Monday, October 31, 2011
Tony Rides Off Into the Sunset
I have often been a critic of Cardinals manager, Tony La Russa. As a close observer of baseball, I have often noted that La Russa tended to overmanage in using relief pitchers and defensive replacements late in games, with the result that on more than one occasion he's been left with no players left in extra innings, and some of his big bats on the bench. (This year he often replaced David Freese and Lance Berkman, for instance, with Daniel Descalso and Skip Schumaker, losing a lot of potential extra innings pop -- you'll note what happened with Freese in the lineup in the 9th-11th innings in Game 6 of the World Series. What if La Russa had taken him out?)
That being said, I'm willing to concede that I'm a fan, and he's a professional, and maybe there's a lot more to his job than filling out a lineup card and making pitching changes. He was the leader of the team and he was the one who kept the Cardinals fighting when they were 10.5 games out in August, 8.5 games out with 21 to play, 3 out with 5 to play, down 2-1 to the Phillies, needing a win on the road to close out the Brewers, and needing to win two at home to win the World Series. That kind of club culture comes from the top, and La Russa was the one who instilled it.
I have no idea what a guy like La Russa will do without baseball, but we wish him well. I think there is no question whatsoever that he's the greatest manager the Cardinals have ever had, and you could make an argument that he's the greatest manager of all time, period. The only managers who have won more than Tony's three championships are Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, and Joe Torre of the Yankees, Walter Alston of the Dodgers, and Connie Mack of the Philadephia A's. Only Torre won any of his pennants in the wildcard era where a manager has to win three straight series to win the championship, and Torre had the benefit in every year of the game's largest payroll. McCarthy, Stengel and Mack all won their World Series (7 for McCarthy and Stengel, 5 for Mack) when there were only 8 teams in each league. La Russa is the only manager of this group to win with two different teams and in two different leagues. Maybe the only other manager who might match him would be Sparky Anderson, who won three championships with the Reds in the 70s and the Tigers in 1984, but even then Anderson only had to win a five-game NLCS or ALCS to get to the World Series. It's much tougher now to win multiple championships.