As Game 1 of the Rangers vs. Cardinals World Series approached on Wednesday night, managers Tony La Russa and Ron Washington were shown in pregame coverage. I was struck by the thought that as I'm approaching middle age, there are only a few people in sports, mostly coaches now, whose career length I can measure by remembering the age I was when they first appeared on the scene.
For instance, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno led the Nittany Lions onto the field for the first time before I was even three months old. Jim Boeheim coached his first basketball game at Syracuse when I was in the fifth grade.
And, it was about a month before I started the eighth grade when the Chicago White Sox fired player-manager Don Kessinger in August 1979 and replaced him with the skipper of the Iowa Oaks, their AAA affiliate in Des Moines, Tony La Russa.
La Russa was just 34 years old, two years removed from the end of a 15-year playing career that included 132 games in the majors with the Kansas City and Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs.
La Russa is generally credited with being the guy who perfected the art of situational relief pitching, finding success by converting fading left-handed starting pitchers such as Rick Honeycutt into what evolved into the LOOGY—lefty one-out guy. (You see enough pitching changes, and it starts to make one want to hock up one of the playground variety.)
Complete games are anathema to La Russa. Why? Well, you can't micromanage a complete game nearly as much.
No, a typical La Russa game is one that plays out like Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night. Staked to a one-run lead over the Texas Rangers after six innings, La Russa got the final nine outs by deploying five relievers.
With the expanded commercial breaks in the World Series (those aren't pitching changes), then it's a freaking rain delay. Add to that mix the fact that La Russa's opposite number, Texas manager Ron Washington, was trying his best to be a National League manager by deploying pinch-hitters and bringing in Mike Gonzalez out of the bullpen to get one guy out.
What you're left with is a clean, well-played, 3-2 Rangers vs. Cardinals Game 1...that takes more than three hours to complete.
Keep the kids watching? Hell, there are adults that have to choose between bagging the game and getting some Z's or committing to auditioning for "Workplace of the Living Dead" the following day.
But, La Russa has been on an undeniable roll over the last couple of months. His mixing and matching of lineups and pitching matchups helped St. Louis win 30 of its final 43 games in the regular season, enough to run down the Braves for the National League wild-card spot.
After getting by the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series, La Russa simply owned the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers.
It had to be his dream series: 28 pitching changes in six games, with his relievers pitching more innings than his starters did.
Full disclosure: I've never been a real big fan of La Russa's, simply because I find his genius shtick sort of annoying.
He's a smart guy; I get it. But, by attempting to make baseball akin to quantum physics with some of the pained and condescending interactions he has with the press, well, he can rub people the wrong way.
I mean, La Russa has the same number of World Series rings as the late Sparky Anderson, only Sparky never felt the need to impress anyone with how he was only able to record those victories by being some sort of baseball savant.
Maybe it's just a matter of style trumping substance and me never really embracing La Russa's grating style, but I'll give him his due: Tony La Russa was the clear winner of Game 1. His DNA is all over that box score.
Congratulations on the win, Tony...even as you make the game a lot harder to watch.