Well, my day just got a WHOLE LOT better when I read this little number by Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
If you don’t want to read the article, I will summarize it for you. It’s a review – of sorts – of a new book by Tony LaRussa, the St. Louis Cardinals former manager, master of gamesmanship, and owner of a well-worn Botox frequent customer card. The book is titled One Last Strike, and is set to hit shelves on September 25th.
I have not been given my advance copy yet (hint, hint, publishing company) so I can only go off the obviously selective retelling that Wolfley has provided the world – but there are some real gems in here that make me literally drool over this piece of what undoubtedly will be one the finest pieces of revisionist history in baseball.
Here’s what the ever-charming and always straight-shooting LaRussa had to say about his dust-ups with Milwaukee in 2011, which appear to take up some substantial length in his book.
“When you play a team 18 times during the regular season, there’s bound to be some sparks, especially when both clubs have similarly aggressive styles,…That’s good competitive action, but what Morgan said in that same tweet – that we’d be watching the postseason on television – didn’t fit into that category, and neither did his actions in that game. What he did was: Unwise. Uncalled for. Not forgotten.”
Obviously not forgotten, except maybe by a lot of people. The Tweet that LaRussa mentions said this:
“Alberta couldn’t see Plush if she had her gloves on!!! Wat was she thinking running afta Plush!!! She never been n tha ring!!!”
“Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!!”
Obviously this – from a man with an identity crisis who regularly plans his days on the requests from total strangers – needed to be addressed. Misspellings and grammatical inconsistencies aside, this seems like really basic bulletin board stuff. Taken on its own, LaRussa’s reaction to it seems a little silly and over-the-top, even if he is speaking in the moment. To be that hurt that someone said you weren’t going to playoffs just reeks of a pettiness that might even rival Morgan’s. Morgan is a goofball and antagonistic, to be sure. But tell me that LaRussa’s reaction doesn’t remind you of the kid that wants to take his ball and go home, because that’ll show those mean ‘ol Brewers what’s what.
The only thing that was really unwise in that whole diatribe is assuming that Nyjer Morgan could take Pujols and his Volkswagen-sized chest in a fight.
This is part of what has made LaRussa’s legacy – especially to Brewers fans – so polarizing. In many respects he was a great manager: he treated his guys right and was always a company man. He never gave up on a season and he knew how the game worked, in between and outside of the white lines.
The same tenacity that made him so great as a manager is also what made him so despised – the fact that he regularly played the victim to such a degree that a casual observer would assume that the entire system was set-up to destroy LaRussa’s professional and personal life.
Take this – the August 2nd incident of 2011 where Albert Pujols was hit in the hands by an up-and-in pitch. The pitch in question did not look intentional. In reality pitching Pujols close is about the only way to ensure he doesn’t beat you, short of throwing four dirt ball or hitting him in the back every time. It’s close, yes. Sometimes it will get him, yes. It is a dangerous game, yes.
For the average person, this is rather easily forgotten as yet another game – the Cardinals won that one, by the way. Regardless, Ryan Braun was plunked between the shoulder blades on his next at-bat. Tit for tat, we get it. Right? Here’s what LaRussa said after the game, unabridged from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“Yeah, real scary,” La Russa said. “They almost got him yesterday too. There’s nothing intentional about it. But they throw the ball in here and that’s what all those idiots up there — not idiots — all those fans up there are yelling. Do you know how many bones there are in the hand? Do you know how many bones there are in the face? That’s where those pitches are. And Braun — we were trying to pitch him in too, and it was just a little stinger. I don’t want to even hear about Braun getting a little pop in the back, when we almost lose this guy (Pujols) in several ways. The ball up and in is a dangerous pitch.”
He has his old Grumpy Man meter turned to eleven. But there’s more:
“You don’t think they were trying to throw the ball intentionally up and in?” La Russa responded. “We weren’t trying to hit Braun either. We did not hit Braun on purpose. We threw two balls in there real good just to send a message. If he ducks them, it’s all over and we don’t hit him. The ball they tried to throw on Pujols was aimed right where they aimed it. Did they try to hit him? No. But there’s a small window here. You know how close that is to your face and your hands?
“I don’t want to hear about our tactics vs. what they did,” La Russa continued. “They did not make an intentional hit, but they tried to throw the ball up and in. It’s a very dangerous pitch and we almost paid a hell of a price. Just look at the location and potential danger of the two (pitches).
“That’s a dangerous pitch whoever throws it.”
WE DID NOT HIT BRAUN ON PURPOSE. Remember that statement, just for a second.
Here’s some snippets from One Last Strike:
“In the bottom half of the inning, we had Jason Motte hit Ryan Braun, the eventual MVP of the league. He did what we taught and hit Braun square in the back, thereby minimizing any chances of injury. Tempers flared, but I did what I had to do then, we went about it the right way, and I stand by that decision today.”
“I stand by that decision today.” Just not then, when your sanctimonious garbage could have had some
real weight in the discussion. I don’t have a problem with hitting their best guy when your best guy gets hit. I don’t really get it, to be honest, but in the backwards world of baseball honor and the ‘codes’ it makes perfect sense. But if that’s what LaRussa cares about – and it’s painfully obvious that that’s the case – why take a year and a half to just admit what didn’t really need to be ‘admitted’ in the first place?
Pitching up and in to minimize the danger of his bat, while increasing the danger of injury is: Unwise. Uncalled for. Not Forgotten. Throwing way in and just a little up to definitely hit someone, but, thankfully, “minimizing any chances of injury” is: The Right Way. What We Taught.
WHAT WE TAUGHT.
A baseball hitting the human body launched from 60 feet, six inches away ALWAYS carries a chance for injury. There’s not even a discussion about that: the bruises stand as proof positive. That’s the only reason people get ejected for it. BECAUSE SOMEBODY’S GOING TO GET HURT YOU GUYS. So why even pretend there’s a safe way to do it?
It’s this kind of justification that has always made me so frustrated by LaRussa. This insistence that he, and only he it seems, is the final word on what’s ‘good’ and ‘right’ in the way things are done in baseball. It’s so mind-bogglingly petty to spend even thismuch time on it when you can recount the fact that St. Louis had one best finishes to a season in the history of baseball.
Mostly, as a fan, it’s just nice to have a villain. LaRussa was definitely one of the best for Brewers fans. Bitching about LaRussa was a pastime in and of itself for me (as if that weren’t obvious by now) and the chance to do it all over again makes me giddy with joy. If you want to share that joy with me again, buy One Last Strike and we can giggle and share stories together.