Good morning, all. (Well, barely morning, but still.)
Due to a confluence of circumstances which is only mostly my fault, I find myself without the time to compose a proper posting today. With all possible apologies, I am forced to offer you all just a short story about the end of the Tony La Russa era.
I was in my automobile two nights ago, flipping through the radio stations, and I stopped on the local ESPN affiliate, the one on the FM dial. I won't point out specifically who was hosting the show in question, but if anyone really cares I'm sure they could figure it out.
The host was taking calls and texts and the like from people on what they would remember most about Tony La Russa and his time in St. Louis. Most talked about the wins, or the titles. Or the half-dozen pitching changes to make it through a single inning in a 5-2 win against Pittsburgh in June. Or any of a number of other things that come immediately to mind.
But then, while reading another text, the host gave somewhat of a speech. He said (paraphrasing), "Okay, guys, I mean, I'm not opposed to having fun, and this is obviously kind of a joking one, but I'm looking for more serious discussion tonight." He then read the brief text sent in by some anonymous sports talk radio fan.
The text read, "I'll remember Tony batting the pitcher eighth."
The host continued with his brief sermon. "I know you're just having some fun, and it's tongue-in-cheek, but there are so many things to remember about the La Russa era; why go and focus on one of the things that just didn't work?"
What I was struck by wasn't the subject of the text specifically, but by how dismissive both the text and, especially, the host's reaction to it was. Haha, funny crazy manager used to hit the pitcher eighth, isn't that funny? But, seriously folks, he did a bunch of stuff that wasn't dumb too.
I'm sure by now you can see where I'm going with this. Both the texter and the professional radio host, paid to study and discuss sports, were dismissing out of hand one of the smarter things Tony La Russa ever did. Of all the managers in baseball, Tony was essentially the only one with the imagination to look at the lineup and see a wheel instead of a line. We have all the evidence in the world hitting the pitcher eighth is, in fact, a smarter arrangement, no matter how many times that moron Horton complains about it ending a rally prematurely. The only dumb thing about La Russa hitting the pitcher eighth, in fact, was that he didn't always do it. He only did it when he felt a lineup would need help scoring runs, he often said, seemingly oblivious to the fact every team always needs to score more runs. Tony had the rare insight to understand there was an advantage to be had, but his own internal calculus told him not to exploit it all the time.
It may be the best metaphor I can think of for La Russa's career. Smart enough to spot an advantage, but not smart enough to do the simple thing and use that advantage.
And as for the laughing jackass sending the text, or the host lionizing Tony without actually having the slightest idea of why he should or shouldn't be doing so, I suppose both of them have their place in the legacy as well.
Forgive me, but that's really all I have time for. There's plenty still on the plate, from replacement managers to life with or without Albert to a thousand other things. So discuss amongst yourselves, and I'll see you all again next Wednesday, hopefully with something more substantial in hand.