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What in the hell was Tony La Russa thinking last night?

Aug 3, 2011, 8:25 AM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets Getty Images

The highlights from last night’s Cardinals-Brewers game are probably focusing on the Yadier Molina argument and ejection, but there was something far more interesting going on here.

Albert Pujols was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning. Runners were on first and third at the time, it was a close game and Pujols leads all of baseball in grounding into double plays.  Clearly in that situation Takashi Saito is not trying to throw at Pujols, right? Hell, even Tony La Russa said after the game that he didn’t think it was intentional.

Nevertheless, in the bottom of the inning La Russa had Jason Motte hit Ryan Braun. He admitted it too, saying after the game that he was “sending a message.” He stood on the top step of the dugout and watched it happen. He did it via two inside pitches and then the plunking.

Setting aside the fact that someone could get hurt, what in the hell was Tony La Russa thinking?  How do you, out of your silly sense of “sending a message” justice, put a leadoff hitter on base ahead of Prince Fielder in a tie game in a pennant race?  How does one’s fealty to the unwritten rules or playing the game the right way or whatever the hell La Russa cares most about trump the clear strategic decision not to put a key game at risk like that?

It ended up working out. Braun didn’t score. The Cardinals ended up winning.  But just because a good outcome was achieved doesn’t mean a good decision was made. And that was a monumentally stupid tactical decision by La Russa. A man purported to be the smartest guy in the room.

  1. Steve A - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    That’s the way it effin’ goes.

  2. ditto65 - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    Sadly, intelligence and sound decision making do not go hand in hand.

    • proudlycanadian - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:52 AM

      Senilty is setting in.

    • crefan - Aug 3, 2011 at 6:58 PM

      Especially when you pound down a quart of gin before a game ala Jimmy Dugan.

  3. fruitlandgenericcitizen - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    So, when does Tony get suspended? Buck Showalter got suspended when his pitcher didn’t even hit a batter/ Does Tony get a game or so, also?

    • FC - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:51 AM

      Not that I don’t agree with the sentiment, but I believe Buck and Weaver were suspended for intentionally throwing at a batter’s head, that’s a big big no-no in MLB. Plunking on the body though, even if intentional, doesn’t merit the same punishment for some odd reason.

      • kellyb9 - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:04 AM

        Yeah, but I thought there was an unspoken rule that says you don’t speak about it. He blatantly admitted to it…

      • FC - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:12 AM

        Yeah, but I thought there was an unspoken rule that says you don’t speak about it

        Wait, now I’m confused, I thought these were unwritten rules? Or are they unspoken? No wonder we can’t keep track of them.

    • bloodysock - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:27 AM

      That was a different situation. Warnings were issued to both benches in that game after prior plunkings and HBP in the two preceeding games on both sides. Showalter then ordered another plunking and he was tossed.

  4. Jonny 5 - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    If this man isn’t on the “nozzle” list, well it would be a flawed list then.

    This is why everyone thinks TLR is an _______. (You fill the blank in)

    • kopy - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:47 AM

      I had an idea, but then I noticed that you preceded the blank with “an” instead of “a”, so now I have to think harder.

      • Jonny 5 - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:06 AM

        That’s because I was being specific. Everyone has one, and everyone’s stinks. Besides mine. And I don’t mean “opinions”.

      • jimbo1949 - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:12 PM

        Some, like Dave Duncan, have two: his own and the one usually standing next to him.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:54 AM

      I disagree and as keeper of said list, it shall not be done until TLR does something that I find truly douchenozzle worthy. Driving drunk would do it, but that didn’t occur in 2011, which is one of the list’s many criteria.

  5. FC - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    If it’s not written it’s not a rule. Personally, I prefer to watch MLB without the little-league theatrics. Some people wax poetic about tradition and the unwritten rules of the game which resonates with me about as much as Joe Torre telling us to embrace the human element whenever umpires make ridiculous calls that are wrong within 3 seconds of watching a replay.

  6. Paul Zummo - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    A man purported to be the smartest guy in the room.

    Purported is the key word there.

    In a lot of way Tony Larussa has made the game of baseball worse, probably none more so than inventing the concept of the one inning closer. He’s basically a punk whose managed to bamboozle people into thinking he’s a baseball genius.

    • adenzeno - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:40 AM

      And enabling the steroid era

  7. kingjoe1 - Aug 3, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    LaRussa is just an A$$

  8. levistahl - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    I’m a LaRussa apologist most of the time–he drives me nuts and I wouldn’t want to work for him, but he wins and his guys tend to buy what he’s selling most of the time–but last night’s decision was complete lunacy. I still can’t quite believe that it didn’t cost them the game, which it sure looked for a few minutes like it was going to.

    Clearly I’m not a manly enough man to get what was going on in his head.

    • Jere Mc - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:41 AM

      Wins what?

  9. thefalcon123 - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    As my wife recently said, when I was trying to explain the bean ball wars and why pitchers hit batters when they feel they’ve been shown up: “Boy, baseball players the fragile ego’s, don’t they?”

    The fact is, LaRussa stopped making sense years ago. I think a lot of people confuse his talent with not entirely screwing up talented teams. I give the Cardinals 00-06 success far more to the GM for having a roster with Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen, Drew, Walker, Morris, Kile, Renteria, ect than LaRussa’s managment skills.

  10. umrguy42 - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    Actually, looking at the article linked below, was it concern that they’d been throwing in and at the hands of Pujols the last couple games?

    http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/cardinal-beat/article_3f536c3e-bd9b-11e0-8747-001a4bcf6878.html

    Not saying it’s not a thing, but still.

    • thefalcon123 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM

      Yeah, seriously…what do the Brewers think their doing? It’s almost like their throwing the ball in one his hands so he can’t get the barrel of the bat on it and make an out. They should really just throw the ball over the plate and let Albert get himself out. He’s not that good anyway.

      • umrguy42 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:13 AM

        Well, I’m not *excusing*, just answering the rhetorical question in the title – the St. Louis sportswriters (particularly Bernie Miklasz, check some of his tweets from last night, where I got this from: http://twitter.com/#!/miklasz ) point out that LaRussa has long had a problem with pitchers throwing high and in – including laying into his own pitchers for it.

      • thefalcon123 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:21 AM

        I know, it was just way to good to pass up.

        Also, my apologies for typing “their” instead of “they’re” in the line “It’s almost like their (sic) throwing…”. Seriously Hardballtalk comments section overlord, provide an edit function. What…do you expect me to proof read before I post things?

      • umrguy42 - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:13 AM

        No worries, falcon. I’d wanted to clarify my original post anyway.

  11. shawnuel - Aug 3, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    He was busy pondering his after-game, liquid refreshment choices.

  12. edpeters101 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    Some people think they are more important than the game; hint: They aren’t. Sports is changing, and it’s time to get rid of the “dead wood” that lingers around!

  13. cintiphil - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:24 AM

    Actually, this is what makes the game great. You people do not seem to remember the old days of baseball. The glory days where pitchers most of the time threw at the other teams to warn them not to throw at their guys. That what was understood. If you get too close to our star, then your guy gets it. Very simple and direct, but effective in the long run. I don’t care about the nonsense about Tony LaRussa and drinking and so on. He is a piker compared to some of the great of yesterday. Mickey Mantle comes to mind, but there were others. They came to the game souped up on booze.

    Today it is different, but it took some of the greatness out of the game. I didn’t see yesterday’s game, and don’t care either way. But in the old days, if a player complained to the ump that he was thrown at, the ump would usually answer, be sure to get out of the way, “you might get hurt”. In a way, that was part of the game.

    • The Common Man - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:00 AM

      So we’re clear, it took some of the greatness out of the game when players didn’t show up to the ballpark soused anymore, and when players were less likely to get Tony Conigliaro-ed? We should be sad that players are held to a higher standard of behavior and might play/live longer because they’re less likely to suffer a catastrophic injury? I find your ideas intriguing and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • cur68 - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:20 AM

      Dude, I grew up around drunks. I don’t want to watch any more of them. Watching some kid get his livelihood ended with a ball to the head or a bone damaged is not something I want to see either. I couldn’t disagree with you more. I do NOT miss the “old days”. Not even a little. La Russa should get a game or 2 for those moves and he deserves to have lost last night, too.

  14. caland13 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    TLR is a better than average manager, and has had very good success, in both leagues. He’s probably earned the right to manage however he wants, and well, at least he is consistent, even if it probably wasn’t the best time to do it. That being said, it sure did get the point across; I think everyone associated with the game was caught off guard, and hey, the Cards won…

    • The Common Man - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:04 AM

      He’s not consistent. As Brewers Bar points out here: http://thebrewersbar.com/2011-articles/august/a-short-history-of-tony-la-russas-complaints.html, he complains mightily when his own players get thrown at, but when his guys throw at other players he complains when they’re disciplined.

  15. metalhead65 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    there are unwritten rules and then there is when to use them. you throw ar rhe other team when it is obvious that they meant to hit your not just because he got hit. the only message that sends is you are a jerk who thinks he is above the game. once again Brandon Phillips was right about the cardinals.

  16. florida727 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Who exactly nominated Tony LaRussa for “smartest guy in the room” status? Maybe it was Tony LaRussa. Sure wasn’t anyone else with qualification to make such a statement.

  17. cosmoman11 - Aug 3, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    People in the game refer to Larussa as a genius. Nobody believes that more than he does. He probably costs the Cardinals 10 games a year because of his “smarter than the other guy” attitude.

  18. jlgroves1 - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    I’ve read three other articles from the this author either bashing the Cards (indirectly through LaRussa) or touting higher punishment for pitchers throwing at batters. Bottom line, if you stand in the batter’s box you have acknowledged that you may be hit anywhere on your body with an object travelling up to 102 mph and you have accepted that the risk of injury is small enough to warrant playing the game anyway. Intentional hits are a good way to keep teams or players in line. Yes, its dangerous, yes, it may seem barbaric to those of you who fear physical contact or want baseball to enter into some new era of non-contact, fuzzy, over-protected crap. The fact remains that baseball can be a dangerous sport and that adds to the excitement of watching and playing the game. I think that any manager who feels that one of his players has been targeted would send the same message back to the opposing team. TLR said that the pitch inside was intentional not the hit on Braun’s back. If Braun were a little more agile (as TLR probably thought he was being that he is an excellent player) he might have gotten out of the way and the message would have gotten across without putting him on base; that’s probably what the hell LaRussa was thinking.

    • The Common Man - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:19 AM

      That’s the stupidest argument I’ve yet to hear. If I drive on a road, should I accept the risk that a drunk driver is going to drive down the wrong side of the highway at 80 mph and slam into me? Isn’t that driver responsible for the decisions he made that led to my probably death or disfigurement?

      The same principle applies. Yes, there are risks to hitting. But those risks are dramatically increased when some a-hole manager orders his pitcher, or the pitcher decides on his own to deliberately throw at or around the head of a batter. That’s how careers and lives can be altered dramatically. It’s wronga nd it should stop.

      Stop apologizing for LaRussa, you absolutely blindly devotional acolyte. You’re so wrapped up in the cult of the Cardinals and LaRussa that you should shave your head and wear a white robe. Motte threw inside on the previous two pitches as well. The Cardinals were not going to stop until Braun was hit, regardless of how “agile” you think he should be.

      • jlgroves1 - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:57 AM

        In a word, yes, you do accept the risk, every time you step out of the house, that something bad will happen, its a matter of probability. Of course a person is responsible for their own actions but you are also responsible for assessing the risk of a given situation. I love that players are passionate enough about the game to argue a questionable call, or get aggressive on the mound or on the bases. The players and managers who do this make baseball fun to watch. I am a Cardinal Cultist, I will not argue that, but above all I am a BASEBALL fan. I love that Saito was passionate enough to challenge Albert at the plate, I love that players are still willing to clear the benches and support their teammates even if they dont necessarily agree with their friend. People sometimes get hurt, dont try to cultivate a crop of baseball wusses, accept that bad things can happen and man-up and play the game. Strategy is important but passion for the game is just as important. 40,000 people aren’t going to ballparks to watch a chess match, they want to see baseball.

      • The Common Man - Aug 3, 2011 at 12:41 PM

        “I love that players are passionate enough about the game to argue a questionable call, or get aggressive on the mound or on the bases. The players and managers who do this make baseball fun to watch.”

        If that’s what you want to see, you might as well watch professional wrestling. You get much more posturing and yelling and aggressiveness there than you’d ever get in a baseball game.

        If you’re interested in the danger of it all, we might as well get rid of batting helmets and catchers masks. Saying that pitchers should not be throwing at batters is not the same as saying they shouldn’t pitch inside, nor that players shouldn’t play the game hard. But they shouldn’t play the game trying to deliberately injure the other team.

  19. Nick C - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    I am a Cardinals fan who frequently disagrees with TLR. In fact, I think his in-game managing has been dreadful for the last 2 years. On this occasion though I think TLR is absolutely correct. The Brewers clearly decided to pitch Albert both IN and UP with FASTBALLS. That is dangerous. Albert was forced to duck out of the way of fastballs 3 times in 2 games. All of which would have hit his head if he hadn’t. Braun deserved to be hit. Fielder understood it. Bernie Miklasz sums it up well in this article:

    http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/article_305741b0-bdd7-11e0-9f48-001a4bcf6878.html

    I’m not saying the Brewers don’t have a right to pitch Pujols inside. All I’m saying is that if you are going to pitch IN and UP with fastballs and they get away from the pitcher to the point where they are sailing at players’ heads then you better be prepared for retaliation. I understand that Saito would not intentionally hit Pujols in that game situation. It is the PATTERN that is being retaliated against not the single instance.

    • The Common Man - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:37 AM

      I could get behind this argument, except for the fact that the Cardinals were deliberately trying to hit Braun. You want to pitch the Brewers inside all series, I’ve got no problem with that. I have a huge problem with headhunting.

      • Nick C - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:52 AM

        Headhunting implies going for the head. Braun was hit in the back. It is Pujols who’s had his head thrown at.

      • The Common Man - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:59 AM

        Again, I disagree with your interpretation of “thrown at”.

      • Nick C - Aug 3, 2011 at 12:12 PM

        The Brewers were deliberately throwing UP and IN. Continually throwing in that area will likely lead to a hitter getting hit in either the head or hand because most pitchers do not have enough control to avoid having one “get away.” 3 times in 2 games Pujols was forced to duck his HEAD out of the way of a fastball. The Brewers may not have been deliberately throwing at Pujols head but pitches sailing out of control at his head are the inevitable result of a pattern and strategy of pitching both IN and UP. If the pitchers cannot control their pitches enough then they should not be pitching UP there (I have no problem with IN) or they should accept that their hitters are going to get thrown at in retaliation when their pitches sail out of control in dangerous areas.

    • cintiphil - Aug 3, 2011 at 2:11 PM

      Well, cards fan, I have to agree with your points after reading Miklasz. it seems that there is more to the story (usually is) than first spoken. I didn’t know about the bad call on Monday night or the big argument with Molina. Miklasz makes sense, but of course the brewer fans do not agree. Yes, I agree that two pitches to hit a batter is too much also. But prince got it right with the press. We got the message, move on to Wed..

  20. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    Craig, you have now added mind reading to your skills. You say it makes no sense to throw at Pujols in that situation. Let’s see, you throw at Pujols and knock him out for the season and that hurts the Brewers how? Better still you end his career after all Albert isn’t going to be in a Brewer uniform in the foreseeable future.

    Craig, I’m guessing stopped practicing law because of arguments like this. Simply saying it makes no sense the defendant committed the crime doesn’t often win a jury over when the physical evidence says otherwise. Takashi Saito was throwing at Pujols head. Watch the video. If you believe the pitch just got away, can I interest you in a bridge that goes to Brooklyn. I can sell it to you for a song. It is all kinds of wrong to intentionally throw at a batter’s head as the Brewers did. The Brewers are under all kinds of pressure to make the playoffs this year. Getting rid of Pujols would help them reach that goal.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:49 AM

      So your argument is that it is more likely that Saito was trying injure or kill Albert Pujols than it was that the ball got away from him while he was trying to work inside?

      OK. You go with that. And then criticize me for making crazy assumptions.

    • Alex K - Aug 3, 2011 at 12:02 PM

      You think that pitch was thrown at Albert’s head? May I please have some of whatever you’re taking? The pitch clearly missed it’s spot, but that spot wasn’t anyone’s head.

  21. cintiphil - Aug 3, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    I am not a cards fan, and I say that the pitching can be used as a message on both sides. I did not see the game last night. However, it seems that reading the reports, the Brewers pitchers kept pitching Albert in until one of them plunked him on the wrist. Does that sound right? The only thing I can add is that if a pitcher does not know how to pitch inside without hitting a batter, then he should not pitch inside. Stay off the plate, or go into the dirt etc. I don’t know much about this pitcher, except we saw him in Cinti, and not too impressed. If the next cardinal pitcher wanted to send a message, then he might throw close to the next brewer batter. That is the game. I don’t know that anyone admitted throwing purposely at anyone. Today it is a no no to hit anyone on purpose. That is understood. You can look at the situation from both sides, but if I was a cardinal pitcher and some guy hit my star player who is just getting over an injury, I would throw at their star’s next batter and hope he gets out of the way. If not, message sent. That is the game and the way it should be played at this level. Of course I did not see the game, I am speaking about a general situation.

    • Alex K - Aug 3, 2011 at 12:05 PM

      They threw more than one pitch at Braun. They just missed with the first one.

      • Nick C - Aug 3, 2011 at 12:15 PM

        And the Brewers threw more than 1 pitch that “got away” up and in to Albert. I count 3 fastballs in 2 games that Albert was forced to duck his head to avoid being hit in the melon. Pitching in is ok. Pitching up and in is dangerous especially if you have crappy control.

      • cintiphil - Aug 3, 2011 at 1:15 PM

        Well, that may be an argument for saying he intentionally hit him. Then maybe he was trying to hit Braun. How many times did Saito come inside to Albert? Was he really trying to hit him, if he brushed him back two or three times? And, if he was aiming for his hand where he had a broken bone, was he trying to put him out for the year? Sounds like good ole fashion baseball to me. We don’t know the answers to any of this. It is fun to speculate. I wished I saw the game. I was watching Reds vs Astros.

  22. astrozac - Aug 3, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Hey, these guys don’t play for New York or Boston(yet anyway), so the MLB offices won’t care…
    I think LaRussa’s overmanaging leads to several losses throughout the year(playing percentages, not sacrificing over, the lefty/right matchup vs. whose hitting). Didn’t see the game til later innings, but seems like a dumb move to me.
    But, I wish they would stop the ejections and warning for hitting people, that’s more juvenile and controversy than the actual act and retaliations. Having said that though Carlos Guillen should have been/b plunked the next opportunity he gets by the Angels

  23. caland13 - Aug 3, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    A lot of pitches got away last night, even after the theatrics. it was 100 degrees out, and when pitchers sweat a lot, more pitches get up in the zone. And, people have been plunked in retaliation in this game for a long time, LaRussa didn’t just make this up. It’s not like they hit just anyone, they hit Pujols. In the hand. Up by his head. So, Braun got one in the back. This is only a story, really, if the Cards lose, because it probably wasn’t the best time to do it. Otherwise, that’s just baseball, Mang.

  24. mightywu - Aug 3, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    Good lord Calcaterra, you’re like 17 year old with the drama you displayed in this laughable piece.

    Get a grip man.

  25. mojosmagic - Aug 3, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    I am so sick of LaRuso and his inflated ego it isn’t even funny. Mr. Baseball thinks he is better then everyone else and in reality most of his stupid moves backfire.

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