The man who led the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series championship last season knows baseball—but not how to write about it.
As longtime season-ticket holders for the St. Louis Cardinals, my father and I spent unseemly portions of the past 15 years bickering from our seats along the first-base line about Tony La Russa's unorthodox managerial style. As a La Russa skeptic, I continually second-guessed the manager's incessant lineup tinkering. My father, ever the optimist, assured me that his in-game moves were all grounded in meticulous preparation and statistical analysis. Nearly every game we circled back to the same conversations:
Me: How come La Russa is the only manager to bat the pitcher eighth?
My father: He must've calculated that the eighth-place batter is more likely to come up in sacrifice situations.
Me: Why is La Russa bringing in his third relief pitcher this inning?
My father: The matchups must favor it.
After La Russa guided the Cardinals to an improbable World Series championship last year, I grudgingly surrendered to my father's point of view. Despite La Russa's maddening tendency to over-manage, his intensity and creative decision-making had set the tone for that team's never-say-die attitude. Down ten-and-a-half games in late August, the Cardinals tallied a 23-9 record down the stretch, clinching the National League wild card on the last day of the season. After vanquishing the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers, the Cardinals found themselves down to their last strike twice in Game 6 of the World Series before rallying back both times to tie the score, eventually triumphing on a walk-off homerun by third baseman David Freese. Right through the World Series-clinching out, La Russa remained perched in his usual spot at the far end of the dugout, alone and clench-jawed, his mind almost visibly whirring through a series of moves and countermoves, anything to give his team the advantage.