July 26, 2014

This #Cardinals fan isn't totally happy about Tony La Russa in the #HOF

It sounds great, doesn't it?

Tony La Russa, third-winningest manager in history, owner of three World Series titles including two in St. Louis, goes in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Not only that, he enters just a couple of years after another Cardinals World Series winner, Whitey Herzog, and at the same time as the man who preceded him in St. Louis, Joe Torre.

But, not all is great. There's actually four different dark clouds of sorts over TLR's entry.

One I've written about a number of times in the last two years, and that is: What did La Russa now about players using performance enhancing drugs on his teams and when did he know it? (That's a question that also applies to Torre, of course.)

We're talking about the Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in Oakland, and McGwire again in St. Louis.

And, I simply don't believe TLR's claims of large amounts of ignorance.

That said, during the Oakland days, steroids were broadly legal to the general public, and permissible to players as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Unsavory, perhaps, but not illegal. By the time McGwire rejoined La Russa in St. Louis, it was a different story, though.

Second is the issue of alcohol.

La Russa himself got a DWI in St. Louis. Alcohol led to a fatality wreck for Josh Hancock. David Freese was among other Cardinals who have had alcohol problems. Even after his own DWI, La Russa wasn't very out front about alcohol abuse as an issue in the Cardinal dugout. He certainly wasn't before that.

Beyond that, TLR has two player management black marks.

One is Rick Ankiel; Will Leitch has a good piece on his travails. Yes, he might have turned into a wild pitch machine anyway, even without his surprise start in the National League Championship Series. His regular season rookie performance hinted at that. But that's part of why it was semi-criminal for La Russa not to let him be ready mentally.

Of course, in the bigger picture of Cardinal history, that pales next to La Russa's handling of one Osborne Earl Smith in 1998.

I think it's no secret that La Russa is even more of a "my guys" type manager than his successor, Mike Matheny, and that he likes veterans.

But, he inherited Ozzie from Joe Torre; the Wiz wasn't one of his veterans.

It's true that Ozzie had had a very poor 1997, largely due to injury. Since Ozzie wasn't considered godlike, unlike Derek Jeter, one can understand La Russa bringing in Royce Clayton.

One cannot rationally understand or accept La Russa stacking the deck for the shortstop competition in spring training against Ozzie. Even less can one understand or accept TLR sticking with Clayton even as Ozzie showed he was the better player.

Did La Russa bring innovative ideas to the diamond, like the pitcher batting eighth? Yes.

Was he as good of an on-field manager, overall, as some would like us to believe? Not in my book.

Between Oakland and St. Louis, he lost all three of the World Series where his team was the clear favorite. In fact, I think he got too nervous, and often coached his teams too "tightly" in postseason play, kind of like college basketball coach Roy Williams.

No comments: