Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Impressed by his own resume

There is probably no manager or coach in a major sport who is more overrated than Tony LaRussa.

Go through the history:

LaRussa is 4-4 in LCS play (3-1 AL, 1-3 NL). His AL teams were all good (99-104 wins), only one played an equally good opponent ('83 White Sox) and it lost. His NL teams were favored in 2000 and 2002 against the wild card entry, and lost in 5 both times. In '96, his Cards coughed up a 3-1 lead by losing games 5-7 by a combined score of 32-1.

Worse yet is LaRussa's World Series record: he is the only manager to lose two World Series to an opponent that had at least 10 fewer wins than his team. In '88, the 104-win A's lost to the no-hit pop-gun 94-win Dodgers 4-1; in '90 the 103-win A's tied the 1974 Dodgers for the second biggest upset loss in the live-ball era when the A's were swatted 4-0 by the 91-win Reds. Unlike the '74 Dodgers (four one-run games in a five-game series), the A's were stomped pretty well: 22-8 aggregate loss. This year, it's worse: the Cards are in-line to become the third team since 1961 to never lead in the World Series ('66 Dodgers, '89 Giants).

And LaRussa makes odd choices: playing So Taguchi over John Mabry in a hitter's ballpark? Bunting down 0-4?

LaRussa was a major innovator in baseball by utilizing his whole bullpen, situational substituting like a madman, matchup switching, etc. Indeed, his thought process has become much of "the Book" that managers work by. That's why it is ironic to see managers who violate "the Book" succeed: Terry Francona's managing against the Yanks by working Foulke like Goose Gossage (7th inning-on); Phil Garner using Brad Lidge in the 7th; Torre's use of Rivera from 1998-2001. In the future in the playoffs, managers are likely to mimic Garner and Francona, who themselves mimicked Torre, who derived his extended use of the closer from Billy Martin, among others (check out how Sparky Lyle was used in the '77 ALCS).

Now consider some other "overrated" coaches and managers, baseball first:

Bobby Cox? This season cements his legacy as a great manager by coaxing 96 wins out of a mediocre team. The Braves went from nothing to powerhouse under his watch and have maintained their excellence for over a decade despite constant turnover. Has he been outmanaged in the playoffs? Certainly: the '96 World Series and '98 NLCS immediately come to mind; but other times his teams have been outgunned in short series ('99 WS, '01 NLCS, '03 NLDS). He's a Hall-of-Famer for good reason.

Joe Torre? Only Yankee haters would say he's overrated and I'm giving a scintilla of credence to their thought processes by mentioning him, but the notion is ridiculous and must be discredited. Torre took that group of midlevel misfits to a World Series in '96 and tooled Cox; he presided over the best post-WWII in baseball history where only one player (David Wells) had a career year; he guided the '99 Yanks to a dominant playoff run in a season where two of his pitchers had their WORST years (Clemens, Pettitte) and 4 WS in 5 years in the three-tier playoff system is currently an accomplishment for the ages. The fact that the Yanks won 101 games this year with no starter winning more than 14, Moooooooooose and Brown hurt, Contreras useless and Vazquez in the tank speaks volumes.

Pat Riley: Riles not only guided the Showtime Lakers, but took those ragged Knicks teams to within a couple of Starks jumpers of a title and he built the Heat into a contending team. His act wore thin, but his coaching was good.

LaRussa would give his hair to have the resumes these men do. He should not be accorded the accolades they've earned.


Three other quick observations pending the RedSawx wrapping this thing up.

First, since the three-tier playoff system began in 1995, the World Series team that finished its LCS first (by calendar date) has won 8 of 9 World Series, a RedSux wrap would make it 9/10. The outlier -- the '00 Yanks who clinched a day after the Mess and won the '00 Series in 5. Usually this has had little effect, but in '03 the Yanks' rotation was thrown off more than the Marlins' and in '97 the Indians were also thrown off more than the Fish.

Second, since the three-tier playoff system began in '95, the team with the best record in baseball has won ONCE -- the '98 Yanks. Of the other nine teams with the best record, only four even made the WS = '95 Indians, '99 Braves, '03 Yanks (tied with Atlanta) and '04 Cards. Those teams are 4-15 in their games pending the outcome of tonight's game.

Third, is the Curse really a Curse of the Bambino? This article indicates that the Curse of the Bambino is a happy fiction stemming from an anti-Semitic smear campaign against Harry Frazee by one of baseball's premier historians who failed to discover Frazee wasn't a Jew.

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