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Tony La Russa wants intensity and grittiness. And maybe he has a point.

Jan 10, 2011, 9:15 AM EDT

La Russa closeup

Bernie Miklasz has a story about Tony La Russa and the Cardinals in the Post-Disptach today.  In it he talks about how some of the Cardinals’ moves — Lance Berkman in right field, letting Brendan Ryan go and replacing him with Ryan Theriot, etc. — may have the statheads going crazy, but that La Russa doesn’t care. He’s all about intensity and grinders and scrappers, you see, and whatever the latest conventional wisdom is on the part of the sabermetric community can go to hell.

Those of us who skew more toward the statty side of things may scoff, but La Russa has a message for us:

He constantly recurs to one intangible intensity … playing little ball, scrambling to manufacture runs, “looking for just 90 feet every once in a while,” La Russa says, energizes a team. It puts a team on the balls of its feet, ready to run. And that intensity carries over into its defense.

Oh, wait.  That’s not a quote from Miklasz’s article at all.  It’s from George Will’s Sports Illustrated profile of La Russa from 1990. A profile that, while far more expansive, has La Russa hitting all of the same notes.  That article was written as his Bash Brothers Athletics team was about to win 103 games and a third straight AL Pennant. Except they weren’t all bash. They were second in the league in stolen bases too, despite all that power.

I know some Cardinals fans who are worried about the 2011 season. I’d probably be a bit worried if I were them too.  But La Russa has always done it his way. He has always bucked expectations of others, often stubbornly so. And he has always won.  He’s probably entitled to a little benefit of the doubt by now.

  1. mangothefruit - Jan 10, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    Of course it helps that he’s almost always had HOFers and major superstars on his teams (Not to mention the odd juicer or two). You can be eccentric as you want as long as you keep letting those players play.

    • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 10, 2011 at 10:15 AM

      Yeah, isn’t amazing that good managers always seem to have good players.

    • Kevin S. - Jan 10, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      And when you don’t let them play, things go to hell. #freeColby

  2. yankeesfanlen - Jan 10, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    Intensity and Lance Berkman in the same thought? Must have checked it at the GWB.

  3. holliswatson - Jan 10, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    This post pretty well sums up my thoughts for the 2010 season. As a Cards fan, I’m nervous. As a La Russa fan, I still feel like he’s the man for the job, and I’m glad he’s back. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

  4. kander013 - Jan 10, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    For the love of God, please sign Nick Punto if La Russa wants scrappers. Gardy can drop off his little one at the airport too.

  5. apbaguy - Jan 10, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    I think “the odd juicer or two” understates the 1990 A’s significantly, but that’s in the past. Don’t forget LaRussa’s not-so-secret weapon: Dave Duncan. It helps when you can count on having solid pitching every year, no matter what names are on the backs of the uniforms.

    • paperlions - Jan 10, 2011 at 12:53 PM

      “the odd juicer or two” understates EVERY team of the 90s
      .
      I agree about Duncan. I have little doubt that he has been more instrumental in LaRussa managing winning teams than LaRussa has.

  6. thefalcon123 - Jan 10, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    What Tony LaRussa is really great at is pushing management to spend money. When they A’s stopped spending money, they started losing under LaRussa. This isn’t a knock against him, it’s actually a pretty amazing trait. Tony’s 2nd reason for success is Dave Duncan.

  7. randomdigits - Jan 10, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    You also read the same stuff in Will’s book Men at work. Of course Men at work also has La Russa talking about how he doesn’t drink…

  8. hackerjay - Jan 10, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    “They were second in the league in stolen bases too, despite all that power.”
    Rickey Henderson had 65 of the team’s 141 stolen bases. Any team Rickey was on was going to be near the top of the stolen base leaderboard.

  9. spudchukar - Jan 10, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    Not often do I hear you compliment La Russa Craig, so I know bias isn’t at play here. To be accurate La Russa/Duncan were among the first, and probably utilize some statistical analysis, like spray charts, pitching tendencies and hitting zones more than any other organization. So it would be unfair to classify them as anti-statistical. Their un-conventional philosophies are a combination multiple theories. They use stats as tools not gospel as they should.
    While the great player, great manager meme has some merit it should be noted that La Russa’s tenure in MLB has included stops in Oakland, Chicago (Sox), and St. Louis; not exactly known for their spendy ways. I find it pretty remarkable that he has enjoyed the success he has had, and to dismiss it as a result of overarching talent, or lucrative contracts is unfair. (cont.)

    • hackerjay - Jan 10, 2011 at 4:46 PM

      Oakland was always in the top third in team payroll while LaRussa was their manager, and they had the highest payroll in the league in 1991. The Cardinals have also been in the top third in salary ever since LaRussa has been there.
      I don’t think his success is 100% related to the teams he has been on, but he has almost never (I couldn’t find his White Sox data) managed a low payroll team.

      I do wonder though if LaRussa has too much power with the Cardinals nowadays. It seems like in the past his general managers have kept a lot of his crazier ideas in check. The new Cardinals guy kind of seems like a pushover to me though. I could be wrong, as I don’t follow the Cards all that closely, but that is the impression I’ve got.

      • spudchukar - Jan 10, 2011 at 7:41 PM

        OK, Hacker point take with the A’s. But it isn’t accurate that the Cards have been in the top 1/3 since his takeover. Top half would be accurate. They have ranked 13th and 11th recently, and have never been in the upper echelon. You could be correct about the current Cardinal GM, time will tell, but exactly who were the GM’s previously who kept him in check, and what exactly are his ideas that are crazy?

      • paperlions - Jan 10, 2011 at 8:22 PM

        Most years, the Cardinals have been in the top 5 of the NL in payroll, far outspending most teams in their division. The Cubs and Astros have spent as much at times, but the Cardinals are always among the leaders in non-NY/BOS/LA spending.
        .
        LaRussa is a typical manager. He wins with good players and he loses with bad ones….for the most part, he has done well when he has a loaded team, and the team flags badly when they lose a player or two. Duncan does more with less than LaRussa does.
        .
        Last year LaRussa sucked all of the life out of his own team by being a bad manager/leader and he blamed one or two players for all of it instead of accepting any blame himself for failing to adapt.
        .
        A smart manager wouldn’t regularly take the 3rd best hitter out of his lineup late in the game in a move that weakened both the offense and defense, which is exactly what he did every time he replaced Rasmus with Jay or Winn or Stav or whoever….then he’d move a RF over to play CF and put a horrible defender in RF. It does take talent to weaken so many aspects of your team in one fell swoop.

  10. spudchukar - Jan 10, 2011 at 3:12 PM

    It is even more amazing that one would diminish his accomplishments, by suggesting his success is primarily due to Dave Duncan. Kinda like saying Napolean was overrated as a military commander, and his triumphs were due to his great generals.
    I’m not always in full concert with La Russa, and I too have some real doubts about the upcoming season, Lohse?, Berkman’s defense?, closer?, Shumaker and the rival divisional acquisitions; but one thing I do know is that by the close of the 2011 season if we are not playoff bound it won’t be because of managerial decisions. More likely the result of cheap-assed ownership. La Russa will do as he has always done, make the most out of what he has.

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