KMOX, St. Louis—In the last 15 years when the subject of the Cardinals organization comes up in conversation the biggest hot button topic amongst the masses has been manager Tony La Russa. It came up again this week during the recent series up in Milwaukee with both the Cardinals and Brewers pitching inside to each team’s top hitter in Tuesday’s game and the adrenaline boiled over in La Russa’s press conference following the game with a Milwaukee reporter.
I guess I’m still puzzled why there are so many fans who have this complete disdain for the Cards skipper? I understand there are some things Tony does from a strategic standpoint that causes one to scratch their head, but you could say the same thing from time to time with Whitey or any other manager. That’s the beauty of baseball. But the sheer hatred of Tony perplexes me, especially because what his teams have been about matches what Cardinal and St. Louis sports fans like to see from their teams.
I’ll start out with the obvious reason why Tony should be accepted more. He wins. In his 15-plus seasons in St. Louis, La Russa has more wins than any other manager in Cards history. Red Schoendienst is second by some 300-plus wins behind TLR. He has the Cards consistently battling for a playoff spot year in and year out. I understand the playoffs have expanded since the early days, but the Redbirds have made 8 post season appearances in La Russa’s 15 years. The only time this tradition rich organization has had such a run of winning baseball like the one La Russa has had in the last 10-plus years is back in the 1940′s. In Major League history, La Russa ranks second in games managed and third in wins and next year he should become the second all-time winningest manager in MLB history.
The other reason I’m surprised why La Russa isn’t accepted more is because of how he wants his teams to play. If there is one thing Cardinal fans and St. Louis sports fans appreciate it is hustle. If a player or a team gives maximum effort, all rational fans will look past a loss on any given night. Since Tony’s first days here in St. Louis he’s always talked about his teams playing a hard nine. La Russa is adamant about his team’s maximum effort during game time. This year’s team is a perfect example of that. While they are not one of the best Cardinal teams, they’ve battled through a lot obstacles during this 2011 campaign and their effort game in and game out has set them up for another run at a division championship. Plus, Tony’s the most intense coach I’ve ever seen on a diamond, football field, basketball court or a hockey rink. This guy is more obsessed than football coaches who spend their nights at the office watching film on game week. Tony does that at least 162 times a year.
I can’t help but look back at how Whitey Herzog helped transform this organization and this town into a baseball city. Whitey is revered in this town and rightly so. But the interest level of Cardinal baseball is even bigger now than at any other time in my life and Tony La Russa has played a major role in that. I just don’t understand why people won’t give Tony credit? Maybe we should give those people a lesson about the Vern Rapp era.
Scott Warmann is a host on the Sports Hub