Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Baseball Post

I should have, but I hadn't realized that Tony LaRussa was that high on the all-time list of wins for a manager -- really, he's going to pass John McGraw next year??? -- and mostly my attitude towards LaRussa all these years was that I didn't much like him. So I did read something pretty good (but not recent) about him this week, and I figure I should think about him a bit more. I did this with Bruce Bochy last year, and of course credit to Bill James for making me think like this...

Tony LaRussa sat on the bench of the 1963 Kansas City Athletics, managed by Eddie Lopat. When he arrived, sort of, in 1968...well, I'll just run through his major league managers: Bob Kennedy, Hank Bauer, John McNamara (in his longest major league stint), Dick Williams, Lum Harris, and Whitey Lockman.

Let's see...his minor league managers? Hmmm...I'm just going to give you the (incomplete) list; most of these won't mean anything to you. Someone named Wilbert Robertson (no, not the old Brooklyn manager, obviously) was his first manager, then Gus Niarhos, John McNamara, Mickey Vernon, Jimmy, not Jimy Williams; this was a guy had a twenty year minor league career in the Dodgers system. Who else? Sherm Lollar, Jim Marshall (the guy who had the mid-70s Cubs), Steve Demeter, Loren Babe and Lance Nichols.

Well, first, of all: that's not a very distinguished group, is it? Certainly a lot less impressive than Bochy's list. Second of all, what really distinguished LaRussa is that he didn't spend much time with anyone. The only bit of stability in his major league career was with Oakland when Charley Finley was firing managers left and right, and I don't know if the same thing was happening in the minor league system, but even when LaRussa stayed in place for a while the managers were turning over. About the only tiny bit of stability is that he came across McNamara twice.

I'm not really willing to go back to the previous generation for all those guys. I did Dick Williams in the Bochy post (he traces back to Dressen, Alston, and Paul Richards among others). Eddie Lopat pitched a long time for Casey Stengel, and also for Jimmy Dykes (who of course traces to Connie Mack), and Ted Lyons, Bucky Harris, and Richards, also).

Richards sure seems to show up a more about him here. There's Mack and McGraw, among others, in his playing career, but according to the SABR article the big influence was Donie Bush, who was the SS for the Ty Cobb Tigers, managed by Hughie Jennings. And Jennings, as you probably know, was an Old Oriole (with McGraw) for Ned Hanlon.

Whitey Lockman...hey, I don't have to look him up: Durocher. But also Fred Hutchinson, and...yup, he went to the Orioles for a year and played for Paul Richards.

Are you ready? Bob Kennedy? Yup. In addition to Jimmy Dykes and Ted Lyons and a bunch of other guys, there's a year with Paul Richards.

Hank Bauer played for Casey Stengel (who traces back to McGraw and others) for most of his career. And as a manager, he's most famous for preceding Earl Weaver with the Orioles, and winning their first pennant. But, no, even though he did coach there for a year, he didn't overlap with Richards, although Richards' influence certainly survived in Baltimore long after he was gone. Anyway, as a Stengel guy, he's at least a relatively close cousin, no?

Lum Harris, in case you're wondering, basically played for Connie Mack. And then...yup, was a coach for Paul Richards for a decade, in both Chicago and Baltimore, and then in Houston when Richards became the original GM for the team that would become the Astros.

So for Tony LaRussa...five of his seven major league managers played or coached for Paul Richards, and a sixth was not all that far removed.

I'm researching this as I go along; I wasn't going to do this much, but I'm sort of amazed at all of this. Gotta go to the minor league managers. Gus Niahos? Yup, with the 1951 White Sox. Sherman Lollar? Yes, three years with the White Sox. Jim Marshall? Orioles. So that's three more, making it at least eight -- remember, the minor league manager list is incomplete (yes, baseball-reference is only the best thing in the world, not 100% perfect in every possible way).

Hey, I'm leaving something important out. From the SABR article, Richards returned to managing for Bill Veeck after years in the front office...
The 1976 season was a disaster. The White Sox, largely a collection of “nothing” players, lost 97 games and finished last in the American League West, Richards’ only time in the cellar. Some players complained that Richards offered no instruction, didn’t come out for batting practice, and put on his uniform only a half-hour before game time. The Sox general manager, Roland Hemond, recalled, “Paul’s heart wasn’t in it.” The best evidence of that: He was not ejected from a single game for the only time in his 21 seasons as a minor and major league manager.
Veeck brought in a favorite from his Cleveland days, Bob Lemon, as the new manager in 1977. Richards stayed on as a scout and, eventually, farm director. In 1978 Veeck hired a sore-armed minor league infielder, Tony La Russa, to manage the Knoxville farm club. The next year the 34-year-old La Russa became manager of the White Sox. La Russa later said, “Paul Richards’ influence was a career-maker for me.” The old wizard told him, “Trust your gut, don’t cover your butt.” La Russa said, “I’ve lived with it ever since.” 


  1. I had never made this connection before, but when I was a kid, it seemed like Paul Richards was always treated like he was the smartest guy in baseball. Kinda like LaRussa is today.

  2. That was a terrific post. Richards is largely forgotten as a manager these days, mostly because he never won a pennant. But his record, compiled in the teeth of the Yankee 1949-64 dynasty, is pretty impressive.

    James at one point tells the story of Richards putting his pitcher at third base for one batter, then putting him back on the mound. That's so LaRussa.

  3. Nice post.

    Paul Richards as the Seattle Slew of baseball managers! I like it.

  4. La Russa's an interesting manager, since, in spite of his success, it seems like there's something unsatisfactory about the guy, particularly his postseason record, even though he's about to go up 2-1 in search of an impressive 3rd world championship.

    There have been 7 103+ win teams to lose a World Series in the expansion era. LaRussa managed three of them. His teams won 1 game and lost 12 in those 3 WS. Of the other 4 103+ win teams to lose a WS, 2 (Orioles '69 and Braves '99) are iconic chokers.

    As bad as those 3 World Series blowouts were, LaRussa was on the business end of two even more horrendous LCS losses. His 99 win '83 White Sox scratched out a win in Game 1 against the Orioles, and so satisfied were they that they promptly blew the next 3 by a combined score of 18-1.

    But that was nothing next to the '96 Cards, surely history's worst 3-1 choke artists. Those 96 Cards way outdid the losers on the 83 White Sox; the Cards lost the last three games of the 96 LCS by a shocking combined score of 32-1.

    For LaRussa's 2 World Series wins, 1 was against the backdrop of the distraction of the SF earthquake, and another was with the worst team to win a World Series (i.e. playing with the house money). These Cards have a good shot at being champs in 2011; having come from 10.5 back in late August there's a 'playing with the house money' aspect here as well.

    I don't have the patience (nor, more importantly, the brains), but if I were trying to understand what distinguishes a successful regular season manager from a postseason one, I think I might start with LaRussa, who while he has had postseason success, nevertheless it seems like there is something strangely disappointing about his record.

  5. I was thinking a bit more about those 7 103+ win WS losers in the expansion era. 2 were pre-LCS; one (the '62 Giants) lost to the defending champ Yanks; then the Yanks in '63 got swept by the 99-win Dodgers. The '69 Amazins did win 100 games (and were on quite a roll) before taking out the 109-win Orioles, and the '99 Braves did lose to a Yankee squad mid-dynasty. Which leaves LaRussa's 3 teams.

    2 of LaRussa's squads lost to low-90 win flash-in-the-pans; franchises that haven't been back to the WS in 20+ years since. His 3rd 103+ win loser lost to a pretty good team, but one fighting almost 100 years of baggage as well as the pressure of making good on a surprising comeback over a hated archrival a week earlier. And none of LaRussa's 3 teams were remotely competitive against inferior/damaged competition.

    The curious thing is, if we asked hardcore baseball fans to name their 12 most puzzling/disappointing postseason series, LaRussa's got five that will show up on many fans lists. Would any other managers have more than two?

  6. Those seven 103 game WS losers seem a bit carefully chosen. Of the 100 game winners since the wild card system was instituted:

    1. 2011 Phillies (102) - lose in LDS (sigh)
    2. 2009 Yankees (103) - win World Series
    3. 2008 Angels (100) - lose in LDS
    4. 2005 Cardinals (100) - lose in LCS
    5. 2004 Yankees (101) - lose in LCS
    6. 2004 Cardinals (105) - lose in World Series
    7. 2003 Yankees (101) - lose World Series
    8. 2003 Braves (101) - lose LDS
    9. 2003 Cardinals (100) - lose LDS
    10. 2002 Yankees (103) - lose LDS
    11. 2002 Athletics (102) - lose LDS
    12. 2002 Braves (101) - lose LDs
    13. 2001 Mariners (116) - lose LCS
    14. 2001 Athletics (102) - lose LDS
    15. 1999 Braves (103) - lose World Series
    16. 1999 Diamondbacks (100) - lose LDS
    17. 1998 Yankees (114) - win World Series
    18. 1998 Braves (106) - lose LCS
    19. 1998 Astros (102) - lose LDS
    20. 1997 Braves (101) - lose LCS
    21. 1995 Indians (100) - lose World Series

    So, of 21 hundred game winners, two won the world Series, 4 lost the World Series, 5 lost the LCS, and a whopping ten lost in the LDS.

    Of the seven 103 game winners, two won the World Series, two lost the World Series, two lost in the LCS, and one lost in the LDS.

    In the current playoff system, losing the World Series is a slightly better than average result for the most successful regular season teams.


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