Tony LaRuss-Huh?

17Apr12

In the 2006 World Series, there was a moment I don’t feel like researching to get exactly right. The gist of it was: Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Kenny Rogers was caught with a file or some substance on his glove… something to doctor the ball. He was found in the middle of the game, and to eject him wouldn’t have been out of the question. This would have been a major blow to the Tigers’, but for some reason Rogers wasn’t kicked out. And I remember when it went down, the umpires talked it over with LaRussa (leading the eventual series-winning Cardinals), who basically decided to let it go.

He essentially caught a guy stealing from his house and LaRussa decided “not to press charges.”

It made no sense. LaRussa has always had the reputation of being a master of baseball, which leads one to believe he would do anything to win. And while winning this way — by getting an opposing team’s pitcher ejected for cheating — might not be the most noble victory, it was the World-freakin’ Series! Why would he just let that go? It made no sense.

I was reminded of this event by the odd managing choices LaRussa made in this year’s World Series’ Game 5. During the 8th inning (don’t quote me completely, it’s too late to do the research), LaRussa made a number of poor managing decisions that would be considered odd for anyone, but were plain out of character for someone with his reputation for foresight. Before the game, LaRussa (apparently) told one relief pitcher he wasn’t going to use him at all that night, only to call him into action in the 8th just to intentionally walk a batter, to give another relief pitcher more time to warm up. Also, the preceding pitcher was left-handed, facing a pretty-hot right handed batter. This batter consequently hit the game-winning hit, to no immediate surprise. Then there were weird baserunning calls in the game, essentially handcuffing the greatest player on LaRussa’s or anyone else’s team, Albert Pujols. It was really weird.

Weird on top of weird. And then I started wondering what I often do when I allow my Grandfather’s voice to creep in my paranoid head: are these games fixed? Does Tony LaRussa have a sinister relationship with baseball history, and these are just the cracks in the armor?

This is almost entirely wild speculation, but I thought: he managed Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, two of the biggest users (and benefiters) of steroids the game ever saw. He managed McGwire twice, most famously when he made his 70-homerun tear in 1998. But if Jose Canseco’s books (yes, plural) are to be believed, the steroid “virus” crossed from one team to the next, and people turned a blind eye.

It’s this “turned a blind eye” that sticks with me now, thinking about a potentially dirty LaRussa, and reminded me of that Kenny Rogers thing. Why would someone pass on a chance to turn the game in their favor like that unless they had some warped “for the good of the game” mentality? By which I mean, if he had been told, “We need a nice World Series here, so if anything nasty comes up, let’s let it go.” It’s not exactly cheating on his part, but it doesn’t feel 100% honest either.

That reminds me of another completely odd-ball decision LaRussa made in a year I don’t remember exactly. It was the All-Star Game he got to manage (so probably 2007), and this was during the time when the winning side of the All-Star Game retained home-field advantage during the World Series. The NL was down a run or two, and as is tradition, both sides had emptied their benches (everyone gets it!). Only one player remained on the NL bench: LaRussa’s own Albert Pujols. And remain on that bench he did as Aaron Rowand struck out for the final out, giving the AL home-field advantage for yet another year. Now, LaRussa manages Pujols, so a couple easy arguments could be imagined. Maybe Pujols told LaRussa he wasn’t up to playing? Maybe LaRussa didn’t want to risk losing his team’s star to some random play in a nearly-meaningless All-Star Game.

And that’s it for the possible arguments. On the other hand, it’s ALBERT PUJOLS! The most dangerous bat in the entire Major Leagues! If you need one hit, he’s the guy to send up to plate. Nobody on Earth knows this better than LaRussa, and he let him sit it out.

Weird.

Just meditate on it. It doesn’t make sense. What’s missing is the benefit to LaRussa for these crazy moves. Going down the line, the Rogers thing didn’t benefit him at all on the surface, but the Cardinals eventually won the Series. The All-Star Game, the NL lost. And then this year, the Texas Rangers now need only one win to take the championship.

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