Leave it to Posnanski to come up with the best thing anyone's written about Tony La Russa and his 20 innings of managing:
- I must admit: I do get a kick out of overmanaging. Sure, mostly it's like a kick to the sternum... but there's something utterly human about overmanaging that I can appreciate. A baseball manager has so little he can CONTROL on a baseball diamond. He can't design a play -- hit and runs and wheel plays don't satisfy. He can't make halftime adjustments. He can't substitute players in-and-out or change up his lines. You don't think about this much -- or I don't -- but perhaps the biggest thing is that a baseball manager can't even put his best player in position to make the big play. In basketball, you get LeBron to take the last-second shot. In football, you have Tom Brady throw to Wes Welker on fourth down. In baseball, sure, you can put in your closer. But you can't just send Albert Pujols up there with the winning run on third base. And even if you DO happen to be at Pujols place in the lineup, they will walk him.
It's just a whole different type of game, and I think overmanaging really is a natural reaction to the frustrations of the job. Tony La Russa has been managing baseball games for more than 30 years -- he has managed almost 5,000 games in his career. And even now, he HAS to use the most pinch-hitters, and he HAS to change around his lineup, and he HAS to use a lot of relievers, and he HAS to move runners, and he HAS to sacrifice. It's his nature. He has to attack the game before it attacks him. Why? I think it's because he knows the limitations of the job. And he can't help but rage against them.
TOP OF THE 19TH INNING: Because Lopez is on a pitch count, he moves to third base... and Mather comes in to pitch. It is clear that at this point, La Russa is just flailing against the wind. Mather walks the leadoff man. There's a sacrifice hit. La Russa orders an intentional walk of David Wright, which seemed pretty bold considering the guy on the mound is not a pitcher. La Russa simply cannot help himself. Mather then hits Jason Bay. He then allows a sac fly to Jeff Francoeur. La Russa then orders ANOTHER intentional walk, this time of Henry Blanco. It's an overmanaging thing of beauty. And this time it works -- Mather gets out the next batter, pitcher Raul Valdes, to end the inning.
BOTTOM OF THE 19TH INNING: And, in this over-managing masterpiece, here's Mona Lisa's smile... Ludwick leads off with a walk against Francisco Rodriguez (yes, the Mets still had their closer available). This brings up Pujols. There's no way that La Russa can overmanage this situation... so he overmanages this situation. He calls for the hit and run. Yes, the hit and run, with Albert Pujols at the plate. Now, remember, Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball. La Russa has the pitcher's spot coming up next. It's the bottom of the 19th inning, and he has no pitchers available, and he has a utility man pitching. The hit and run. To the very end, the man can't help himself.
Of course Pujols misses the pitch. Of course Ludwick is thrown out stealing -- though it is close, and Ludwick makes a lousy slide. Of course Pujols promptly bangs a double and later comes around to score what would have been the winning run rather than the tying run. Of course.
20TH INNING: Mather gives up another run. And the Cardinals get runners on first and second... but lose when Ludwick grounds out to end the game.
When it ended, there were many ready to rip Tony La Russa... and that's fair. But to me that game was vintage La Russa. He has never apologized for the overwhelming way he manages baseball games. He never will. He tries to win, all-out, all the time. Hit and run. Pull the pitcher. Send in a pinch-hitter. When you manage baseball games that way, like a heavyweight boxer throwing haymakers, you win some and you lose some, and you make a lot of people angry. But one thing is for sure: You never go to sleep wishing you had tried harder.
Look, I think La Russa's arrogant. Most men at the top of their fields are. I believe that he tries too hard to prove how smart he is. Most managers do. You know what, though? I'll bet his batting average is no worse than the typical manager, and probably a little better. (Love to see somebody check someday.)
I know -- thanks to Chris Jaffe book -- that throughout La Russa's career, he's done an excellent job of getting his hitters into the optimal spots in the lineup.
I know that Bill James once wrote this: "There is one indispensable quality of a baseball manager: The manager must be able to command the respect of his players. This is absolute; everything else is negotiable." How many managers have been more respected than La Russa by their players?
Nobody's perfect. John McGraw was a martinet and (when he could get away with it) an enthusiastic cheater. Joe McCarthy lost the pennant in 1940 because he didn't know when Frank Crosetti was finished. Earl Weaver let Tony Muser bat nearly 600 times for the Orioles. Bobby Cox ... Well, I can't think of anything he's done wrong, except for losing all those postseason series. And not beating some sense into John Rocker.
Something else I know: If he wants to, La Russa is going to win more games than McGraw. I don't know exactly what that means, except I'm pretty sure that La Russa's faults are more than balanced by everything else.