Tony La Russa’s Overmanaging Is Only Genius When His Tactics Work

Tony La Russa's Overmanaging Is Only Genius When His Tactics WorkThank goodness baseball has Tony La Russa around to police things. If it weren’t for him, we’d never know about the buggy bullpen phones in Texas or the slightly brighter lights in Milwaukee when the road team is batting. Without La Russa to bring attention to them, all these things that don’t affect every other team in the major leagues would go unnoticed.

Nobody loves to manage as much as La Russa. Or should that be nobody has to manage as much as La Russa? In his 33rd season as a manager, La Russa has two World Series titles and is working on a third, but winning isn’t what La Russa will be remembered for.

La Russa is the man who used five pitchers to throw nine pitches. He’s the man who invented the modern definition of a “closer” as a one-inning specialist. He’s the tinkerer who rearranged his pitching staff to use his situational arms at the beginning of the game and brought in his “starters” in the middle innings.

This is a manager whose first priority upon arriving at the ballpark should be to make sure the phone from the dugout to the bullpen is in perfect working order, because he’s going to use it a lot.

Yet a busted phone — or excessive crowd noise or “the moon … in the phase of Aquarius,” as Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci put it — is apparently to blame for La Russa’s haphazard use of his bullpen in the eighth inning. A pitcher La Russa says he wanted to warm up never warmed up, a pitcher La Russa had said was unavailable came in to throw four intentional balls, and a shutdown right-hander issued an intentional walk to the opposition’s most dangerous right-handed hitter.

If Ron Washington, the guy calling the shots in the other dugout, had done this, it would be the end of days. La Russa’s daughter probably would un-apologize for her “crackhead” tweet (Washington has admitted to doing drugs). Nolan Ryan might give Washington the Robin Ventura treatment. The news articles would fawn over La Russa’s genius and how out of his league Washington is.

La Russa’s getting raked over the coals as it is. But if he brings in Marc Rzepczynski in just the right situation in Game 6 or 7 to get a key out, or if he calls for a hit-and-run at the right time, he’ll be right back in the “genius” category.

This is why, most of the time, it’s laughable to attribute a win or a loss to a manager’s decisions, and La Russa’s supposedly embarrassing Game 5 was the latest example. Washington, hailed as the idiot who out-managed the savant, called for an unheard-of four intentional walks on Monday. If Adrian Beltre, David Murphy and Mike Napoli hadn’t delivered big hits for the Rangers, the headlines might be about Washington adding too many baserunners and placing excess pressure on C.J. Wilson and the rest of his pitchers.

This is worth remembering if and when the tide turns and one of La Russa’s drastic decisions pays off. One day, La Russa is called a genius. The next day, he’s called a fool. He’s neither. He’s just a manager whose wisdom is left up to whether his players perform in the situations he gives them.

Oh yeah, and ask the fans to quiet down when he’s on the bullpen phone.

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