The Red Sox Vault Is Closed

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After they spent big last winter to try and win in 2011, the Red Sox were seen to have filled all of their holes; built a run-scoring machine of a lineup; shored up their bullpen; and placed themselves in a position blow away the competition in both the regular season and the playoffs.

They didn’t.

The reasons for the downfall and collapse will be debated forever.

The likelihood is that one specific incident wasn’t the catalyst for the failure, but minute cracks that manifested themselves over time; cracks that were irreparable, exploitable and resulted in an embarrassing stumble and post-season bloodletting of departures, allocating of blame and alibis.

If the partings with Terry Francona and Theo Epstein weren’t enough, the Red Sox went in the opposite direction of what they’d done in the past by hiring Bobby Valentine as manager.

Valentine is decidedly not a middle-managing functionary in the Moneyball fashion who’s hired to implement front office edicts and do as he’s told for short money.

He’s going to let his feelings be known and do as he sees fit without relying on consensus and organizational planning to dictate which reliever he uses when, in writing the lineups or other on-field decisions.

In a similar vein, the Red Sox rampant spending is over.

They didn’t post a bid for Yu Darvish; they haven’t been mentioned as anything other than a historically wary “oh, them” option for the name free agents; and they’re making under-the-radar and cheap acquisitions to fill their holes.

They allowed Jonathan Papelbon to leave without a fight and have steered clear of the “name” closers.

They may be willing to sign a proven closer like Ryan Madson, but it’s not going to be for the $44 million he and his agent Scott Boras were requesting. He’ll be lucky to match Heath Bell’s $27 million over three-years from the Red Sox or anyone else.

The Red Sox have chosen a different route from the headline-grabbing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez acquisitions of a year ago.

Mark Melancon is the newest addition to the bullpen via trade from the Astros for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

They shunned a large expenditure on a DH as David Ortiz accepted their offer of salary arbitration.

They signed a competent partner catcher for Jarrod Saltalamacchia with Kelly Shoppach and a veteran utilityman Nick Punto to replace Lowrie.

Jason Varitek‘s and Tim Wakefield’s playing careers are done in Boston.

The vault is closed.

Rather than toss more money at their problems, the Red Sox are using a different strategy in hoping that Crawford rebounds; Clay Buchholz returns from injury; the bullpen survives without the intimidating closer (Madson or no Madson); and that Valentine is able to rein in a fractured and out-of-control clubhouse.

In years past, Epstein sought to build a team that would have a consistent pipeline of talent and operate under a need-based free agency/trade-style; as they grew more successful, the fan base, media and front office were unsatisfied with the peaks and valleys inherent with accepting down years as necessary to reasonably priced consistency and they became a carbon copy of their arch-enemies, the Yankees. As was the case with Mark Teixeira, it became a case of which team was going to pay more to get the quarry and anything short of a World Series win wasn’t good enough.

The Red Sox won the hot stove battle a year ago, but that didn’t equate into the expected regular season dominance and post-season glory.

Now they’ve stopped tossing money around and are going with cheaper alternatives and the hopes for a rebound of what’s already there.

Under new GM and Epstein protégé Ben Cherington, they’re refusing to spend wildly—which is what Epstein loathed doing in his early years running the team; this might be on orders from ownership and is preferable to the GM.

But they have spent and hired a different type of manager from their original template—that too is likely to have been done on orders from ownership; Cherington wouldn’t have hired Valentine if the choice were his and his alone.

It’s a mixture of old and new; it’s understandable; and it won’t work unless the highly paid players they already had do their jobs and Valentine is able to maintain a sense of discipline that disappeared under Francona.

Don’t expect splashy headlines this winter from the Red Sox because this is pretty much it.

//

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The Real Questions with Bobby V and Ben Cherington

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Repeatedly we’re seeing the debate as to whether new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington wanted Bobby Valentine as the Red Sox manager.

Some say yes, he’s on board and is sincere about it.

Some say yes, but are shrugging and rolling their eyes as they say it.

Some say no. Larry Lucchino and John Henry wanted someone who was the polar opposite of Terry Francona; that they wouldn’t tolerate the nonsense that played a part in the club’s collapse in September and began the ball rolling sending Francona and Theo Epstein out of town and opened the door to the shocking hire of Valentine.

The truth is probably closer to the middle.

Did Cherington want Valentine?

No.

But Lucchino wasted no time after the departure of Epstein to step right back into the breach amidst the chaos and fill the vacuum. When the Red Sox won their 2004 championship, Lucchino’s position had been usurped and his influence marginalized by his former protege and eventual nemesis as Epstein won the subsequent power struggle.

With the collapse, the dismissal of Francona and the Epstein departure, the opening was there for Lucchino and he took it.

Is Cherington comfortable with Valentine?

I’m sure he’s rationalized it.

Valentine has a 2-year contract with 2 option years; he’s a qualified and experienced manager who is well-versed in statistics and truly knows the game from both a numerical and scouting point-of-view; he’ll nip any behavioral issues in the bud; if things go wrong, Cherington won’t get the blame as the puppetmaster in the Moneyball tradition of telling the “middle-manager” what to do.

Whereas Epstein would’ve been allowed to hire the man he wanted to hire to replace Francona, Lucchino and ownership stuck to the Red Sox recent historical script of doing the Yankees thing and importing a recognizable name.

It’s been this way for years.

When Epstein was hired and the Red Sox set about altering the culture and strategy, it wasn’t to sign the big name free agents or championship-winning managers for show in a keeping up with the Steinbrenners competition—that’s what got them and other teams in trouble in the first place—but it was done to import players and staff who fit into what they wanted to build logically and intelligently.

Now that they have immobile contracts; a greedy fan base; and an apathetic, comfortable and encroaching core of veterans who took advantage of Francona’s hands-off style. Valentine was the one name who’d drop a bomb in the clubhouse and put a stop to the off-field negativity that harmed their playoff run.

Valentine’s not going to storm in and get in the faces of Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis. He’ll try a conciliatory “let’s work together” approach, talk to them like men and then handle it if they step out of line.

You can make the argument for a younger, less stringent manager with a personality that wasn’t going to ruffle the delicacy of the clubhouse hierarchy, but the front office is paying the players to be in shape and behave appropriately as a matter of course; they hired Valentine to implement that desire.

If they hired someone inexperienced who fit into the middle-managing profile and it didn’t work, the Red Sox were staring in the face of a full-blown housecleaning which would’ve relegated them to possibly 3-5 years of missed playoffs and repercussions in revenue, fan response and media vitriol.

It’s easier and cheaper to bring in Valentine and see if he can tweak what’s there than it is to make wholesale roster changes and take someone else’s headaches in exchange for their own. Catering to the whims of the players would’ve made the 2011 problems worse.

Hiring Valentine is not so different from the Moneyball style of field managers except that this middle-manager isn’t going to be intimidated nor is he going to get fired if the players complain about him.

Here’s the big question: Had Epstein stayed, would Bobby Valentine be the Red Sox manager right now?

Universally, the answer will be the same no matter whom you ask.

That answer is no.

And despite assertions that all are in agreement, smiles and glad-handing, that pretty much tells you where Cherington truly stands on the situation as well.

//

The Red Sox Out-of-Book Experience with Bobby Valentine

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The Red Sox made the smart and gutsy decision to shun the “middle-manager” nonsense that came en vogue after Moneyball and hired Bobby Valentine to take over as their new manager.

Here’s what to expect.

The beer and chicken parties are over.

The somewhat overblown Red Sox beer and chicken parties of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and their crew are referenced as the fatal symptoms of apathy under Terry Francona.

When Valentine’s name was mentioned as a candidate amid the “new sheriff in town” mentality, the 1999 NLCS card-playing incident is presented as an example of what went on with the Mets under Valentine.

What’s missed by those who constantly mention the Bobby BonillaRickey Henderson card game as the Mets dejectedly entered the Turner Field clubhouse after their game 6 and series loss is that Bonilla was gone after the season (at a significant cost to the Mets that they’re still paying); and Henderson was released the next May.

Those who expect Valentine to storm in and start getting in the faces of the players immediately are wrong.

He won’t tolerate any garbage, but it’s not going to be a both-guns-blazing, walking through the door of the saloon like Clint Eastwood bit.

He’ll try a more smooth approach at first, telling them what the rules are, what’s expected and demanded and what won’t be tolerated. If he’s pushed, he’ll make an example of someone and it’s going to happen fast.

This is not to say that he’s an old-school social conservative who’s going to interfere with his players’ personal business. Bobby V liked chewing his dip when he was managing the Mets; he treats his players like men; but if their off-field activities are affecting on-field production—as was the case with Todd Hundley and Pete Harnisch—they’re going to hear about it. It will be done privately at first, then publicly if it continues.

His big theme concerning the way the players behave will be “don’t make me look like an idiot”.

The stuff that went on under the watch of Francona was more embarrassing than damaging. If the players had been performing their due diligence in workouts and not been so brazen about their clubhouse time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they so cavalierly loafed and lazed, seemingly not caring what was happening on the field, it snowballed and became a flashpoint to the lax discipline of Francona and festered into unnecessary problems.

Relationships with opponents, umpires and the media.

Valentine has endured public spats with many other managers and hasn’t shied from any of them, even suggesting they possibly turn physical if need be.

During his playing days, no one wanted to mess with Don Baylor. Baylor, who crowded the plate and steadfastly refused to move when a ball was heading in his direction, led the league in getting hit-by-pitches eight times. Valentine had protested a mistake the then-Cubs manager Baylor had made on his lineup card when the Mets and Cubs played the season-opening series of 2000 in Japan; Baylor made some comments about it; Valentine, who never brought the lineup card to the plate as Mets manager, did so in the first game of the Mets-Cubs series in May; Valentine asked Baylor if the two had a problem, Baylor said no and that was it.

This was indicative of the personality and gamesmanship of Valentine. Managers and players from other teams don’t like him, but he doesn’t care.

As Red Sox manager, he’s going to bait Joe Girardi; he’ll annoy Joe Maddon; he and Buck Showalter will glare at each other from across the field at who can be more nitpicky in a chess match of “I’m smarter than you”; he knows the rules better than the umpires and finds the smallest and most obscure ones to get an advantage for his team; he manipulates the media and his temper gets the better of him—he’ll say he’s not going to talk about something, then talk about if for 20 minutes; and his foghorn voice will echo across all of baseball to let everyone know the Red Sox are in town.

Francona was well-liked by everyone.

Valentine won’t be. And he doesn’t care.

Valentine can be annoying. He was a three-sport star in high school and a ballroom dancing champion, is married to his high school sweetheart and is still remarkably handsome even at age 61; he was Tommy Lasorda‘s pet in the minor leagues and his teammates loathed him—he grates on people because of his seeming superiority and perfection.

He’s not irritating people intentionally unless he thinks it will help him win a game—it’s just Bobby V being Bobby V.

The GM/manager dynamic.

Did new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington want Valentine?

There will be an across-the-board series of analysis why he did and didn’t—most will detail why he didn’t.

But does it matter?

The whole concept of Valentine being impossible to handle, undermining, subversive and Machiavellian stem from his inter-organizational battles with Steve Phillips when the duo were the GM/manager combination for the Mets.

Valentine hated Phillips and vice versa; it wasn’t simply that Valentine hated Phillips as a GM, he hated him as a human being more.

But Phillips’s personal behaviors weren’t publicly known to the degree that they are now; it’s doubtful that Cherington will be stupid enough to get caught up in the number of foibles that have befallen Phillips and sabotaged someone who was a better GM than he’s given credit for and an excellent and insightful broadcaster.

Despite the disputes and cold war, something about the Valentine-Phillips relationship worked.

As long as there’s a mutual respect between Valentine and Cherington, what’s wrong with a little passionate debate even if it’s of the screaming, yelling and throwing things variety?

It’s better than the alternative of King Lear—the lonely man seeking to salvage what’s left of his crumbling monarchy—as there is in Oakland with Billy Beane; or what we saw eventually disintegrate with Theo Epstein’s and Larry Lucchino’s Macbeth and Duncan reprise with the Red Sox.

The only difference between the managers who are installed as a matter of following the script and out of convenience—as Francona was—and Valentine is that Valentine’s not disposable as the prototypical Moneyball middle-managers are and the Red Sox have to pay him a salary far greater than they would’ve had to pay Gene Lamont or Torey Lovullo.

In the final analysis financially, it’s cheaper to hire and pay Valentine than it would be to hire a retread or an unknown and run the risk of a total explosion of the team early in 2012 and having to clean house while enduring a lost season and revenues.

Valentine can tape together what’s currently there better than the other candidates could.

There will be disagreements and if Valentine has to, he’ll go over Cherington’s head to Lucchino or use the media to get what he wants. It’s Cherington’s first GM job; he won’t want to screw it up; plus, it’s a no-lose situation for him because if things go wrong, there’s always the head shake and gesture towards Bobby V and Lucchino to explain away what went wrong and why it’s not Cherington’s fault.

Even if it is.

Strategies.

Valentine isn’t Grady Little and won’t ignore the numbers; he was one of the first stat-savvy managers  who accessed the work of Bill James when he took over the Rangers in 1985.

That’s not to say he won’t make moves against the so-called new age stats that make sense on paper, but are idiotic or unrealistic in practice. He’s not going to demand his switch-hitters bat lefty against lefty pitchers because of an obscure and out-of-context number; he’ll let his relievers know what’s expected of them in a “defined role” sense (to keep the peace); and he’s going to tweak his lineups based on the opponent.

He doles out his pitchers innings evenly and finds players who may have underappreicated talents and places them in a situation to succeed—sounds like a stat guy concept.

Players.

With the Mets, there was a notion that Valentine preferred to have a roster of interchangeable parts with non-stars; functional players he could bench without hearing the entreaties that he has to play <BLANK> because of his salary.

Valentine might prefer to have a clear path to do what’s right for a particular game without having to worry about how it’s framed or answering stupid questions after the fact, but he dealt with his star players—Mike Piazza; Mike Hampton; Al Leiter; Robin Ventura—well enough.

What Valentine is truly good at is finding the players who have been ignored or weren’t given a chance and giving them their opportunity.

Todd Pratt, Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani, Desi Relaford, Timo Perez, Melvin Mora, Masato Yoshii were all Valentine “guys” who he trusted and fought for. All contributed to the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.

If anyone can get something out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s Valentine; if anyone can put Carl Crawford in the lineup spot where he’ll be most productive—irrespective of Crawford’s personal preferences—it’s Valentine; and if anyone can work Jose Iglesias into the lineup without undue pressure, it’s Valentine.

Concerns.

While he managed in Japan for several years in the interim, Valentine hasn’t managed in the big leagues since 2002. Veteran managers sometimes hit the ground running after a long break as Jim Leyland did with the Tigers; or they embody the perception that they’ve lost something off their managerial fastball—I got that impression with Davey Johnson managing the Nationals in 2011.

Valentine’s 61 and in good shape, but ten years is a long time to be away from the trenches.

There will be a honeymoon period with the media and fans, but like the Red Sox attempt to hire Beane to be the GM after 2002, how long is this honeymoon going to last if the Red Sox are 19-21 after 40 games with the expectations and payroll what they are.

It’s hard to stick to the script as the Yankees fans are laughing at them; mired in a division with three other strong teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays possibly ahead of them; and the fans and media are bellowing for something—anything—to be done.

Valentine’s Mets teams tended to fade, tighten and panic at the ends of seasons. It happened in 1998 and 1999; in 1999 they squeaked into the playoffs after a frenetic late-season run and, once they were in, relaxed to put up a good, borderline heroic showing before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.

There will be players who ridicule, mock and question him. John Franco took the opportunity to get his revenge against Valentine by helping Phillips’s case to fire him in 2002 because Valentine had taken Franco’s closer role away and given it to Armando Benitez while Franco was injured.

Will Beckett push Valentine so one of them has to go? I doubt it, but Beckett’s a bully and won’t like being told what to do.

Will Bobby Jenks‘s attitude or Kevin Youkilis‘s whining cause Valentine to call them out publicly?

Will it damage the team if there’s an early insurrection or will it embolden the front office that a stricter force was necessary?

The real issues.

It’s nice that the Red Sox have hired a proven, veteran manager; a known quantity; someone they can sell to the media and fans, but it doesn’t address the player issues that sabotaged the team as they collapsed in September.

John Lackey is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and they need starting pitching.

David Ortiz is a free agent.

They need a bat.

They have to hope that Crawford straightens out and becomes the player they paid for.

Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been enduring multiple injuries.

Clay Buchholz is returning from a back problem.

They don’t know who their closer is going to be.

More than anything else, the Red Sox 2012 season is going to be determined by how these holes are patched and filled.

But the manager’s office is taken care of and they’re indulging in an out-of-book experience in hiring Bobby Valentine.

And it’s a great move.

//

Damage Control and Billy Beane

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Athletics manager Bob Melvin convinced his friend Chili Davis to take the job as hitting coach—ESPN Story.

Melvin’s a good manager.

Davis is a respected hitting coach and man.

But, but…doesn’t this render obsolete a sacrosanct tenet of the Moneyball story?

In what world does the manager have any say whatsoever about anything?

Perhaps this is Billy Beane‘s attempt—in a geniusy sort of way—to prop his manager’s credibility and put forth the concept that he’s letting Melvin influence a hire to make it appear as if he’s not a middle-managing functionary and faceless automaton whose mandate is to carry out orders from the front office.

It could be a brilliantly devised diversionary tactic.

Or Moneyball could be a fantasy filled with exaggerations and outright lies designed to come to the conclusion that Beane is something other than what he is.

And what that is is an overhyped and slightly above-average GM who took great advantage of the onrush of fame that came his way for allowing Michael Lewis to document his strategies when they were working and for Lewis having the motivation and writing skill to frame them in such a way that they were salable to the masses.

It’s laughable how the media uses Beane’s supposed cleverness as a shield for everything; as the basis for a story that will accrue them webhits for the simple reason that Beane’s name is mentioned.

Just this past week it was said that Beane accompanied Athletics owner Lew Wolff to the meeting with Bud Selig regarding a potential A’s move to San Jose.

Yeah?

So?

What does Beane’s presence imply? Was the power of his big brain going to hypnotize Selig to ignore the viability of the Giants territorial rights just because Beane was there?

Peter Gammons later suggested that Beane might end up as the GM of the Dodgers once the sale of the team is completed.

Never mind that the Dodgers already have a competent GM in Ned Colletti and that MLB needs an industrial machete to hack through the jungle vines of legalities in selling the franchise and divvying up the bounty between everyone who has a claim on Frank McCourt’s litigious massacre—no one knows who’s going to own the team!! So how is it possible to speculate on whom the GM is going to be? If the great and powerful “Hollywood” buys the Dodgers, I guess Brad Pitt playing Beane is a possibility as GM, but not Beane himself.

There’s always an excuse with this guy and the media is more than willing to lap it up as if it’s gospel.

He fired Bob Geren because the attention being paid to his situation was a distraction to the team.

He accompanied Wolff because the stadium issue is influencing the team’s off-season planning.

He has options like the Dodgers.

Blah, blah, blah.

It’s the stuff of a damage control-centric public relations firm hired specifically to put their clients in the best possible light regardless of reality and circumstances.

Geren did a bad job as manager; had he been treated as Beane callously and subjectively did his prior managers, he would’ve been fired after his second year on the job.

Beane’s name falsely lends credence to any kind of endeavor for those who still believe the Moneyball myth, but his attendance at the meeting with Selig was window dressing to garner attention to the story. The Giants are fools if they relinquish their territorial rights.

Beane has no options. He wanted the Cubs job and his mininons were tossing his name into the ring with such paraphrased, between-the-lines inanities as, “Billy would listen and Lew wouldn’t stand in his way.”

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

He’s trapped with the Athletics. Because of the stadium problems, the foundation is laid for another housecleaning and rebuilding phase due to finances, thereby absolving Beane of all responsibility again. Before, when he dealt away his stars, it was because of some grand scheme he’d concocted along with the Ivy League-educated acolytes of his revolution; now he doesn’t have any money so he has to listen to offers on his stars.

It’s garbage.

The team is terrible; his genius was never genius at all; and the informercial-style opacity of his tale is coming clearer and clearer as an increasing number of observers open up the box and see that the gadgets don’t work.

Return the gadgets.

Ask for a refund.

Or stop purchasing them to begin with.

//

Tony LaRussa Was A True Innovator

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The easiest thing to do when examining a manager’s—or anyone’s—record is to look at the numbers.

Tony LaRussa‘s managerial numbers are up in the stratosphere of baseball history and will be there forever.

He managed for 33 years; made the playoffs 14 times; won 6 pennants; and 3 World Series.

He won 2728 games and had a .536 winning percentage.

But that doesn’t explain what it was he accomplished in baseball.

LaRussa was one of the true innovators, using data and in-depth scouting reports to adjust his lineups, fielder’s positions and pitching maneuvers according to what would best enable him to have an advantage and win the game. Before stats became so prevalent that laymen thought their utilization made them a baseball expert, LaRussa epitomized the best of both stat-based/detailed information decisionmaking and old-school baseball instincts.

Being a journeyman infielder who batted .199 in 203 career plate appearances in the big leagues and lasted for 15 years in the minors (he had a few good minor league seasons), he soaked up the knowledge that contributed to his innovations as a manager; his legal training (he graduated from law school) provided a linear method of thinking that he adapted to baseball; and he had the courage of his convictions.

There were no, “I’m doing this to keep my job” moves with LaRussa. Immediately upon getting the White Sox job, the likes of Billy Martin and Sparky Anderson—baseball lifers and great managers—noticed and were impressed with his fearlessness and attention to detail.

Blamed for the advent of the “bullpen roles” with the Athletics and Dennis Eckersley, that too was an example of coldblooded rationality rather than reinventing the game. In his early seasons managing the White Sox, LaRussa used his short relievers for multiple innings just as every other manager did; it was when he got to Oakland and the veteran former starter Eckersley was making the transition to the bullpen that LaRussa decided it was best to use him for only one inning at a time. He had the other relievers in his bullpen to do it and it worked.

No one told the rest of baseball that this new strategy was the template of how to run a club without deviation—that was never the point—they were copying while LaRussa was creating.

The stat people cling to the concept of a bullpen-by-committee. This can only succeed, in part, if there’s a manager who can’t be questioned if he decides to use it—the 2011 Cardinals used the closer-by-committee with eight different pitchers recording saves.

Planning hand-in-hand with his pitching coach/aide-de-camp Dave Duncan and his GMs Sandy Alderson, Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak to find players who fit into what he wanted to build, he rejuvenated and saved the careers of dozens of players. Without LaRussa and Duncan, there’s no Dave Stewart; Mike Moore would’ve been a “what might have been” disappointment; Chris Carpenter would’ve been a journeyman bust; and Eckersley would’ve been finished at 33.

Rightful in his indignation at his portrayal in Moneyball as a “middle-manager” who wasn’t supposed to have his opinions granted any weight, he won and won and won and did it under a budget—his Cardinals teams were generally in the top 10 in payroll, but never competed financially with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Moneyball became the bane of his existence long after its publication as his longtime Cardinals GM Jocketty was forced out as the club mitigated the power of both LaRussa and Duncan and tried to use numbers and baseball outsiders to save money and restructure the organizational philosophy. LaRussa rebelled. Competing in the big leagues is hard enough without having one’s experience and strategies questioned by outsiders who think that calculating a formula can replace 40 years of analytical observation and in-the-trenches baseball.

He fought back viciously and eventually won that organizational tug-of-war.

He didn’t have much patience for young players who didn’t catch on quickly; his doghouse was entrance only and his feuds with players like Scott Rolen bordered on the embarrassing; he could be condescending, thin-skinned and Machiavellian; he overmanaged in circumstances where he shouldn’t have; he was a skillful manipulator of organizational politics to maintain influence; and his teams didn’t win as much as they should have judging by their talent.

But when a team hired Tony LaRussa to manage, they would never be outworked and if he was given the players to compete, he’d get them to the playoffs. Sometimes he got them to the playoffs when he wasn’t given the players to compete.

In an interesting footnote, the championship teams—the 1989 Athletics; 2006 Cardinals; 2011 Cardinals—weren’t anywhere near as good as the teams that got bounced in the playoffs or shocked in the World Series. The 1988 and 1990 A’s were better than the 1989 team; the 2004-2005 Cardinals won a total of 205 games, but those teams didn’t take the title.

The 2006 club collapsed in September and nearly missed the playoffs; once they got in, they regained their footing and, carried by a journeyman starter Jeff Suppan and a rookie closer (who wasn’t a closer) Adam Wainwright, they were the underdogs in every post-season series and won them all.

In 2011, the Cardinals were all but finished in late August before getting a reprieve because they had a great September and due to the Braves falling apart. Seemingly overmatched by the mighty Phillies and the pitching-rich Brewers, the Cardinals took both out. Then, down to their last strike twice in the World Series to the superior Rangers, the Cardinals came back and won an unlikely championship.

I have to wonder whether LaRussa takes more pride in winning when he wasn’t supposed to win or wanted to win with the teams that were great in every conceivable metric other than taking home the World Series trophy.

One accomplishment lends itself to his managerial skill; the other to his ability to put a club together over a long year from the winter to the fall. Neither is more important than the other, but more credit is doled for winning when a team isn’t supposed to win.

LaRussa got away with the things he did because he won and in a circular occurrence, he won because he had the nerve to do things that other young managers might not have done. He didn’t do them to be quirky; he did them because he believed in them. As much as he tried to keep his thumb on everything in his world, he was a big picture, deep strike thinker who took risks for big rewards.

Not every manager can say that.

Most new managers are going to make calls that are safe; that can be explained to the media and meddling bosses; that will keep the players in their corner—but not LaRussa.

He was a rarity among mangers for that fervent adherence to his theories and the courage to implement them.

There won’t be another LaRussa not only because he won, but because of the way he won.

He went out on top and walked away from a lot of money.

There have been intermittent and idiotic caveats from know-nothings diminishing all he did in baseball.

They need to be ignored.

LaRussa deserves to be applauded for his dedication to the game and a career that won’t be surpassed in its duration and scope.

He’s one of the best managers in the history of baseball.

LaRussa’s retiring on his own terms and he’s going out as a World Series champion.

It fits the story of his managerial career perfectly.

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