Joe Strauss indicates that LaRussa's return is merely lacking a formal announcement at this point. After meeting with both Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak on a daily basis, both sides have had an opportunity to express their concerns about the season and the path of the organization. This whole process has been perplexing to me and reminds me of my favorite TV show House.
In Season 1, Edward Vogler (played by Chi McBride) donates a hefty sum of $100M to Princeton Plainsboro Hospital where Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) and Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) both work. For those of you who have never seen the show, House is a crotchety, old grump addicted to painkillers and possibly the best diagnostician around. Cuddy, is nominally his boss as hospital administrator, though House's antics and tendency for illegal behavior are difficult to reign in.
So, Vogler donates this huge sum of money and begins to become involved in the hospital's daily workings to help the hospital turn a profit. Vogler is portrayed as a hostile, ruthless CEO even as most of his requests to House are very petty. When House refuses to comply with the minor requests, Vogler tells him he has to fire one of his staff. Cuddy reluctantly sides with Vogler and instructs House to follow through with the order.
After receiving his ultimatum, House dithers. This frustrates Vogler to no end but Cuddy is unsure of what to do given her largely ineffectual record of reigning in House. Eventually, House decides that he'll cut both his own and his staff's pay by 17% in order to save everyone at the expense of one person's equivalent salary. Vogler finds this unpalatable because the truth is, it was never about firing someone; it was always about finding out whether House was capable of listening and if Cuddy was capable of making him do as instructed.
Obviously, John Mozeliak's hips have never looked better in a metaphor. The unsavory implications of season 7's storyline aside, I find the Cuddy-House dynamic similar to the Mozeliak-La Russa one (to the extent that we can know that dynamic at all). Tony, the ill-tempered, temperamental genius, is asked to get along better with the statistical analysis movement within the organization. He digs his heels in harder and becomes more entrenched in old ways. Mozeliak finds himself largely ineffectual at forcing Tony's hand in certain matters.
I'm sure there are flaws in this comparison -- Bill DeWitt as Vogler is problematic given the rosy relationship with Tony; this team certainly needs a Vogler in it though -- and the degree that you like the metaphor is dependent on how you view some of the past events related to the team. Do you think trading Ryan Ludwick was an attempt to force Tony to play Colby Rasmus that turned out to be largely ineffectual? Then you'll probably agree with what I've written above.
The truth is that the manager-general manager-owner dynamic is probably far less witty and Vicodin driven than a serialized, scripted medical drama. (But, on the off chance that the team has a version of Cameron, I'd love to meet her.) It's not as simple as pointing fingers at either side and blaming them for everything or even anything. It's a complicated relationship that's difficult to parse. As I read Bernie Miklasz's column from earlier in the week, I still found several poignant points:
Maybe La Russa is just tired, worn out.
As he approaches the downhill run on his second decade of coaching the Cardinals, this seems like a valid question. The last time La Russa accepted a multi-year deal, he acknowledged that it was somewhat farcical since, at the end of the first season in that two year deal, he went through the same decision making process about whether to return. Signing a multi-year deal for a man who has been around this long and accomplished most of his goals in the industry isn't going to keep him around once he decides to hand up his ball cap. I don't begrudge La Russa being tired but I do begrudge continued managing if that's how he feels.
Perhaps La Russa has been asked to make changes that he doesn't want to make. Perhaps team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak have requested a freshening of La Russa's coaching staff. TLR is a loyal man. And he wouldn't want to easily relinquish the authority over his staff.
This seems like the most prophetic non-prediction in Miklasz's writing. The Cardinals floundered their way to an 86-76 record in a way that was completely uninspiring. A shakeup seems inevitable as does La Russa's reluctance to do so.
The terrain seemingly improved for La Russa when Mozeliak restructured Jeff Luhnow's duties and took control of the minor-league operation away from Luhnow. But I doubt La Russa enjoys having Luhnow's "prospects" wedged onto the roster, perhaps against his wishes.
I recall skepticism about the organization schism that has ensued from Luhnow's hire when it first started to make it's way into the media. Now, some 3 years later, we're still talking about that same schism. On some level, there is a fundamental difference of opinion on prospects and the way to train them and mix them on a roster. This is probably never going to go away until Tony La Russa hangs up his hat or Jeff Luhnow changes organizations. But, after four years of this, I find it doubtful that this is a sticking point for La Russa.
So La Russa's return seems both inevitable and imminent.As much as I at times dislike the ego and personality that I perceive, La Russa as a manager is palatable if uninspiring to an increasingly critical fanbase. He'll be a familiar face to gripe at with familiar bad decisions. He'll continue to frustrate me with his decisions to leave his starting catcher in too long, or call on hitters like Nick Stavinoha or sub out critical players in close games. The implications for the roster are intriguing and a post unto it's own. (Needless to say, I think trading Colby Rasmus would almost certainly be a mistake though without knowing an actual trade, I'll leave that opinion open to revision.)
So the intrigue now becomes whether the coaching staff will return. How will the Cardinals address the perceived lack of fundamental play in 2010? What does La Russa's return mean for prospects like Bryan Anderson or players like Colby Rasmus? How about Aaron Miles and Nick Stavinoha? Will we see changes to the minor league staff? Will Jose Oquendo manage his own club next year?
We may nearly have our 2011 manager, but we've hardly answered all of 2010's lingering questions.