An all-star manager’s role can be described in two ways:
1) It is the easiest job in the world. It’s impossible to make a mistake with such a surplus of talent. You can literally throw any player anywhere, and things will work out.
2) It is the hardest job in the world. It’s impossible to squeeze so much talent into nine different spots in nine innings. Managers may want to implement a certain strategy, but they also have to ensure every all-star receives an ample amount of playing time.
Whatever the case may be, National League manager Tony La Russa was criticized long before his Kansas City arrival (and long before we witnessed John Kruk stuff his face with BBQ).
Were Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips intentionally snubbed? Was R.A. Dickey the deserving starter over Matt Cain? Should a retired manager even be allowed to participate in this event?
Tony La Russa has been scrutinized in every way possible, and although I agree he shouldn’t be managing this game, future all-star managers have a ton to learn from La Russa’s strategy.
La Russa has ignored the traditional “all-star approach.” He isn’t going to sit back and let players’ statistics mandate when/where they will play. No, instead he is putting his very own spin on the game, managing in the same manner that won him three World Series titles and the third most games in MLB history.
Just because R.A. Dickey has the most wins in the MLB doesn’t mean he is the best option to start the game.
[If you really want to argue stats, Cain has the same number of shutouts, a .22 higher ERA, a .03 higher WHIP, five fewer strikeouts, .1 less innings, and three less wins. I might add that Dickey ranks 14th in run support (6.83 runs/game) while Cain ranks 45th (5.46)]
Did you ever care to think about how the move might play out? If Dickey throws first, the AL will see fastball pitchers for seven straight innings. But with the knuckleballer sandwiched in between two normal pitchers, it’s that much more of an adjustment AL hitters will have to make midway through the game.
Look at the Cueto/Phillips “snubbing” as well. Believe it or not, there is reasoning other than “he’s holding a grudge.”
La Russa loves his lefty/lefty, righty/righty pitching match-ups, and he let that influence his final nine roster picks. Every starting pitcher he chose was a lefty. Before his final decision, the NL’s bullpen had five lefties in comparison to eight righties. It’s not a coincidence that he chose to balance that out.
With Phillips, it was simply a matter of versatility in the field. Ian Desmond is quicker than Phillips and can play all over the infield. Desmond allows more flexibility late in games. Plus, with each player coming off the bench, Desmond is more of a threat to pinch-run and steal bases.
As a fan, you have every right to question a manager’s moves, especially when it’s a manager of another team. But how can you not love La Russa’s motives? He is transcending the game to a whole new level. It’s what Commissioner Selig has always wanted. It’s how we bring back the passion of Pete Rose plowing over a catcher in the Midsummer Classic.
Why shouldn’t a manager pick players he favors with his final nine picks? Isn’t that why he has that right in the first place? If I’m in that situation and winning is my primary concern, I’m selecting the guys who are going to bust their butts. I’m picking guys like Bryce Harper who run the bases on every pop out. And at the same time, I’m noting the difference between pitchers with great mound presence and those who show a poor demeanor. It’s my choice, and I’m going to weigh those options on my scale, not anyone else’s.
La Russa understands he is managing a baseball game with a lot on the line. Without an NL victory in 2011, his team may have never won the World Series last season. He’s not going to treat this like the celebrity softball event, and sometimes that means angering a fan or two.
He’s going out there to win, and if that means acting differently than the managers before him, so be it.
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