ST. LOUIS, AUG. 1 -- Joe Torre was hired today to manage the last-place St. Louis Cardinals, his first managerial job since 1984.

"Surprise, surprise," Cardinals General Manager Dal Maxvill said at a news conference to announce that Torre signed a two-year contract with an option for a third year. His salary was not disclosed.

"During the selection process, I interviewed a number of very good candidates," Maxvill said. "But I kept coming back to Joe Torre. We couldn't find anyone better on earth."

Torre, 50, will be in the dugout for Thursday's game at Philadelphia. He hasn't managed since being fired by the Atlanta Braves in 1984, and has been working as a broadcaster for the California Angels.

"When you leave the booth after the game you're never sure if you won or lost," Torre said. "Nobody calls you at 2 a.m. and you don't have to read in the papers how dumb you are. But winning is the greatest feeling in the world and losing with a chance to win is the next-best thing."

He said he will retain the current coaching staff for the rest of the year and will use the time to evaluate the team, which was 13-11 under interim manager Red Schoendienst.

Manager Whitey Herzog, who was in his 11th year with the team, resigned July 6. Torre was one of seven finalists for the job, but he always stood at the front of the pack as far as Maxvill, a former teammate, was concerned.

Torre managed the Braves to the NL West title in 1982, losing to the Cardinals in the playoffs. He also managed the New York Mets and played for the Cardinals for six years, winning the NL MVP award in 1971 when he hit .363.

Ironically, Torre was a finalist for the general manager's post that Maxvill won in 1985.

The Cardinals may be headed for a rebuilding phase. Eight players, including outfielders Willie McGee and Vince Coleman and third baseman Terry Pendleton, are eligible to become free agents at the end of the season.