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April 28, 2011

Span and Sain and Pray for Rain

Spy vs. Spy

by Emma Span

Compared to football, or even basketball, “manager-vs.-manager” is rarely part of the hype surrounding a baseball game. There’s not really a personality-clash equivalent of, say, Bill Belichick’s team going up against Rex Ryan's, at least not these days. There are plenty of baseball managers who are still characters—hi, Ozzie!—but relatively few who really impose their personality or style on a team in a dramatic, Billy Martin sort of way. Some run more than others, some leave pitchers in longer than others—but ultimately, over the course of a season, a manager is usually not a huge factor in a team’s success or failure.

I started thinking about this last week, when two very different dugout fixtures went up against each other more directly than is typical these days. Last Friday night, the Reds were paying the Cardinals, and with rain predicted, La Russa decided to sit scheduled starter Kyle McClellan and start the game with reliever Miguel Batista. Dusty Baker, meanwhile, had Edinson Volquez warmed up and ready to go before a two-hour pregame rain delay hit, after which he instead stuck Matt Maloney in the game. The Cardinals went on to win, 4-2.

(In an odd little footnote, Volquez was officially credited with a game played, since he was in the starting lineup, even though he didn’t throw a pitch in the actual game).

It was a nice bit of maneuvering, or outmaneuvering, from La Russa. Baker was not happy:

"The information that we received was probably not the same information they received,” he said, “or else we wouldn't have started [Volquez] in the first place. We were told there was going to be a window of opportunity there. That window lasted about three minutes."

And:

“The umpires evidently didn't get the same [forecast] that the Cardinals got, I guess, because they wouldn't have started that game if they thought it was going to rain that soon," Baker said. "No way they would have started that game.

"To me, it made them look bad unnecessarily. Most people blame the umpires, they don't blame the Cardinals," he said.

I have no reason to think that La Russa or the Cardinals concealed anything from either Baker or the Cardinals, but even if they did, more power to them. It’s a long season and you have to take your advantages where you can find them.

Dusty Baker has been managing for 18 years now, La Russa for 34, and both played before that—Baker significantly better than La Russa, who was a defense-first infielder, the time-honored way of saying someone can’t hit (career OPS+: 56; VORP: -2.9). I can’t remember a baseball landscape without either of them, and for the last eight years in the NL Central they’ve gone head-to-head more often. Maybe it’s about time we got a good manager rivalry going again. I know Brandon Phillips will be happy to help.

I have never liked Tony La Russa. I’m not sure how that started, because I probably should—he’s a smart guy who’s always looking for an edge and willing to experiment, which is more than can be said for most big league managers. I’m not sure I’d bat a pitcher 8th, but I respect that La Russa will at least explore an interesting idea when given the chance. And yet I’ve never had warm feelings for the man. You could chalk it up to the particularly egregious DUI, or his jerkiness with reporters while I was covering the 2006 NLCS (and in general), or his counterproductive attacks on Scott Rolen and a post-concussion Jim Edmonds, or his appearance at a Glenn Beck rally, or his utterly self-defeating distaste for Colby Rasmus … but the truth is my dislike for him must predate all of those things—because I remember taking each of them, perhaps unfairly, as confirmation of my opinion. La Russa seems like a guy whose brain is undercut by a lack of interpersonal skills. Perhaps my favorite thing about him is this photo:

I’m not sure it’s fair to say that Dusty Baker is the opposite, but he’s certainly got a drastically different style. He backs up his players, almost never criticizes them in public, and is less prone to elaborate strategizing. He has repeatedly complained about players “clogging up the bases,” a phrase sure to make any BP reader wince and shudder. He plays the game by old-school conventional wisdom, or at least his perception of such… which has sometimes led to him overextending pitchers by currentconventional wisdom. Whereas La Russa changes pitchers like Jose Canseco changes money-making schemes.

At least, that’s the perception: La Russa the overmanager, Baker the more stolid type. When I looked to see which teams had the most single-at bats by hitters in a game, I expected La Russa to be at the top of the list. And his teams are indeed featured twice in the top 10, and four times in the top fifteen—but you know who’s number one? Dusty Baker’s 2004 Giants. Go figure. If Dusty Baker is an overmanager, at least he’s more low-key about it.

On the list of baseball managers I would most like to have a beer with, Baker is not at the the top, but he’s certainly closer than La Russa, who would probably come in near the bottom, somewhere near Eric Wedge. (Clustered at the top of that list, in no particular order, are Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, Manny Acta, Ron Gardenhire, and Ozzie Guillen. Every day I thank the Baseball Gods for giving us Guillen and fervently pray for his continued employment in the game; managerial talent aside, to a baseball writer he is worth a dozen Dusty Bakers.)

The Reds and Cardinals next play Friday, May 13th, and I’ll definitely be tuning in for that one and paying more attention than usual to the fellas in the dugout. A good managerial rivalry is great for both strategic analysis and good old-fashioned soap-opera drama. I don’t know whether or not to hope for a rain delay.

Emma Span is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Emma's other articles. You can contact Emma by clicking here

Related Content:  Rain Delay,  Scott Baker,  The Clash,  The Who,  Dusty Baker

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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BillJohnson

Lost in all this entertainment is any analysis of exactly what happened in that game, and I think that's unfortunate, Emma. There was stuff going on there on the field (or at least in the dugouts and bullpens) that was worth a more searching analysis than you gave it.

For starters: One thing that I have not seen mentioned by any writers is that there was a fundamental difference between the guy that TLR was going to run out there after the rain and the one that Baker got snookered out of using (to his discredit, IMO, but that's a different story). Kyle McClellan had been a reliever his whole career until this year, and presumably had developed warm-up habits consistent with being brought in on short notice. Edinson Volquez, a career-long starter, presumably was accustomed to taking half the day to get ready to start if he needed to. The resulting tactical advantage in a rain-delay situation that TLR had seems clear to me, and if I can see it, it should be glaringly obvious to a life-long baseball man.

So did Dusty just miss it, or what? I'd be much more interested in a thoughtful exploration of the "just what was going on there?" question than obsessing over which manager is more likable.

Apr 28, 2011 06:23 AM
rating: -3
 
ackbar

I would suspect that Ms. Span's narrative is probably more interesting -- and harder to find -- than analysis of the particulars of a game that happened last week.

Apr 28, 2011 18:43 PM
rating: 2
 
dcarroll

The Giants manager in 2004 was Felipe Alou, not Dusty Baker. But I do agree with your assessment of Tony LaRussa.

Apr 28, 2011 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
sykojohnny
(225)
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Who is Span? Is that Warren?

Apr 28, 2011 08:11 AM
rating: -4
 
prs130

I'm hoping that Guillen gets fired... so that somebody from the NL can hire him.

Apr 28, 2011 08:46 AM
rating: 1
 
Tarakas

It is also worth noting that this game wore down the Reds' bullpen on the first of a 3-game series, which could have given the Cardinals an advantage in the next two games in the series.

Apr 28, 2011 08:51 AM
rating: 0
 
stevebro

This is the first time I have read your work Ms. Span and I enjoyed the article.
I have the same feelings toward both these guys. I've never really liked La Russa and I'm not completely sure why. My addition to your very acceptable list of possible reasons is his blind--and obviously misplaced--support for McGuire. This in the face of his willingness to throw other players under the bus. Rasmus is a good example.
And I feel the same as you do about Baker. I'm always afraid that he is going to be "out managed" at the in-game part of his job, but what a nice guy. Here's my Dusty story: As a teenager, I was a huge fan of the Dodgers during the time Baker played there. I went to the '78 World Series games at Yankee Stadium. We sat way upstairs, but during batting practice we were allowed down on the field level. We were down the left field line while the Dodgers took BP and warmed up. Dusty was in LF. The Yankee fans were being their usual, obnoxious, selves. Heeping all kinds of abuse on any Dodger who wandered into range. Baker came to the rail with smiles for all. He signed autographs and talked to the fans for 5 minutes while other fans continued to abuse him. He never stopped smiling. (Later, when the Yankees came out to warm up, no player would go anywhere near the rail or the fans). Always had a spot in my heart for Dusty because of that.

Apr 28, 2011 09:26 AM
rating: 2
 
tmangell

Emma, I think you missed some important parts of the TLR/Dusty rivalry. When Baker was the Cubs manager, the rivalry really began - I don't think the two managers liked each other then. Now, with Dusty working for TLR's old boss Jocketty and the Reds arguably a better team than the Redbirds, there's even more of a rivalry now.

One other note (full disclosure - I'm a Cardinals fan living in Chicago for the past 18 years): Dusty seems much more approachable/less testy with the local and national media than LaRussa, and I think that the media casts TLR in a much less favorable light due to his prickly personality, even though he does have some redeeming qualities, including his advocacy for treatment of animals. He's not seen as likable compared to Baker for that reason, IMHO. The Cincinnati, St. Louis or Chicago media aren't as demanding as the NY or Philly beat writers, columnists, etc., so both managers have it easier than Girardi, Collins, or Manuel.

Apr 28, 2011 09:40 AM
rating: 0
 
Tarakas

I'm a Cardinals fan. Larussa has strengths, and he has weaknesses (and he is hard to evaluate without also including his constant sidekick Dave Duncan, who is a vital and inextricable part of Larussa as manager).

But Larussa is not likable as a manager. During the season, even his family (famously) does not wish to be around him. He is an angry, intense, brooding presence as a manager who will brook no one around him who is not equally brooding and intense (sorry Rasmus, Ryan, Drew, et al). He can treat injured players as beneath contempt, as if anyone conscious should be out doing their best (no matter how limited to injury) to win. Baseball gams are not for him enjoyable or entertainment. The press and fans are necessary evils.

He has been an odd fit for St. Louis, as their previous long time great manager, Whitey, is such a strong contrast to him.

Apr 28, 2011 09:54 AM
rating: 4
 
gophils

"I have never liked Tony La Russa. I’m not sure how that started, because I probably should—he’s a smart guy who’s always looking for an edge and willing to experiment, which is more than can be said for most big league managers. "

One good reason to dislike Tony La Russa is that he has a history of DUI (as does the Cardinals organization).

Apr 28, 2011 09:58 AM
rating: -3
 
Joe

Ok, enough. I'm as hard as anybody on DUI/DWI (as a college student, I helped found a university-wide, student-run designated driver program). But La Russa does not have a "history" of DUI. He had ONE DUI more than four years ago.

Obviously, one is one too many. But one such arrest certainly (sadly) doesn't make him some outside-the-mainstream bad egg, whether compared to those in professional sports or in the population at large.

Apr 28, 2011 15:17 PM
rating: 8
 
Zach Nadel

Believe LaRussa was an infielder, not a catcher.

Apr 28, 2011 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

That is correct. Fixed, writer cautioned not to drink and type, another lesson we can all learn from Tony, sort of.

Apr 28, 2011 11:13 AM
 
Emma Span

Thanks, Zack, you are quite right. Not sure why I was thinking he was a catcher. Other than the fact that he couldn't hit a lick...

Apr 28, 2011 11:23 AM
rating: 0
 
oneilljm

I am unsure if it is the responsibility of the home team to provide the umpires and the opposing team with weather data. If it is, and if the Cardinals withheld data (lie of omission), or manipulated the data (overt lie), I think that is a problem. If they simply did a better job of interpreting the data, then good for them.

"I have no reason to think that La Russa or the Cardinals concealed anything from either Baker or the Cardinals, but even if they did, more power to them. It’s a long season and you have to take your advantages where you can find them."

I am a bit disappointed that you think it is commendable to be deceitful in dispensing information that is to be provided to the umpires and the opposing team (again, assuming it is their responsibility).

Apr 28, 2011 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Tarakas

There is plenty of easily accessible great weather information out there. I can't believe the Reds would rely on the Cardinals for this.

Apr 28, 2011 12:01 PM
rating: 4
 
frojackson

As a graduate student studying meteorology speaking from experience (at least in a classroom setting), you would be surprised how difficult it is for some people to use and interpret some weather data. Then again, how do they not have someone at least googling for weather information?

Apr 28, 2011 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
mdupske

25 baseball players and none of them have an app on their phones for weather? When I first heard this it was ridiculous hearing Baker complain. Even if it is the home team's responsibility, get your own information. I would have thought seeing Miguel Batista warm up for the game for the Cardinals would have been enough information. Surely the Reds could see into the Cardinals bullpen, it is open.

Apr 28, 2011 20:01 PM
rating: 0
 
oneilljm

True enough, but that is not really the point. If it is the home team's responsibility, they should fulfill that responsibility with accuracy and integrity, or what is the point of making them accountable for it. And I guess the second point is that Emma is ok with shirking responsibility if it can help you win a game. But, then again, baseball has a long history of bending/ignoring rules, this would just be more of the same, and as such isn't anything to get particularly worked up about.

"I've cheated, or someone on my team has cheated, in almost every single game I've been in." - Rogers Hornsby

Apr 28, 2011 13:30 PM
rating: 0
 
Emma Span

Apologies for writing that LaRussa was a catcher, folks, when he was an infielder. Although to be fair, it's kind of baffling that he played in the majors for parts of six seasons while hitting .199/.292/.250 at any other position...

Apr 28, 2011 11:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Tarakas

Dave Duncan was a catcher. I would think Larussa's obsession with catcher defense at the cost of offense probably stems from Duncan's influence.

Apr 28, 2011 12:00 PM
rating: 0
 
frampton
(870)

Clearly he's been disliked by some people for a really long time. I used to attend A's games back in the late 70s (when the team was known as the "boat people of the American League"), with a thousand or so of my closest friends. There was one guy who would sit behind the first-base dugout when LaRussa was coaching first (so it looks like it was 1978) and do nothing but rag on LaRussa. It was unrelenting, and pretty graphic as I recall. Never did know where it came from, but apparently it's a feeling shared by more than a few.

Apr 28, 2011 15:29 PM
rating: 1
 
mdupske

Even though he has brought success to the Cardinals, as a fan his management style is difficult to watch.
1) The constant lefty-righty switch.
2) His unwillingness to use younger players. Rasmus, Wainwright was at AAA for two years after they traded for him when by all reports he was ready for the big leagues at that point, and Pujols was not even going to make the team in 2000 until Bobby Bonilla hurt himself.
3) Staying with the veterans past the point of effectiveness. Franklin and Isringhausen both were allowed to stay in the closer role when it was plain to see they did not have the stuff anymore.
4) Playing a Sunday lineup 2-3 times a week to keep his regulars 'fresh'.
5)Throwing away any game longer than 12 innings to keep his bullpen and/or rotation intact by pitching the Oquendo of the week. Just bring up some kid from the farm for a few days like every other team in the majors.

The one innovation I really enjoyed from LaRussa was the 3-inning rotation which he used in Oakland where pitchers were assigned three innings no matter what the situation in the game. Then they could pitch about every third day instead of waiting four or five days. I think he only let it go a week but in theory it would save your team from having to carry 12-13 pitchers and give you more options off the bench for defense or hitting as the case may be.

His gruff and near-abusive situation with the press in St. Louis, which is about as marshmallow soft of a media as you will ever find, is ridiculous. And of course you will get yourself banned from any interviews if he even gets a question which makes it look like he made an incorrect decision. Not to mention the civil war that apparently occurred when Jocketty was replaced.

In short, I do not care for Tony LaRussa.

Apr 28, 2011 20:19 PM
rating: 3
 
diceshooter60

I don't really like La Russa either. The A's losses in 1988 and 1990 still rankle me. He devotion to vets instead of younger blood reminds me of Pete Rose managing himself while more deserving players sat. The only redeeming factor to TLR is the beatdown given to the Giants in 1989. And yes, I'm a die hard A's fan.

Apr 29, 2011 02:24 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

As a disclaimer because I'm a Cubs fan, but Baker does talk bad about his players or throw them in the doghouse. The biggest example is Sammy Sosa, well before the corked bat incident. Other players he ostracized include Matt Murton, Hee Seop Choi and Ronny Cedeno. I'm also not that happy he didn't reign in Kent Merkcer and Moises Alou from trashing Steve Stone.

Apr 29, 2011 04:51 AM
rating: 1
 
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