In the middle of the night last night, an overloaded post was finished here about the worst batting performances in a single game in history. Thank goodness there was no need to get up in the morning because that thing took hours to research. But there was a flaw in the post and good friend, Bob Netherton, of On the Outside Corner fame picked it up. Bob (@throatwarbler) is one of the finest baseball historians and writers not currently getting paid to do what he does so well. Anyway, Bob wondered why the post didn't include the game that Joe Torre, then playing for the New York Mets, had on July 21, 1975. Good question. The simple answer was that at two in the morning, a flawed searched missed the event.
What did Joe Torre do? In that game against the Houston Astros, Torre came to the plate four times and grounded into four double plays. This writer stated that three was the record. It is of sorts...for second place. But Joe Torre holds the record and it may never be broken. Four at bats and eight outs. Ouch.
Joe Torre was a great player and had a borderline Hall of Fame career. That career spanned one of the toughest hitting eras of the game as he played from 1960 to 1977. Torre had five seasons batting over .300 and it wasn't until his sixteenth season (the same 1975) that his OPS+ fell below 100. His career OPS+ was 128 and he amassed 55.5 career rWAR. He was a very good player. But he did have one Achilles Heel. He hit into a lot of double plays. He led the league in that category three times and six times finished with more than twenty for the season. Albert Pujols can relate.
1975 wasn't any different for Torre in the double play department. He hit into 21 double plays that season. That had to be a difficult season to be a player for the Mets. Yogi Berra started the season as the manager and was dismissed after 109 games. The team was 56-53 under Berra but fared worse under interim manager, Roy McMillan. The Mets finished that season two games over .500 and in third place.
Looking at the Mets that season, they had great pitching with Seaver, Koosman and Jon Matlack. But the offense was poorly constructed with a bunch of older sluggers who couldn't really slug in the spacious Shea Stadium. Joe Torre was just another square peg on a team that needed rounder holes. That team attempted only 68 stolen bases all season and were thrown out on 26 of those attempts. Yeah, that was a slow and cumbersome team.
So you had a slow and cumbersome team playing against the Astros at Shea facing Ken Forsch who was a pretty good pitcher in the middle of his productive career. Forsch only pitched 109 innings that season (he was only a spot starter) and yet induced twelve ground ball double plays. Slow runners, good ground ball pitcher. All the stars lined up for Joe Torre to make history.
It didn't take long for Torre to get started. He batted third in the Mets' line up that day and in the bottom of the first, after Felix Millan hit a single, Torre rapped a ball back to Forsch who threw to Larry Milbourne who then threw to Bob Watson for the first double play.
Torre again came to the plate in the third following singles by Del Unser and Felix Millan. Torre hit a grounder to short where Metzger threw to Milbourne who then completed the double play by throwing to Watson. Two at bats, two double-plays.
By the time that Joe Torre came to the plate again in the sixth inning, the Mets were already down to Forsch and the Astros, 6-1, and Forsch was cruising (and on his way to a complete game win). In the bottom of the sixth, Felix Millan again singled to lead things off. Torre hit a grounder to second (at least he was using the whole field). It was Milbourne to Metzger to Watson and Torre had hit into his third double-play in three at bats.
Torre had one last at bat in the bottom of the eighth. The score was then 6-2. Unser led off with a bunt single to third. Millan got his fourth single of the game and Unser moved to second. That would bring up Torre who was already tied for the most GIDPs in history with three. And yes, Torre set the record by grounding into a short to second to first double play.
Several keys led to the record. First, Millan went four for four in the game, all singles. Without Millan's good day at the plate, none of this happens. Second, Forsch had one of those "scattered eleven hits" performances that bent but didn't break his team. He gave up enough hits to allow Torre to do what he did. Lastly, the Mets played station to station baseball. There were no stolen base attempts. None of their base runners took an extra base on multiple hit innings and again, they were a slow team, with few slower that Joe Torre.
That game had to be one of the most remarkable things to watch. You have to wonder if Mets fans in the seats that day and those watching on Channel 9 Television knew they had just witnessed history. Joe Torre did something nobody had ever done before and haven't since.
While Joe Torre's spectacular feat should have been mentioned in the original post, the game would have put Torre nowhere close to the top five in negative RE24 or in WPA. The Mets were never really in the game and Torre's at bats all resulted in fairly low leverage situations (1.24 overall). His final RE24 for the game was -3.101 and his game WPA was -0.242. The Mets probably would have lost the game anyway. But none of that really matters. What matters is that Joe Torre, thanks to Felix Millan, Ken Forsch and solid infield play for the Astros, made history. Four at bats, eight outs.