Tag Archives: Tony LaRussa

A curtain call for Mr. La Russa

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced today that Tony La Russa would manage the National League team in the 2012 All Star Game. La Russa, 67, earned the honor when he managed the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2011 World Series, the managers for each team that makes the World Series is selected to manage the next year’s All Star Game. However, La Russa retired at the end of the 2011 season. While many fans wanted him to come back and manage once more, there wasn’t really a precedent to know whether he would.

This will be La Russa’s third time managing the NL All Stars, putting him at six total as he managed the American League three times as well.

The game will be in Kansas City this year. The interesting storyline that already has Cardinals’ fans buzzing is the potential of Albert Pujols being an American League All Star next season and seeing how Tony treats that strategically.

After retiring from the game after 16 seasons, Mr. La Russa gets a curtain call for possibly the first time in his career.

Cardinals set coaching staff

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting the Cardinals’ 2012 coaching staff has been set.

Just two days after introducing Mike Matheny as the organization’s newest manager after the retirement of Tony LaRussa, who had held the role for the last 16 seasons, the Cardinals have revealed their coaching staff.

The big news is that Dave Duncan and Mark McGwire will return to their positions as the team’s pitching and hitting coaches, respectively. Duncan will be entering his 17th season as the Cardinals’ pitching coach and the final year of his contract. McGwire will be entering his 3rd season as the Cardinals hitting coach. Under McGwire, the Cardinals led the National League in several offensive categories.

Derek Lilliquist will also be back in the bullpen as the team’s bullpen coach. No truth to the rumor that hearing aids were a requirement of his new contract.

In somewhat of a surprise, Jose Oquendo will return to the staff at his typical spot at third base. Oquendo was widely considered to be the manager-in-waiting in St. Louis and was the final interview for the manager’s seat. He was passed over for Matheny. My only concern is whether Oquendo buys in to Matheny as manager, which I’m assuming the organization would have checked on before announcing his return.

Mike Aldrete, who served as assistant hitting coach since 2008, will get a uniformed position as he takes over the role as bench coach from Joe Pettini. Aldrete was expected to be the leading candidate to take over the hitting coach position with the Oakland Athletics, but has apparently turned it down to return to the Cardinals.

Finally, Memphis Redbirds’ manager Chris Maloney will move up to the big league club to take over as the first base coach from Dave McKay. Maloney also interviewed for the Cardinals’ managing position. He has been involved with the Cardinals organization 20 seasons as a minor league manager. This is his first major league posting. Ron “Pop” Warner, who managed the Double-A Springfield Cardinals is expected to take over Maloney’s old position in Memphis.

According to the P-D, Pettini and McKay will be reassigned elsewhere in the organization.

Matheny named manager

After an interview process that lasted roughly a week, Mike Matheny stood in front of the cameras and was announced as the next manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was a field of six candidates. Jose Oquendo, Chris Maloney, Ryne Sandberg, Joe McEwing, Terry Francona, and Matheny. According to the team, after each interview they ranked their board of potential candidates. After his interview, Matheny went to #1 and stayed there, despite his lack of experience.

Matheny, 41, has long been predicted by those around the game to make a good manager. He has recently served as an assistant to General Manager John Mozeliak and has been an instructor at spring training for the team as well. Since he retired at the end of the 2006 season due to concussion related problems, Matheny has been involved with the Cardinals organization, leading many to believe that he would one day be destined for the big chair. However, going into the interviews, he was likely the dark horse candidate that nobody gave a real shot to.

He will now be the youngest manager in the major leagues.

Matheny played five of his 13 year career with the Cardinals. He hit just .245 with a .304 OBP, but took home three of his four Gold Gloves while playing for the Cardinals. He was the catcher who tutored a young Yadier Molina before handing the starting job off to him in 2005. Molina has received four Gold Gloves of his own in the years since.

The management decision was rumored to have come down between Matheny and former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona. In my opinion, Francona was only going to be a manager for a few years before we had to find someone else. Both in Philadelphia and Boston his end came when he could no longer reach and motivate his players. Matheny has the potential to be a much more longterm manager than Francona would.

Ultimately, I think the move will be good for the Cardinals.

First and foremost, he is already familiar with the team and has the respect of the players in the locker room. The Cardinals players who are on Twitter, like Jon Jay, David Freese, and Daniel Descalso made sure to applaud their new manager and let us know they were excited to play for him because they like and respect him. Two important keys for a manager.

Secondly, Matheny has worked with John Mozeliak on the front office side. He likely buys into the same philosophy that Mozeliak does as far as building the roster. I felt that since Mozeliak took over as the team’s General Manager that he and Tony LaRussa were oft times at odds about how they wanted to build the roster and what they wanted out of it. Now Mozeliak has his guy in the manager’s seat and those conflicts will likely be limited. But now Mozeliak can’t blame shortcomings on that relationship (not that he did, at least, not publicly).

Thirdly, even though he is inexperienced at this particular job, he is likely to be surrounded by experienced coaches and has a sharp baseball mind. Dave Duncan is under contract for 2012 and is expected to return to the organization as pitching coach. He and Matheny would have worked closely together over the five seasons Matheny spent as the Cardinals’ starting catcher. He also has a good relationship with hitting coach Mark McGwire.

Something Matheny will hopefully remember is that this is a championship team and while you do want to make your mark and make it your coaching staff, some consistency will be good for the team. No need to reinvent the wheel. But I see the desire for him to make it his coaching staff rather than LaRussa’s coaching staff.

At the same time, he needs to be his own manager. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s managerial style, be yourself.

The big question will be how we judge his success. He is being handed a World Series Champion. Is anything less a disappointment?

We as fans need to be careful how high we set that bar for him. It is his first year and he’ll be learning on the job. At the end of the year, I want a team that was in contention until late September and I want to see how Matheny handles games. Does he under manager or over manage? My biggest complaint about his predecessor was that I felt LaRussa could over-manage a game like nobody else and as a result managed us out of some games. There is a fine line to walk and I understand it could take him some time to find the right touch.

In the end, it’s a positive move for the Cardinals to begin the post-LaRussa era.

Oh, and for fun, Arthur Rhodes, who pitched last season for the Cardinals is 333 days older than Matheny.

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Cardinals begin manager search

Today was supposed to be the setup day as I began my post-season posting schedule on Friday, but consider this a special edition run. According to an article by Joe Strauss in today’s Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are beginning to interview their top rung of candidates for their open managerial position. So I decided I’d go ahead and just poach for fun. :)

According to the article there are less than 10 candidates on their short list of potential replacements for future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa. The list includes some minor league managers, some major league managers, some coaches, even a former Cardinals player that many fans could see as a future manager somewhere, someday.

Cardinals’ fans who really wanted Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon will be disappointed to find that the Cardinals haven’t opted to ask for permission to talk to him. Personally, I’m not surprised because Maddon is viewed as one of the top managers in the game today. He takes a team who has very little money or fan support and somehow has crafted them into a playoff team three of the last four seasons and took them to the World Series in 2008.

As the hunt begins, I’ll go down the list of names that have been officially connected to the search, presented in no specific order:

* * *

Jose Oquendo
Current Role: St. Louis Cardinals’ 3rd base coach

Jose Oquendo is for some reason the seeming most popular choice. On Derrick Goold’s Bird Land Facebook page, there is a poll about who should be the next manager of the Cardinals. For some reason, Oquendo is running away with it. Jose Oquendo has been viewed as the “heir apparent” to the managerial seat for the Cardinals, but I’ve never quite been able to understand why. Through his career he has interviewed for openings with the San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, and New York Mets. He was never in those franchise’s final list for some reason. I think that should be pretty telling, actually.

While he is a player beloved by Cardinals fans, I just don’t see him making a very good major league manager. I also feel that the candidate who becomes the next manager of the Cardinals should have managerial experience at some level. Beyond managing in a couple of World Baseball Classics, the grand total of Oquendo’s coaching experience is being ignored at third base. It’s a little thing, but if they don’t trust his decisions at third base on simple baserunning, why are they suddenly going to trust him in the bigger decisions? Just because his title changes?

I’ll pass on Oquendo.

* * *

Terry Francona
Former Role: Boston Red Sox manager

Francona is getting a lot of love from Cardinals fans who are looking at the fact that he is one of two managers to win two World Series’ in the last 10 years, joining Tony La Russa. In fact, Bermie Miklasz made that argument in an article for the Post-Dispatch.  How quickly they forget four horrible years as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Yet, when he showed up in Boston (inheriting a team that had lost the 2003 NLCS in 7 games the previous year, by the way) he won a World Series in his first season. The team typically had one of the top-3 payrolls in baseball throughout his tenure, something that he is very unlikely to have in St. Louis.

To me, Francona has too much baggage. The epic collapse at the end of the season combined with reports of players kicking back in the clubhouse during games are just too much for me. Yes, they might have been nothing, but it’s baggage that just adds to reasons why I don’t want him.

* * *

Chris Maloney
Current Role: Memphis Redbirds’ (AAA-St. Louis) manager

Maloney would certainly be the promote from within story. He began his managing career in 1991 with the rookie level Johnson City Cardinals for the organization. He has consistently posted a winning record in his minor league career and has won two league championships, including most recently the 2009 Pacific Coast League Championship. He has spent 5 years as the manager of the Memphis Redbirds.

The big advantage for Maloney is that he already has a relationship and rapport with many of the young Cardinals’ players. I’m willing to bet, with his time in the organization, that nearly every Cardinals draftee on the major league roster has played for him at some point. It would be his first big league job, but I believe it would also be a solid move.

One of the big things for me is keeping some continuity with the major league coaches. The last thing the Cardinals need is to have a World Series Championship team return for 2012 with a completely new coaching staff. There will be adjustment time and perhaps a missed window of opportunity to add championship #12 to the banners in St. Louis.

* * *

Ryne Sandberg
Current Role: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs’ (AAA-Philadelphia) manager

Many fans know him from his days with the Chicago Cubs, on the wrong side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. However, can the Cubs’ loss once again be the Cardinals’ gain? Sandberg started at the bottom with the Cubs and managed his way up their organization before losing out to Mike Quade on the major league managerial job before the 2010 season. Spurned, Sandberg moved on to the Phillies organization to manage their AAA team.

The Cubs have informed Sandberg that they don’t intend to hire him to replace Quade this season, and the Cardinals have asked for permission to talk to him about coming to manage in St. Louis. Many believe that Sandberg will make a great manager someday. He was the 2010 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year.

Sandberg has long said his ideal job would be managing the Chicago Cubs, where he starred as a player and became a Hall of Fame second baseman, but would he give up the love of Cubs’ fans to work for the Cardinals? That would be a big question for him to answer, and I personally think he is our best candidate right now.

* * *

Joe McEwing
Current Role: Charlotte Knights (AAA-Chicago WS) manager

McEwing is known to Cardinals’ fans who saw him play two seasons for the big league club. In 1999, he hit .275 including a 25 game hitting streak and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. However, he was dealt following that season to the Mets. He began his minor league coaching career in the minors with the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox AAA club, as their hitting coach. In 2009 he moved up the road to Winston-Salem, their A club, to manage the team. He spent last season managing for the Knights and is expected to be Robin Ventura’s new third base coach with the White Sox next season.

He should be another solid candidate and is certainly one of those players that St. Louis loved who had more scrap than skill. Better than Stubby Clapp and Bo Hart, though. I think McEwing would be a solid choice, not the best one, but a solid one.

* * *

Mike Matheny
Current Role: None

Mike Matheny was the Cardinals’ catcher from 2000-2004 where he was the starting catcher and even helped tutor a young Yadier Molina in the ways of handling a pitching staff. He has spent the last few spring trainings working with the Cardinals pitchers and catchers as a special assistant, so he is familiar with the majority of players on the team.

Many believe that Matheny should make a good major league manager, and if not a manager, a pitching coach. I certainly don’t disagree, but his lack of experience in any of those roles certainly makes me question if he’s the right choice for the Cardinals right now. I wouldn’t complain with the pick, but lack of experience would be a concern. However, the majority of the Cardinals’ coaching staff would likely stay in their roles if Matheny were to join the team, so he would be surrounded by experience and if he’s willing to make use of that experience he could be allright.

* * *

That’s a look at the top names that seem to be on the list as the future manager of the Cardinals. If I had to order how I would hire people,

1. Sandberg
2. Maloney
3. McEwing
4. Matheny
5. Oquendo
6. Francona

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens. The Cardinals hope to name their manager before the annual General Managers’ Meetings on November 14th, but say that they should have something by Thanksgiving. Whoever gets the job will be inheriting a team that should be expected to repeat as World Series Champions. That’s high pressure right there.

Happy Trails, Tony La Russa

What a way to go out. For Tony LaRussa, it was probably the best managing job he’s ever done. Over 10 games out in August, rallying to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, beating Philadelphia in 5 games, beating Milwaukee in 6, and then playing what is very likely the best World Series game in history, before clinching his third World Series Championship in Game 7 against the Texas Rangers.

To top it all off, the Monday morning after celebrating the World Series Championship, he decided to call it a career.

33 years

2,728 career wins

3 American League Championships

3 National League Championships

3 World Series Championships

Oh, and 7 NL Central Championships in the last 16 years as the Cardinals’ manager. It’s safe to say that it has been the most successful run in franchise history where the Cardinals were never far from the front.

I wasn’t quick to write this post because I really wanted to take a different angle on it, but I had no idea what I wanted to write. Sure, anyone can reiterate statistics of what the man has done. This year will go down as his greatest managerial performance ever. Perhaps he deserves some credit for it, but I think his desire to retire changed his perspective and I think that had a great impact on exactly how the team developed this season.

In previous seasons it was a complaint of mine and many others that the team played tight. This year, it was the Rangers that looked tight when crunch time came. The Cardinals on the other hand, they were having a good time and enjoying themselves. It was accompanied by performance on the field.

It was an attitude that we saw in the Cardinals down the stretch. And to Tony’s credit, he embraced it.

This team was different than any other team and performed unlike many other teams would have.

In Spring Training the Cardinals lost their ace. Rather than working out away from the team, Adam Wainwright was a fixture on the Cardinals’ bench during home games. He traveled with the team in the playoffs. He became the team’s cheerleader. His job was easy, keep the guys up on the rail cheering their teammates on. Certainly a difference from other teams who failed down the stretch who had allegations of guys hanging out in the clubhouse rather than cheering their teams on.

Injuries slowed the team. The team that ranked near the bottom of minor league farm systems found themselves in great need of it. Guys like Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Fernando Salas, who Cardinals fans knew of, stepped up big when given their opportunity to play. Then there were new guys like Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez who played big roles.

The team had weaknesses. By the end of April, the Cardinals had no closer and no left handed relievers capable of getting reliable outs. By the end of May, we began to wonder if we needed a better defensive short stop and another starting pitcher. At the trade deadline, John Mozeliak went and got them everything they needed.

The team’s persona changed. The addition of Lance Berkman was the big move, in my opinion. He gave the Cardinals a veteran with clout who is the type of leader people think of when they think about a good leader. It was a figure this team had really been missing since Jim Edmonds was traded. When you watched games, he talked it up on the bench with veterans and rookies alike. While Albert Pujols keeps mostly to himself and only a few, Berkman did what was was needed, making some of the younger players feel accepted and relaxed.

If this season doesn’t illustrate that it’s a total organizational effort to create a winning team, I don’t know what does.

To me, the move to retire wasn’t a surprise. He changed through the course of the year. It’s funny how your perspective changes when there’s an end date in mind. And I saw his wife on the post-game coverage on the MLB Network. I can’t remember ever seeing his wife before. He seemed relaxed and enjoying the moment.

LaRussa embraced the change in the team persona and because of that the team excelled. That’s reason enough to give him the credit for it.

I’m not the biggest Tony LaRussa fan, but I sure hope he enjoys retirement. That elephant keeper job sounded like fun.

Mistakes cost the Cardinals Game 5

Stranding runners in scoring position. Bullpen mismanagement. Hit-and-run mistakes. Swinging at bad pitches. Deflected balls. You name a mistake, the Cardinals probably made it on Monday night.

The Texas Rangers weren’t doing anything special. In fact, more than anything, it seemed as if the Cardinals were poised to once again take the series lead. They kept threatening and kept threatening and then hitting themselves out of scoring opportunities. But when all was said and done, the Cardinals and their fans can only shake their heads in disbelief that they gave this game away.

For 7 innings, Chris Carpenter hurled a quality game. The Rangers had mustered two solo home runs, one by Mitch Moreland in the third and one to Adrian Beltre in the sixth. It was enough, though, to cancel out a pair of RBI singles by the Cardinals from the second inning to tie the game up at 2-2.

It was actually the 7th inning where the Cardinals’ issues really started compounding and causing a problem. In the top of the 7th with one out Alexi Ogando walks Allen Craig. With Albert Pujols at the plate, Allen Craig took off running for second. Pujols didn’t swing and Craig was thrown out by Mike Napoli on what was assumed to be a hit-and-run when Craig looked over his shoulder at the plate while he ran towards second.

Now off the hook, Ogando and the Rangers quickly decided to walk Albert Pujols to face Matt Holliday. According to an ESPN account on Twitter, that is the first time anyone has been intentionally walked with nobody on base in World Series history. Holliday capitalized on the opportunity and singled, but ended up on second base on the throw. The Cardinals now had 2nd and 3rd with two out. The Rangers again decided to walk Lance Berkman to face David Freese.

Freese flew out to Josh Hamilton to end the inning, leaving Cardinals fans wondering what happens if Allen Craig stayed at first base.

As Lance Berkman said to MLB.com’s Matthew Leach after the game, “I think the more you let them off the hook, the better they feel about their chances, especially at home. If you’re going to beat a good team at their ballpark, you’ve got to capitalize when you have the opportunity.”

The Cardinals certainly let them off the hood more than once tonight, leaving 12 men on base and going just 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

The game cruised into the 8th inning, still tied up at two runs a piece. In the top of the 8th, the Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina managed to get a single on a ground ball to the short stop. At this point, Rangers’ manager Ron Washington brings in left handed pitcher Darren Oliver to face Skip Schumaker. Not to be outdone, Tony LaRussa pinch hit Ryan Theriot for Schumaker, and then called for a sacrifice bunt.

Theriot successfully converted, but you have to wonder how the lefty-lefty matchup affects a bunt? More on puzzling moves later.

A strikeout from Nick Punto and a ground out by Rafael Furcal and the Cardinals let the Rangers off the hook again.

In the bottom of the 8th, Octavio Dotel came in from the Cardinals’ bullpen to pitch. Dotel allowed a double to Michael Young to lead off the inning before striking out Adrian Beltre. LaRussa then had Dotel intentionally walk Nelson Cruz before making another trip out to the mound.

Marc Rzepczynski was called into the game to replace Dotel to face the lefty David Murphy. Murphy hit a bouncer back up the middle that Rzepczynski caught a piece of while trying to catch, which eliminated any potential play on what otherwise might have been a double-play ball. At this point, the Rangers had the bases loaded with just a single out.

Rzepczynski stayed in the game to face right hander Mike Napoli, only the hottest hitter in major league baseball since July 4th. Why he still hits 8th when his OPS is over 1.100 since that time, I don’t know. Napoli does what everyone was expecting him to do, Rangers and Cardinals fans alike, Napoli drives a ball to right center, doubling to bring home Young and Cruz to make the game 4-2.

At this point Rzepczynski stays in face the left handed Mitch Moreland, ultimately striking him out. The Rangers now have men on 2nd and 3rd with two out.

So Tony LaRussa walks to the mound and signals for the right hander and out trots Lance Lynn from the bullpen. Lynn, however, had been deemed unavailable for this game. Deciding that he wasn’t going to have Lynn pitch to someone because they’d deemed him unavailable, he had Lynn intentionally walk Ian Kinsler before coming back out to the mound to finally call in Jason Motte.

Motte quickly came in and got Elvis Andrus to strike out swinging to end the threat in the 8th inning.

LaRussa said after the game that he wanted Jason Motte to be ready to come in and face Mike Napoli, but that when he called the bullpen they warmed up Rzepczynski and Lynn instead.

Now, common sense would dictate that the bullpen coach, Derek Lilliquist, should know who is available to pitch in a particular game and who isn’t. Right? LaRussa and Duncan claimed after the game that they hadn’t shared that information with Lilliquist before the game, so he didn’t know. I’m sorry, either that’s a severe lack of communication or it’s just plain old incompetence.

And who hears “Motte” and confuses it with “Lynn,” they don’t even sound alike?

With the damage already done, the Cardinals came up in the ninth inning with Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz once again on the mound. And once again erratic.

He led off the inning by hitting Allen Craig with a 78 mph slider. That put the tying run at the plate in Albert Pujols.

Pujols worked Ogando to a 3-2 count. Now with a full count, LaRussa put on the hit-and-run in an attempt to eliminate the opportunity of hitting into a double play, something that Albert Pujols and the Cardinals led the league in this season. After fouling off two pitches, Pujols swung through a 99 mile an hour fastball that was very likely a ball. Not skipping a beat, Napoli threw to second to catch Allen Craig by about four feet for an old fashioned “strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out” double play. Once again, letting the Rangers off the hook.

With now two out, the entire complexion of the game has changed from a doable comeback, to a very slim chance. Matt Holliday worked a walk off of Ogando before Lance Berkman struck out swinging to end the top of the ninth, and the game.

Mistakes like this have always been my problem with Tony LaRussa. He gets into these phases where he tries to pull off a genius move, except that it doesn’t work and he ends up managing the Cardinals out of the ballgame. Tonight was definitely one of those nights.

While you can hang it on the offense for , I am left to question why LaRussa makes the moves he does in the bullpen.

With six outs left in the game against the Rangers if the Cardinals can win, LaRussa decides to get fancy with his bullpen and use Dotel, then Rzepczynski, and then Motte. What’s the point in having Fernando Salas, a guy who spent the majority of the season as your closer before being dropped later in the season, if you aren’t going to use him in pressure situations. Salas in the 8th, Motte in the 9th. The system works for every other team in baseball.

Now, you might argue with two left handed hitters that Rzepczynski, the left hander, was the correct person to pitch there. They are both effective against left handed pitchers, but Salas can throw more effectively to both sides of the plate overall. And when you need him for just 3 outs, Salas is extremely reliable.

The Rangers are now up 3 games to 2 and headed to St. Louis, where Wednesday night they will match up in Game 6. It will be a straight rematch of Game 2, Colby Lewis on the mound for the Rangers and Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals. The Cardinals came nearly snuck away with a win in that game, but a late game collapse doomed the Cardinals.

The Cardinals haven’t figured out who will pitch Game 7. In fact, rain might make that even more interesting if Wednesday’s Game 6 is rained out as suggested by local meteorologists. If Game 6 is pushed off and Game 7 gets played on Friday night instead, there would be the potential of bringing Chris Carpenter back on 3 days rest to pitch the final game of the series.

But that still requires the Cardinals to win Game 6 behind Jaime Garcia. A late game mistake that prompted a media firestorm around Albert Pujols cost the Cardinals that game. They’ll have to bring their bats to the party as it’s naive to expect a similar performance out of Jaime Garcia.

Many fans are already ready to write the season off as over. No team has beaten the Rangers twice in a row since the Red Sox did it on August 24th. Because of that, all hope is lost. But many haven’t checked the Cardinals’ record on that. Until last night, they hadn’t been beaten twice in a row by the same team since that day as well.

Streaks are made to be broken.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to call it a season just yet.

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