Forty years ago, the Yankees won their first World Series in the Steinbrenner era. One key player was Mike Torrez, who won two games in the World Series against the Dodgers, including the clincher.
The life of the right-handed pitcher is looked at in “Mike Torrez: A Baseball Biography” (McFarland & Company) by Jorge Iber.
“I remember seeing Game 6 of the 77 World Series when I was 15 years old,” Iber said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have the opportunity to interview him let alone do the book on him.”
Iber, an associate dean at Texas Tech University, is a specialist in writing about Latinos in U.S. sports. “I could combine what I’ve done in Mexican-American studies with the story of a guy who made it to the majors,” Iber said.
Iber had been working in a project about the National Wrestling Hall of Fame when someone mentioned they were friends with Torrez. It was a “stroke of luck” according to Iber. The Torrez and Iber families met and the process for the book began.
While Fernando Valenzuela received national attention when he burst on the scene with the Dodgers in 1981, it’s Torrez who has the most wins for a Mexican-American pitched. “As far as being an iconic figure for Mexicans or Mexican-Americans, playing in St. Louis, Montreal, Baltimore, New York and Boston mitigated that aspect of his career,” Iber said.
Torrez began his career pitching in three games for the 1967 World Series champion Cardinals. He was traded to the Expos during the 1971 season. After going 15-8 in 1974, Torrez was traded to the Orioles and won 20 games in his lone season in Baltimore. Then he was sent to Oakland in a deal that brought Reggie Jackson to the Orioles. Torrez had a career best 2.50 ERA with the 1976 A’s and was 3-1 to start 1977 when he was traded again.
The World Series contending Yankees acquired Torrez early in the 1977 season. The righty was a workhorse and Billy
Martin put him to use as Torrez notched seven straight complete game victories from late July to late August.
In the deciding game of the ALCS, Kansas City led 3-1 in the third when Torrez entered to relieve Ron Guidry. Torrez pitched 5.1 innings of scoreless ball to keep New York in the game as the Yankees rallied for a late 5-3 win. Torrez then won games three and six of the World Series although he was overshadowed by Reggie Jackson.
Game 6 was the last game Torrez pitched for the Yankees as he signed a five-year deal with the Red Sox for $1.5 million. “Some people just are in the right place at the right time,” Iber said. “He was there with the Cards in the late 60s. He got traded from the A’s to the Yankees and was there to put them over the top. He benefitted greatly from the development from free agency. That was big to-do for a player to sign for that in 1978.”
Torrez won 16 games for the 1978 Red Sox but is remembered for giving up a three-run homer to Bucky Dent in the seventh inning of the 163rd game of the season, which propelled the Yankees to another World Series title.
“Mike has this very unique place in Yankee history,” Iber said. “Obviously, never forget he won the sixth game. Had it not been for a Reggie hitting those home runs, Mike probably would’ve been the MVP. The Yankees may have felt a little betrayed by him leaving. Then the way that fate intervened. It had to be the Yankees, it had to be Bucky Dent. It had to be this one game playoff. The 14-game lead was blown and the fans blamed him for that. These two events, roughly a year apart, it was an interesting set of events.”
Torrez went 16-13 in 1979 but fell to 9-16 with an ERA north of five in 1980. After rebounding with a 10-3 campaign in 1981, Torrez went 9-9 with an ERA over five in 1982.
He had been given applause when he walked off the mound on October 2, 1978, the loser of a tough, classic game. Over the years, Torrez was given more and more blame not just for the pitch but the entire collapse by Boston. “He and his wife were at a Celtics game in the early 80s,” Iber said. “Someone had him paged and as soon as they heard the name, the boos cascaded.”
Torrez returned to New York, but this time as a Met. He was one of the veterans on a team with Strawberry, Wilson, Gooden and Darling. After going 10-17 in 1983, Torrez was the Opening Day starter for the Mets in 1984, the first game of the Davey Johnson era. In his second start of the year, Torrez beaned Dickie Thon, unfortunately the most memorable moment of his Mets tenure. “He was released not too long after that,” Iber said. “Then he had several disastrous outings in Oakland.”
Torrez wouldn’t pitch in the majors again but was in civilian clothes in the Mets dugout during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He had two words when he saw Mookie Wilson’s grounder go through Bill Buckner’s legs: “(Blank) Boston.”