Clifford Earl Torgeson was born in the lumber mill town of Snohomish, Washington, on New Years Day of 1924. Like many Snohomish boys, Torgeson idolized Earl Averill, the first “Earl of Snohomish,” the slugger and centerfielder for the Cleveland Indians during most of Torgeson’s youth. Averill would return home every fall and drive around town in his fancy car, causing the boys to stare, vowing that they would follow him to the major leagues one day. Torgy used to follow his idol around town, staring in the barber’s window watching him get his haircut.
Torgy first played baseball on the aptly-named Averill Field near his home, and he played it as often as he could. Despite needing glasses as a youngster, he also starred in basketball on a team of much older boys. But his prowess on the diamond, along with the public success of Averill, led townsfolk to petition to school board to prohibit Torgy from playing football for fear of injury. After playing just two varsity games, he was removed from the gridiron team.
After two years of high school baseball, a year of American Legion, and several years playing semiprofessionally in the area. Earl trained with Seattle in ’41, but the 17-year-old was soon optioned to Wenatchee of the Class-B Western International League. His new first sacker hit .332 in 92 games. In a 1941 late-season recall to the Rainiers. The next year Torgy was farmed out to Spokane (also of the WIL), where he hit .429 in 28 at-bats for Spokane.
Torgeson was a big man, listed at 6 feet 3 and 180 pounds at the start of his career, and was always expected to hit for more power than he did. Even well into his major league career, Torgy hit in the power slots of the batting order, as befitting a large first baseman. He never did develop a lot of power, but he had a great batting eye and was very fast on the bases. Had he had a different body but the same skills, he would have been a fine leadoff man.
The 18-year-old Torgy likely would have been sold to a major league team after the 1942 season had he not been about to be drafted. He served in the Army from January 1943 until March 1946. After a year at Fort Lewis and Fort Lawton in Washington State, Earl saw action in the Aleutians, then in France and Germany. He was injured in the Battle of the Bulge by the blast of a shell that landed in his platoon.
When Earl reported back to the Rainiers in 1946 the season had already begun. Two days before the Braves’ option was to, he dislocated his right (nonthrowing) shoulder. The Rainiers granted an extension, and after the Braves looked him over they made the deal. After 3˝ years away from the game, Torgy slumped to .285 in 103 games for Seattle.
When Torgy reported to spring camp with the Braves in 1947, he responded by driving in 36 runs in his first 30 games. Although he cooled off later in ’47 and lost some playing time to Frank McCormick, Torgy ended up hitting .285 with 16 home runs as a rookie – compared with 10 round-trippers total in three minor-league seasons – and 82 walks. Billy Southworth wanted to take it slow with his young player, and generally left him on the bench against left-handed starters.
Even at a young age, Torgy quickly became a leader on the club, a guy not afraid to hold court in the clubhouse. Platooning with Frank McCormick in 1948, he slumped to .253 with 10 home runs, but added his typical 81 walks (fourth in the league) and 19 stolen bases (fifth) for the pennant-winning Braves. In the World Series he started five of the six games, missing only lefty Gene Bearden’s shutout in Game Three. Torgy, hitting third in the lineup, hit safely seven times in 18 trips, including three doubles. His .389 average led all regulars from both teams in the Series.
Earlier in ’48, Torgeson had contributed to another significant event. Torgy, visited a local hospital to surprise a young leukemia-stricken boy from New Sweden, Maine. Named “Jimmy” to protect his privacy, the 12-year-old was presented with a regulation team uniform and a bat from his fellow Swede Earl Torgeson. Money flowed in for Jimmy’s treatment, which spawned the “Jimmy Fund” charity of today’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute which was supported by the Braves until their 1953 departure from Boston and has been championed by the Red Sox ever since. A half-century later, Einar Gustafson, the real Jimmy, emerged from obscurity and became an instant celebrity. He even still possessed his child-sized Braves uniform and Torgy’s bat, and both were put on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
The 1949 season was far less memorable for Earl. In early May, he made an aggressive attempt to take out Jackie Robinson at second base on a double-play ball, slid clumsily and separated his left shoulder. The injury sidelined him for three months. In August he began working out again, but suffered a broken. His season was over after just 25 games, in which he hit .260 with four home runs. The following spring he spent several weeks getting his shoulder to learn to throw again – his former overhand motion replaced with a more accurate sidearm toss. His first-rate play around the bag was now that much better.
Torgeson opened up a sporting goods store in Wellesley, and worked there in the offseasons. He also had become a popular after-dinner speaker and had his own radio show, and later a television show.
In 1950 Torgy was a full-time player for the first time, playing all 156 Braves’ games, coming through with 23 home runs, 87 RBIs, and a .290 batting average. He also walked 119 times, third in the league, and led the senior circuit by scoring 120 runs. The next season he again played every game (155 this time), finishing at .263 but with 24 home runs and 92 RBIs. He walked 112 times, and stole 20 bases. Despite his fine play, however, the Braves finished fourth both seasons.
In 1951 the Torgesons settled in Anna Maria, a sparsely populated coastal island in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from the Braves’ spring training site of Bradenton, Florida. Torgy spent many a winter golfing every day with his baseball friends. He also loved to host barbecues, gatherings of friends and teammates eating ribs, or lobsters shipped from Maine and prepared by Earl himself.
Despite his fairly impressive statistics, in 1952 many fans and writers thought Torgeson would lose the position to George Crowe. Torgy ended up getting most of the playing time, but had his worst year in the majors – hitting .230 with just five home runs in 122 games. After the season Earl was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies in a complex four-team swap also involving the Dodgers and Reds.
When Torgy retired from baseball, he briefly worked as a stockbroker with Mitchell Hutchins Brokerage in Chicago. Soon after he owned and operated Camp Forsyte, a sports camp for boys in Westfield, Wisconsin, which sponsored many underprivileged kids from Chicago in addition to the paying campers. In 1965, Earl and Molly moved to Everett, Washington, near where Earl had grown up.
Torgeson took a job as director of parks for Snohomish County. When major league baseball arrived briefly in Seattle in 1969, Torgy was hired to manage the Newark Co-Pilots in the New York Penn League that summer, and then the Clinton Pilots in the Midwest League in 1970. He even suited up for the big-league Pilots as a batting coach in the last few weeks of the ’69 season. Earl’s previous managerial experience had been in Managua, Nicaragua, during a couple of winters in the late 1950s, and this marked the end of his professional career.
Earl was elected a county commissioner in 1972 and served four years. He later worked many years with a timber company, and served as the county’s director of emergency management for eight years.
In late September
1990 Earl Torgeson discovered he had leukemia, and he died just six weeks later, on
November 8, 1990, at his home in Everett, Washington.