La Russa loves to tinker

One of the cool things about the game I watched in St. Louis on Monday between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals is that there were at least four future Hall of Famers in it.

The first two aren’t easy to figure out. I’d be shocked if Atlanta’s Chipper Jones and St. Louis’ Albert Pujols aren’t enshrined on the first ballots after their careers are over.

The others aren’t players. Rather, they are Braves manager Bobby Cox (thanks, Shea, for reminding me) and Cards manager Tony La Russa.

Minnesota Twins fans - at least ones my age and older – know La Russa well from his time managing the Oakland A’s. The A’s during the late 1980s and early 1990s were the Twins’ biggest rival, with the Twins winning the AL West in 1987 and 1991, but coming up short to the A’s in 1988 and 1992.

La Russa, since having moved on the Cards, ranks third in career managerial wins, behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw. And it’s hard to believe that anyone could reach Mack or McGraw.

The 65-year-old La Russa and his longtime pitching coach, Dave Duncan, have been joined at the hip for most of the last three decades, with Duncan continuing to find ways to revive journeyman pitchers’ careers and La Russa finding new ways to manage a game.

Some accuse La Russa of over-managing. He’s often credited with bringing the bullpen’s left-handed specialist into mainstream managing.

And he was the first manager in decades to not bat his pitcher in the ninth spot of his batting order, something he continues to do on occasion.

I have to admit, I’ve never quite understood hitting the pitcher eighth. The rationale is, "It gives us two leadoff hitters when the order wraps around." But if the No. 9 hitter is good enough to be a leadoff hitter, why isn’t he hitting higher in the order?

What’s next? Bat the pitcher fifth, making the No. 9 hitter a second cleanup hitter? Imagine that conversation between manager and media.

But one thing that’s obvious is La Russa loves to manage. And sometimes it doesn’t work out. But he’s not afraid to try new things.

You can call it over-managing if you want. I simply will call it managing.

2 thoughts on “La Russa loves to tinker

  1. I think the jury is still out on where to bat the pitcher. There’ve been some recent statistical analysis that suggest the 8th may actually be the right answer. Of course LaRussa is also responsible for the advent of the modern closer which a fairly definitive body of statistical evidence says has been a disaster.

    Counties facta

  2. Hayden, Check your work email, or write to me from your personal one and I’ll forward what I sent, didn’t realize you were on vacation. I’ll stop now, since this sounds like a missed connection ad in the Village Voice.

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