was the donor.Living in retirement with his wife, Anne, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, he continued his charitable work. He was named to the board of the Baseball Assistance Team, an organization that provides financial assistance to former major- and minor-league players. His son Frank Jr. followed his father into baseball as a high-school coach.
Frank Torre died on September 13, 2014, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
This biography is included in the book "Thar's Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves" (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.
 Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, The Yankee Years (New York: Doubleday Books, 2009), 13.
 Safe at Home Foundation website: http://www.joetorre.org/for-youth/stuff-2-know/joe-torres-story/ .
 Dick Young, The Sporting News, January 27, 1954.
 “Sold on Braves by Friendly Scout,” The Sporting News, January 8, 1958.
 Bob Wolf, “Rookie Roundup,” The Sporting News, April 4, 1956.
 Bob Wolf, “Long-Faced Haney Yearns for Long-Ball Replacement,” The Sporting News, July 3, 1957.
 “Bunts and Boots,” The Sporting News, March 26, 1958.
 “Adcock Returns to Outfield – Idle With Borrowed Glove,” The Sporting News, July 2, 1958.
 Bob Wolf, “Torre Accepts Assignment to Minors ‘Only for 1960,’ ” The Sporting News, July 13, 1960.
 Jack Lang, “A Mobile Bat Factory Serves Major Camps,” The Sporting News, March 21, 1970.
 Columbia University Medical Centre Department of Surgery website: http://www.columbiasurgery.org/news/2006_hearttx_torre.html.
 Matt Porter, “With a rich family history in baseball, Frank Torre Jr. rekindles his love for the game,” Palm Beach Post, February 9, 2011.
Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Alliance: http://www.gnysaa.org/
James Madison High School Alumni Association: http://www.jamesmadisonalumni.org/
Archives of the New York City's Mayor's Office: http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/html/99a/pr261-99.html