Sport: Track and Field
Induction Year: 1961
It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that Jack Torrance had the same effect on the shot put that Babe Ruth had on the home run a few years earlier.
When Ruth started his assault on home run records in 1920, the single season was 24 and the career record was 137. The combination of Ruth's power and a “live” ball quickly made those numbers obsolete.
“Baby Jack” Torrance had the same impact on the shot put. When he helped Louisiana State University win the NCAA track and field championship at Chicago 's Soldier Field in 1933, his winning throw of 52 feet, 10 inches broke the world record (held by Poland 's Zygmont Heljasz) by two inches.
A year later, on a rainy day in Oslo , Norway , Torrance got off a throw that track and field experts hailed as a perfect performance – a record that would stand forever.
In the 13 months between the NCAA meet in Chicago and the meet at Bislet Stadium in Oslo , Torrance staged a series of duels with Stanford's John Lyman.
Torrance was the first man to break the 53-foot barrier, and Lyman was the first man to throw 54 feet. Then Torrance raised the record to 55-1 ½ at Des Moines , Iowa , on April 27, 1934. Two months later, in the national AAU meet at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Louisiana giant broke his own world record with a toss of 55-5 1/4, beating Lyman by eight inches. It was the second of three consecutive national AAU titles for Torrance , who also won two NCAA titles.
In Oslo , “Baby Jack” got off three throws between 52-9 ½ and 53- 3/12 in the prelims. He nearly reached his record with 55-3 on his first attempt in the finals.
>Then he hit the big one.
The 16-pound iron ball sailed past the flag marking the world record as both the shot and the flag were buried in the soft mud. A shovel was needed to retrieve them. Torrance knew had had a world record, but the distance (17.40 meters) didn't mean anything to him. Two hours later, they converted it to 57 feet, one inch. He destroyed the event, just as Bob Beamon would do in the long jump in the 1968 Olympics. Lyman, who had held the world record a few months earlier, was a distant second at 51-10.
In 13 months, Torrance raised the shot put to a new plateau – adding more than four feet to a world record that had improved less than three feet in 25 years.
Before his “perfect throw,” Torrance had never reached 56 feet. After the big one, he never reached 55 feet again. It wasn't until four years later that anybody else exceeded 52 feet in a national AAU meet.
In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Torrance – who weighed 304 pounds and was a Baton Rouge policeman at that time – was out of shape and was hampered by a training injury. He finished fifth, with 50- 5 1/2, as 23-year-old German policeman Hans Woellke got off an Olympic record toss of 53-1 3/4, to become Germany's first gold medalist in the Hitler Olympics.
Prior to World War II, several athletes started to creep up on Torrance 's “perfect” record. Al Blozis, a well-coordinated giant at Georgetown University , bettered 56 feet a number of times. But the record didn't fall until the 1948 Kansas Relays, when Chuck Fonville of the University of Michigan electrified the track world with a toss of 58 feet.
Of course, those performances were turned in before Parry O'Brien revolutionized the vent with a new technique, and long before serious weight training and steroids made their impact. Now, a throw of 60 feet or more is required to qualify for the NCAA championships. John Campbell of Louisiana Tech won the NCAA title in 1985 with a state record throw of 69 feet, 3 3/4 inches, and his younger brother – Arnold Campbell – threw the 16-pound shot over 62 feet as a senior at Airline High School .
The most amazing aspect of the record set by “Baby Jack” is the fact that he was barely breaking 40 feet when he arrived at LSU. Teammate Al Moreau, a high hurdler, could beat him by a foot or two. In four years, Torrance improved by more than 16 feet.
His coach at Oak Grove High was former LSU footballer A.L. “Red” Swanson, who returned to LSU as a coach and later served on the Board of Supervisors.
Torrance wasn't a world class competitor in the discus, but he won both events tow years in a row in Southeastern Conference meets. His third place performance in the discus in the 1933 NCAA meet provided six crucial points in the Tigers' 58-54 victory over Southern California .
In the shot put, Torrance fouled on his first two attempts in the 1933 NCAA meet. Then he averted disaster, qualifying for the finals with a 50-footer on his final preliminary effort.
“Baby Jack” was a three-sport star at LSU, excelling in football and basketball was well as throwing his weights around in track and field. Torrance played on Ross Cohen's last LSU football team and the first to LSU teams coached by Lawrence “Biff” Jones.
Torrance was the captain of both the football team and the basketball team in his senior year, as the football Tigers posted a 7-0-3 record and the basketball team finished at 13-4, winning 10 consecutive games before bowing to Tennessee in the SEC tournament. Torrance ranked among the top four basketball scorers in the Southern Conference (1933) and the Southeastern Conference (1934), and was the Tigers' first All-SEC football player.
After the 1936 Olympics, Torrance became a professional boxer. He had one fight in Shreveport , arranged by promoter Julius Sigel, against a nobody who arrived with a straw suitcase and hit the canvas the first time Torrance landed a solid punch.
Later, Torrance 's manager – Herb Brodie – was accused of arranging for several of the giant's opponents to take dives. After lost his last bout in Washington , D.C. , Torrance got out of boxing.
In 1938, long-time New Orleans sports writer Fred Digby persuaded Torrance to play pro football with the Chicago Bears.
Torrance played with the Bears in 1939 and 1940, ending his athletic career in the Bears' 73-0 rout of the Washington Redskins in the 1940 championship game. The players' shares for that victory were 873.99.
In 1959, a three-car auto accident fives miles easy of Opelousas claimed the lives of Torrance 's wife, Lurline, his daughter, Jamie, and his mother-in-law, Mrs. A.J. Matherne. Ten years later, the gentle giant known as “Baby Jack” Torrance died of a heart attack.
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