Friday, June 10, 2011

Cards' La Russa Hard to Like

UPDATE: The Brewers swept the Cardinals this weekend and I was right: it is oh so sweet to beat Tony La Russa's team.

Tony La Russa will be managing in his 5,000th game tonight when the St. Louis Cardinals visit Milwaukee in a key early series with the Brewers. Only Connie Mack, who sat on he bench in his suit for 7,755 games, managed more.

That La Russa has made out the lineup card so many times over more than three decades is a testament to his ability. He took the Chicago White Sox to a division title, the Oakland A's to three pennants and a World Series title, and the Redbirds to two pennants and a title.

None of the teams he has managed have been accused of overspending. La Russa has chosen his coaches well, especially Dave Duncan, who seems to have a magic potion that turns suspect pitchers into stars.

And yet La Russa is difficult to like. Part of it, I am sure, is that he has never managed my teams. But it's more than simple partisanship.

There's the matter of his managerial style. La Russa was an early adopter of changing pitchers during games at an alarming rate. He slowed the game down, leaving it with no pace. Under his watch on the South Side of Chicago, catcher Carlton Fisk appeared to spend as much time visiting the mound as he did behind the plate.

Finally, La Russa loves his image as protector of baseball's unwritten rules. His self-proclaimed perch as a baseball intellectual provokes angry diatribes around the web (Bobby Valentine, another gifted manager who thinks he's the smartest person in the room and lets everyone know it, engenders similar reactions).

Strangely, I think baseball needs opponents you love to hate. It makes the game more interesting. And, if the Crew can win the series this weekend, it will be all the sweeter.

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