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I Hate Tony LaRussa

by Photo of Andrew Lontos

The manager of the St. Louis Cardinals has been successful or a long time, but that doesn’t mean we have to like him.

I Hate Tony LaRussa

As a Mets fan who was born after their last championship, October has not been very kind to me. Only three times during my lifetime have I had the luxury of watching New York's National League team play postseason baseball. And you wonder why fans like myself are so bitter towards those from the Bronx and Boston? The three playoff appearances didn't exactly have fairy tale endings either.

1999: Coming off Robin Ventura's Grand Slam Single in Game 5 against the Braves, Armando Benitez blows the save in Game 6 before Kenny Rogers walks in the season-ending run in the 11th inning.

2000: The Mets lose the Subway Series to the Yankees at Shea Stadium. Enough said. 

2006: A fantastic seven-game NLCS against the Cardinals ends when Carlos Beltran strikes out looking with the tying and winning runs on base.

Ah, Tony La Russa's St. Louis Cardinals. 

As another year goes by where I watch the MLB playoffs as a (somewhat) unbiased observer, I can't help but despise La Russa. Maybe I'm just angry and resentful during the fall because of the evil things Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, and Adam Wainwright did to my team. But I felt this while St. Louis went up against the Phillies, a team I dislike more than the Yankees and Red Sox combined. La Russa is making me misplace my hatred and I won't keep quiet about it any longer!

He's got the Bobby Valentine syndrome of "I'm the smartest guy in the room and I will make sure everyone knows it"- except without the charisma to pull something like this off. Whether it's with his lineup card, excessive pitching changes, or overall whiny attitude, La Russa will make sure you're well aware that he's managing the game. And this in baseball where there is no doubt that managers have less impact than coaches in any other sport. But you can bet that La Russa will micromanage until he makes a dent- or at least he'll die trying. Let's break down the reasons why Tony La Russa is bad for baseball: Pitching Changes      This is what the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2 of the NLDS looked like, via ESPN:
Marc Rzepczynski pitching for St. Louis STL PHI
C Utley hit by pitch. 5 4
M Boggs relieved M Rzepczynski. 5 4
A Chambers in right field. 5 4
H Pence grounded into fielder's choice to shortstop, C Utley out at second. 5 4
A Rhodes relieved M Boggs. 5 4
R Howard struck out swinging. 5 4
J Motte relieved A Rhodes. 5 4
S Victorino flied out to center.

Four pitchers to get three outs; it took about a half hour to play half an inning. And we wonder why games are too long? Admittedly, this is the playoffs. La Russa should be managing in a way that he feels gives his team the best chance of winning. But the reality is there's not much of a difference between a Cardinals game in June and October. Besides the countless times I've witnessed his arrogance on television, I was in attendance when St. Louis played in Milwaukee last September. The Cardinals were down 7-1 in the bottom of the seventh during the home stretch of an underwhelming 86-76 season. This sequence occurred: Jason Motte comes in to pitch, gets Ryan Braun out. La Russa makes a double switch, Dennis Reyes comes into pitch. Reyes gets Prince Fielder out. La Russa replaces him with Jeff Suppan for the final out. In summary, during the seventh inning of a blowout, La Russa grinded the game to a screeching halt by using three pitchers and making three fielding changes to get three outs. Who knew an inning with no runs, no hits, no walks, and no errors could be so tedious? You should have been there to feel the Miller Lite being sucked out of the stadium. By the way, the Cardinals lost 8-1. In fairness, both of the instances I just described worked out for La Russa. The guys he brought in did their jobs. But that is not the point, especially because that is far from the status quo. How about this example from a Deadspin article aptly titled "How Did Tony La Russa Cost The Cardinals The Game This Time?":

A masterpiece of overmanaging in the bottom of the eighth, with two position changes, three pitching changes and an intentional walk that would come around to score the winning run. David Schoenfield has more, but the bottom line is that John Mozeliak should probably decline the option to expand the roster on September 1st.

Batting Orders

This has probably happened to you: you're having a few drinks with some friends while watching the game and you say, "Wow, I must be drunk because I'm pretty sure the Cardinals only hit seven guys before the pitcher came up".  No, actually that's The Tony La Russa Special. Because, you know, he's smarter than every other manager ever and wants to remind you that he is in the dugout. La Russa's rationale is that three straight position players (9,1,2) hit before the third batter, creating more RBI opportunities for one of his best hitters (in this case, Albert Pujols). This is just classic overanalyzing, micromanaging, kill-me-now-it's-not-that-complicated baseball. The biggest problem with this move (other than the extreme blowhard-ness) is that the pitcher's spot, whether it's a pitcher or a pinch hitter, will come up more often than the everyday player's spot behind it. This is even more hypocritical because La Russa bats Pujols third instead of fourth for this very reason; he wants him to get more at bats over the course of the season. But giving the pitcher more at bats will results in more outs, which will result in less turnover in the lineup, and therefore less at bats for Pujols. The strangest part of it all is that La Russa doesn't even bat the pitcher eighth all the time; i think it's just when he's feeling extra haughty. So which is it? If it was really that affective, not only would the rest of the league copy him, but La Russa himself would do it all the time. But hey we're talking about him right? So I'm sure he feels it's more than worth it.

Steroids

No, La Russa has not been accused of using the Red Sox secret weapon, but he certainly seems to be around Tom Verducci's enemies quite a bit. La Russa has managed two of the most storied steroid users in the history of sports: Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. La Russa managed Canseco for six and a half years and McGwire for ten years in Oakland. He needed his big, juicy Big Mac so badly that he acquired McGwire in St. Louis in 1997. And he even missed his disgraced buddy so much that he hired him as his hitting coach in 2009. And don't forget about pitching prospect turned outfielder turned HGH user Rick Ankiel, who La Russa loves more than he hates J.D. Drew. Hey, at least he's an equal opportunity steroid enabler.

Actually, La Russa may very well discriminate. After all, he brought Pujols to a Glenn Beck Tea Party rally- and denied that it was a political event! Wow, we just found something more arrogant than his managerial style.

La Russa's baseball methods lead to books like Buzz Bissinger's Three Nights in August, where writers speak about baseball like it's a holy event orchestrated by the all-knowing St. Louis manager. It's a good read, but here's an excerpt describing La Russa's feelings about Moneyball and sabermetrics, via Hardball Times:

It is wrong to say that the new breed doesn’t care about baseball. But it’s not wrong to say that there is no way they could love it, and so much of baseball is about love… They have no use for the lore of the game – and poetry of its stories – because it can’t be broken down and crunched into a computer.

Besides the fact that they are saying you can't love baseball if you devote your life to trying to find better ways to evaluate the people who play it, La Russa causes writers like Bissinger to make absurd, romantic statements like this. Baseball is my first love and will always be number one in my heart, but it's a turn off when they try to make the sport something more than it is-a game. Baseball is no more like poetry-or any other literary genre- than football, basketball, or hockey. It's a game, a really good one, but it's not above computers, statistics, and forward-thinking. In fact, why is it any surprise that La Russa supports the Tea Party? His philosophies on baseball and politics are apparently parallel: young, progressive people are destroying something sacred with their damn technology and desire for improvement.

He's a good manager. He wouldn't have lasted 33 years in the big leagues if he wasn't. But he's also extremely overrated. Third all time in wins is nice, second all time in losses isn't. He's like Lenny Wilkins with a worse attitude- or Brett Favre with the same exact attitude. La Russa is a compiler; good enough to stick around, but he hasn't exactly excelled. His winning percentage is 58th all time. The unrivaled intensity that he brings to the game is actually not a positive. La Russa's players are notorious for underperforming in the postseason because of the incredible pressure he puts on every pitch. In the 1988 and 1990 World Series', his heavily favored Athletics disappointed greatly by winning one game combined. In the last 20 years, La Russa has won as many championships as Joe Girardi has in five- and does anyone think Girardi's any great?

Plus, in 2006 the Cardinals didn't really win the NLCS, the Mets lost it.

Alright, I'm getting too biased now. Let's wrap this up.

The point is that La Russa makes these unnecessary, backwards, game-killing moves to have the second most losses in the history of baseball? To have one championship in the last two decades? The guy clearly loves baseball and like I said, he's doing something right to stay employed all these years. He just seems so caught up in himself that his passion is misguided. He's always looking for an edge, but he's looking in the wrong places. Instead of looking into the potential benefits of advanced statistics, I get the sense he sits in a dimly lit room staring at his lineup card for hours, just to flip flop the eight and nine batters. It's an admirable work ethic, but not a wise one.

The Cardinals beat the Phillies and now play the Brewers in the NLCS. Congratulations to Tony. But isn't it ironic that his team advanced to the next round in a game where he didn't have to make any pitching changes? And he batted Chris Carpenter ninth, by the way. La Russa will win many more games and he will lose many more as well. But despite his best efforts, the outcomes will rely mostly on Albert Pujols and the 24 other guys on the roster.

No matter what happens, he'll certainly complain about it.  

Let Charged.fm get you the best seats to see La Russa's Cardinals play the Brewers in the NLCS.

If you're still not convinced of his lack of self awareness and general attitude towards others, he sued Twitter over a parody Tony La Russa account. Not surprisingly, he was the first celebrity to sue the site.


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