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Tony La Russa vs. Ron Roenicke: Which Manager Is NL Central Sheriff?

MILWAUKEE, WI - JUNE 10: Tony LaRussa #10 of the St. Louis Cardinals, who is managing in his 5000th game, shakes hands with Ron Roenike #10 of the Milwaukee Brewers as they exchange line ups at Miller Park on June 10, 2011 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Lake CruiseAnalyst ISeptember 24, 2011

Have the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers managers Tony La Russa and Ron Roenicke traded places in the NL Central’s hierarchy? Is there a new NL Central sheriff in town?  

Roenicke appears to be gaining respect in MLB circles, while La Russa seems to be losing it—even among his hometown fans. How quickly roles reverse.

Trading Places was a cult classic starring comedian Eddie Murphy of Beverly Hills Cop and Saturday Night Live fame. In the movie, Murphy portrays a street bum who gets turned into a multimillionaire by two experimenting billionaire brothers. Tell me about opposite styles.

In real life, brother La Russa was busy experimenting with his iron-fisted arguing almost every call and complaining about almost everything technique, it seems, while Roenicke was allowing his players to have fun—witness Nyjer Morgan—as long as they are producing.

Did someone say producing? The Brewers last night completed a runaway victory over their NL Central foes in this year’s division race. They had a 10.5 game lead with about 20 games left in the season.

The seasoned Redbirds’ psyche took a hit after losing two best-of-threes to Milwaukee in the first two weeks of August. Then the rest of the NL poured cooking oil on the Birds.

But, the Cardinals bounced back to pull within six games of the Brewers and about two of the Braves with about one week left in the season. The Cardinals started to look much different from the team they were four weeks ago.

At that time on the banks of three different rivers, lefty Garrett Jones’ extra-inning, walk-off home run at PNC Park on Aug. 16 all but put the Redbirds’ fire out. The Cardinals were already playing uninspired baseball, but Jones’ blast dropped them to a low psyche.

It came off the newly acquired left-hander Arthur Rhodes who has been a good pitcher in this league. It was another blown opportunity, however, by the bullpen and pointed some of the blame and most of the focus on John Mozeliak and Tony La Russa.

Their hastily revamped Cardinals fell to seven games behind Milwaukee after the Redbirds’ further fire-sapping extra-inning loss in Pittsburgh. The team’s mental focus hadn’t been the same until 9/11 weekend, when the Cardinals swept the Braves.

The Cards had won the Brewers series that week, but still couldn’t dent the standings.

Roenicke’s Brewers were in the throes of winning 21 of 25 games during their decisive run that basically clinched and dented the division around the second week in August. The Brew Crew could sip their own Kool-Aid. Only the Philadelphia Phillies had a larger division lead.

The division lead would soon balloon to double digits for Milwaukee. St. Louis was on the cusp of experiencing more major problems. After losing the must-have series with the Pirates, the Redbirds lost a best-of-three series to the lowly Cubs and got swept in three by the last-place Dodgers in St. Louis.

The boo birds started to chirp over La Russa’s head while he was in the dugout and especially when he stepped foot on the field. His alleged trying to get into the Brewers’ heads idea failed.

In a Monday night broadcast from Pittsburgh during the Jones home run series, the local announcers first claimed La Russa was complaining about the lighted ribbon around Miller Park in Milwaukee. TLR did, in fact, make the headlines for claiming the lights were brighter when the Cardinals batted. 

The broadcasters went on to say La Russa usually has evidence to back up his claims. Well, Tony, show me. I’m from Missouri, and I’ll wait.

I understand managing and waiting on 25 players is not an easy task. La Russa sees his team on a daily basis during the season. He knows what the media, fans and opponents don’t know. But, Tony Sigmund Freud La Russa should have stuck to baseball and left pop psychiatry and psychology out of the situation.

The scenario got stickier after September rolled around sooner than wanted and the Redbirds weren’t rolling hard enough. They tried to flap their wings, but they were stuck in what appeared to be bullpen mud and crud from the Gulf oil spill.

The unnatural disaster hurt Busch Stadium’s environment—empty seats and tepid turnstiles became very noticeable. The Cards drew three million fans again this year, but the local media began to question whether or not LaRussa should return in 2012.

Ron Roenicke the rookie manager could run for mayor of Milwaukee and win. Despite having more pennant-chasing and playoff experience than his Brewers, LaRussa’s Redbirds got rolled.

It was Milwaukee playing like the grizzled NL veterans while the Cardinals flailed. 

St. Louis played like they felt the pressure after Mozeliak and TLR traded Colby Rasmus—the young, left-handed, fleet-footed, smooth-swinging and power-hitting center fielder. The center of Cardinal Nation started to collapse not long after that late-July trade.

Roenicke unleashed his team’s best baseball soon after. Even after Rickie Weeks was injured, the manager’s decision to move Corey Hart to the leadoff spot kick-started their right fielder, who then began to lay down the offensive law.

Yes, there is a new NL sheriff; Roenicke and La Russa have traded places.

Contact Lake Cruise: lakecruise@att.net.

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