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Lidge, La Russa

Is it weird that I don't blame the Dodgers? Usually I'm a little more vengeful toward teams that eliminate the Cardinals—though admittedly that was last the Hated Astros—and that's always thrown a wrench into my plan to be a traditional fan and root for God, Country, and National League in the postseason. But this time? Well, our bad, guys. (As I wrote this the Dodgers grounded into the end of an inning with the bases loaded, which might mean this whole postseason-disaster thing is catching. [Did the Cardinals get it from the 2006 Tigers?]) If it is related, in some way, I fear for Clayton Kershaw

So is Brad Lidge a hero again? If I have learned one thing from my hundred of simulated years as a GM in Baseball Mogul, it's this: I don't know anything about relievers. It's gotten to where I have begun making stupid, inside-baseball moves despite knowing, intellectually, that I am playing against a heartless, gritless computer; I'm always ready to trade a prospect or two for an Experienced Reliever who (more importantly) has been good for more than two years in a row, even if he's rated the same as my young, cost-controlled set-up man who keeps giving up home runs. 

Lidge looked fine tonight; same hard fastball, same almost-always-out-of-the-zone slider. I think in the end 2008 is going to be the season that looks like the blip—it's not that he got it back that year, just that his surprise home run drought masked the command and the extraordinary strikeout power he's lost from 2004, one of the great relief seasons of all time. He's not really a guy with an ERA of 7.21 either, but his perfect 2008 was in no way a return to form.

Right now La Russa Watch 2009 seems to be sliding back toward the status quo. I've said this a few times in the comments, but let me reiterate it here: I love Tony La Russa. If I were the GM of the Cardinals he would have to... I don't know, beat the crap out of my dog or something before I even considered the idea that somebody else could manage the team. And he wouldn't do that! 

I don't think Mozeliak is quite so gung ho about it, but I'm happy to hear that it's come down not to Dave Duncan's feelings or the organization's inexorable move toward the new guard but Tony La Russa's desire to keep managing. I realize, in the end, that managerial preference, past the surface things—in which La Russa is often infuriating—is subjective, but let me try to get deeper than that.

I like that I don't think Tony La Russa is stupid. Some managers—I'm not going to name names—have the same (or worse) half-cocked understanding of how runs are scored, but I can't see most of them working through it in their head; it's like received wisdom that white guys who make a lot of contact belong in the second spot, that good defensive catchers can't hit. In the end Tony makes some of the same mistakes his braindead counterparts go in for, but he does it after a process that seems to follow some rationale, some logic. The worst managers, in their post-gamers, make me concerned about the problem of Other Minds; with La Russa it is apparent from the start that there is some thoughtful, infuriating, relatively consistent consciousness behind his lineup cards and experiments. 

I've also gotten fond of his willingness to improvise over the years. Consider this: he's been managing for longer than any non-owner who ever lived, and just in the last two years we have had a converted reliever-for-life in the rotation, a converted outfielder-for-life at second base, and pitchers who hit eighth. He's not perfect, in that regard: he may have stuck with Joe Thurston at third for too long; he played Rick Ankiel, who, and I'm not saying but I'm just saying, did have an OPS+ of 120 in 650 plate appearances before last year; and once he's gotten good results out of an experiment (Wellemeyer?) he's loath to give up on it. But in 31 years he's not ossified yet; he's still making moves few other managers would make. 

Eventually the Cardinals will have to find another manager, and the longer La Russa lasts the weirder that change of organizational philosophy is going to get. But I don't see any reason, right now, to expedite matters.