God Bless Tony La Russa

I never thought I’d say that. He’s a holier-than-thou, I’m-smarter-than-you kind of guy that rubs everyone the wrong way. But this new crusade of his against sabermetrics and his never-ending quest to stand in the way of his own team’s success, I’m hoping he’s around for years to come. From Bernie Miklasz’s column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today:

In St. Louis the experiment is actually retro: the attempted return to the way things used to be, the way things TLR believes they ought to be as long as he’s the manager.

You want the Cardinals to be a sabermetric-based creation? Well, you better SABR La Russa down to the ground, ’cause it’ll happen over his dead body. You want defense and a high OBP? Well, La Russa wants ballplayers who hustle and scuffle and rip the knees on their uniform pants. He wants a team of no-retreat, no-surrender players. In other words: Skip Schumaker. And TLR will always invest in Skip’s heart.

And his .265/.328/.338 line in 2010 after his BABIP finally regressed. That .299 wOBA did a lot of good last season.

The Cardinals are planting Berkman in the outfield because they need to get his bat into the lineup, but there’s more to it than that. La Russa is a fan because Berkman is smart, and he is tough guy, and he will win many of those stubborn standoffs with pitchers. Berkman desperately wants to win and prove that he’s still got game. And La Russa sincerely believes Berkman will raise the Cardinals’ level of professionalism.

That .248/.368/.413 line in a down year helps, too. But nope, it’s his gritty veteran leadership that will lead to his success. Mind you, this is the same guy the New York press was crushing for months for not being competitive enough for New York. Both sides are equally stupid in this regard.

Now, most people think this is crazy, this notion of Berkman chop-stepping gingerly in pursuit of out-of-reach gappers. But not La Russa; he is confident Berkman will prevail over age and odds and the critics because of his love of the game, his personal pride and a dogged determination to reach baseball VIP status again.

True Grit is really about Lance Berkman.

What about the removal of shortstop Brendan Ryan, star of “The Fielding Bible” method of evaluating defense? Well, La Russa wants a more serious competitor who will push himself and his teammates, and be left sickened and stewing over losses.

Don Tony wants his team to be as tightly wound as he is. Every loss is the end of the world, and if you aren’t thinking “dear God, please don’t let me screw this up” every time the ball is hit to you, you have no place on his team.

And if Theriot won’t get to as many ground balls as Brendan Ryan? Well, didn’t the critics say that about David Eckstein when the Cardinals signed him off the reject pile in 2005? Eckstein played much better than most expected and won the 2006 World Series MVP award.

Flawless logic. For all the complaining I’ve done about Yuniesky Betancourt, he’s bound to hit like Alex Rodriguez this year.

So, yeah, the rest of us can take our Wins Above Replacement and Equivalent Average and come up with formulas. But just give La Russa 25 players with a sharpened competitive edge who want to win more than the 25 on the other side. And he’ll happily go into 162 games with that.

And lose 80 of them. Here’s to hoping for a fun division race between the Brewers and Reds, because if La Russa gets his way, the Cards will be an afterthought.

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