Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I'm Tony La Russa, and you're not

Via Jeff Gordon, Rob Neyer nicely captures why, even with last year's World Series win, Tony La Russa will never be a beloved figure in St. Louis.

As I’ve said many times, I like Tony La Russa. If there’s a Tony La Russa fan club, tell me where to sign up. When he’s elected to the Hall of Fame, I’ll be leading the cheers. But sometimes he’ll drive you absolutely nuts, because sometimes he apparently feels compelled to prove . . . well, to prove that he’s not only smart, but smarter than every manager who’s come before him

There is no doubt in my mind that Tony La Russa wanted nothing more than to win last night's game, and is as disappointed as anyone that the NL lost.

But still, it seems like he often wants to add a degree of difficulty to things. If he sees two paths to victory, one which is through the brute force superior talent of his players, and the other is some clever managerial trick, La Russa will go for the latter.

I imagine his dream scenario for the end game went something like this:

  • The NL ties the game in the 9th inning.
  • The NL (using three different pitchers) shuts out the AL in the top of the 10th.
  • The AL brings in a lefty for the bottom of the 10th.
  • LaRussa pinch hits Pujols for a left handed NL player to lead off the 10th. He hits a double, and the NL loads the bases, but don't score.
  • Pujols goes in to play some odd position, like right field.
  • Pujols makes a tough play in right field that someone like Dimitri Young would not be able to make.
  • Pujols hits a home in the 11th to win the game for the NL, and is named MVP.
  • Everyone lauds La Russa for saving Pujols for the extra innings

Albert Pujols isn't an All Star because of his defensive versatility. He's an All Star because he's been the best hitter in the National League for the last five years. He may be able to play a number of positions, but his best one is the batter's box.

There were other ways to take advantage of Pujols's versatility without keeping him on the bench. He could have pinch hit and gone in to play first base. Then, if someone like Dimitri Young needed to play defense, Pujols could move to the other position.

But that would be too orthodox. And where's the glory in that?