La Russa a genius ... or just cranky?

July, 29, 2009
7/29/09
10:53
AM ET
As the Cardinals enter the home stretch of what might become a death match against the Cubs, FanGraphs' Erik Manning remembers some players who might have helped this season, if only the Cards' manager hadn't driven them away:
    Tony La Russa has more managerial wins to his credit than anyone not named Connie Mack or John McGraw, probably making him a lock for Cooperstown. While measuring a manager's worth is a murky task, one thing we know just from reading the news on a regular basis is that some managers can earn their keep by making good players feel comfortable and causing them to want to stick around. Or in La Russa's case, there can at times be the opposite effect.

    --snip--

    Appeasing La Russa has been said to be one of the big motives for the Cardinals to gut their farm system to get [Matt] Holliday and Mark DeRosa. He's in the last year of his contract and wants to see some commitment from ownership before considering signing an extension. Maybe if he didn't run off his players with these sort of immature personality clashes, the trades never would have been necessary. The Cardinals' short-sided attempts to assuage La Russa has razed their farm system and driven away productive big league players. I can only fear what will happen to the Cardinals if they keep him around longer.

Well, yeah.

I reproduced here the first and last grafs of Manning's essay, and thus left out the parts about the Cardinals jettisoning Scott Rolen and Adam Kennedy, both of whom would presumably have fit nicely into the lineup this season, and perhaps obviated the impulse to trade for DeRosa and Holliday.

Fair enough. But hiring (and employing) a manager isn't like ordering a car from the factory; it's like finding one on the lot that you like: Maybe it's not exactly what you want, but it'll get you around and people won't laugh when they see you driving it.

OK, maybe that's not the greatest analogy. La Russa fights with some of his headstrong players; Neyer needs to work on his similes. We get it (or I do, anyway). My point is that La Russa's going to wind up in the Hall of Fame, and at this point in his career we should probably just accept him for who he is (at least until he starts losing). You know, warts and all.

And that's assuming that his positions regarding Rolen and Kennedy were actually warts. Isn't it possible that La Russa's my-way-or-the-highway approach benefits his teams in ways that we simply can't understand?

Yes, I'm talking about intangibles, which are, by their very nature, not quantifiable. So I'm not saying that Manning is wrong, or that the Cardinals wouldn't be better off with Rolen and Kennedy. What I'm saying is that La Russa, after 2,516 wins, may have earned the benefit of the doubt on personnel matters.

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