i turned the corner on tony in 2002, when daryl kile died and la russa held the team together and damn near got them to the world series. one of the greatest managerial performances in history. he did honor to kile's death and the grief shared by players and fans, while simultaneously doing honor to the game. the cards still played hard. they still focused. they still played like it mattered, though baseball must have seemed less than meaningless. and i give la russa all the credit for that. up to that point i had judged him a sloppy problem solver, partic by comparison to the white rat. but after 2002 i see him differently. he's still going make decisions i don't understand, still going to manage more defensively than i'd like. but i just let that stuff slide now; i accept that he's tony, not whitey.
the eras they played in are so disparate that some comparisons are kind of meaningless. for example: in his 10 years as mgr, whitey essentially had one shortstop and one centerfielder (ozzie willie), two catchers (porter pena), two 2dbasemen (herr oquendo), two lfs (lsmith coleman), two 3dbasemen (obie terry), and two closers (sutter worrell). la russa is already on his 3d ss (clayton edgar eck) and 6th 2b (alicea deshields mcewing vina womack grudz), 4th 3b (gaetti tatis polanco rolen), 5th catcher (pags, defelice, marrero, matheney, molina), 5th closer (eck'sly, brantley, bottl'co, veres, izzy . . . . that has to do with diff'nces in the game, not the managers, but those diff'nces color almost anything we might say about them.
not to be deterred, i've rooted around in the numbers looking for patterns to characterize these guys . . . . and frankly haven't found much to hang my hat on. i think the main diff'nces are subjective/qualitative and already well covered elsewhere. but rather than pitch the research, i'll share it; here are a few patterns i did notice.
herzog trusted young pitchers; la russa doesn't. this isn't news; it's probably card nation's biggest frustration with la russa. herzog allotted 36 percent of the cardinals' starts to pitchers 25 years old or younger; la russa has done about half that, 20 percent. and as often as not, tlr turned to young pitchers only after exhausting all other options -- guys like dan haren, manny aybar, jose jimenez. the only three young pitchers he has ever had confidence in were alan benes, matt morris, and rick ankiel -- leaving morris as the only starting pitcher the cardinals have successfully developed under la russa / duncan. when he has won, he was won with veteran pitchers.
whitey won with kids and showed tremendous faith in them. in the '82 Series he sent a rookie pitcher, john stuper, to the mound for two critical games -- #2, where a loss would have put st louis down 0-2 heading to milwaukee -- and #6, where a loss would have ended the series. the cards won both games, with stuper tossing a cg four-hitter in game 6. in 1985 he entrusted the last three outs of game 6 to todd worrell, who had all of 22 innings of big league experience -- and with better luck and defensive support worrell would have closed the deal. and in 1987 he sent rookie joe magrane to the mound for game 7. you look back and you wonder how whitey got so much mileage out of such ordinary pitchers. not a single one of the guys he broke in -- lapoint, stuper, greg mathews, cox, kepshire, magrane -- was worth a damn when they left the cardinals. busch stadium gets some of the credit -- great pitcher's park in those days. and the cardinals' defense gets credit too -- turned a lot of hits into outs. but i think herzog made a difference, by giving those kid pitchers the guts to throw their unimposing stuff over the plate. he knew the ballpark and the defense would take care of the rest, as long as his pitchers would throw strikes. he made them seem better than they really were; whitey spoiled us that way.
herzog had a fetish for lefthanders. he gave 33 percent of his starts to lhps; la russa has given only 19 percent. may just be a random thing, attributable to which players were available in trades at what time; but i do seem to recall that herzog would fast-track a horton, a mathews, a lapoint just to get a left-handed arm into his rotation. . . . don't really think this is significant, but still a striking difference betw the two eras.
herzog liked youth. again, duh. it is kind of fun, though, to put their respective age breakdowns side-by-side:
|La Russa 96-05
|La Russa 96-05
if they made biopics, whitey would be played by brian denehy. la russa would be played by alan alda.