Thursday, October 28, 2004

Sorry, Cardinal Fans, LaRussa Is No Genius Manager

Some thoughts on the World Series and a baseball season that is finally over:

I realize Tony LaRussa spent some time in Des Moines and is regarded as a sort of thinking man’s manager who can make something happen out of nothing.

But I don’t think the St. Louis Cardinals’ manager is any more of a genius on the baseball field than Bobby Cox of the Braves or Ron Gardenhire of the Twins.

It pains me to say that I believe LaRussa is more of a baseball strategist than the Cubs’ Dusty Baker, but first-year Red Sox manager Terry Francona proved in the World Series that he can go stride-for-stride with LaRussa any day of the year and in both ends of a doubleheader.

I really think LaRussa tries to over-manage instead of letting some pretty good athletes in his dugout do what comes naturally.

He has a way of making his players uptight to the point of costing them in a big game or a big series.

How many pairs of glasses does LaRussa use in the dugout?

I mean, why does this man wear sunglasses during night games?

Because I think he’s vain.

He’s forever taking his glasses off and putting them on. When he comes out of the dugout to remove a pitcher from the game, LaRussa makes sure he’s wearing no glasses.

When he’s interviewed by a TV reporter during a game, he’s wearing no glasses.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the viewing public seeing a middle-aged man – especially a middle-aged man who’s losing his hair, as is the case with LaRussa—wearing glasses.

Even glasses that aren’t shades.

Why didn’t LaRussa have a pitcher warming up when the Red Sox were building their 3-0 lead against the Cardinals’ Jason Marquis in the final game of the World Series?

LaRussa keeps Dave Duncan, his pitching coach, on edge and so busy during games that you’d have thought he’d told him to tell reliever Dan Haren to get warm when it was obvious Marquis didn’t have it.

The Cardinals’ Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds weren’t exactly 0-for-the-World Series, but they were close to it.

Why didn’t Joe Buck, the Fox sportscaster who did the play-by-play on the Series, and analyst Tim McCarver offer some opinion on why the Cardinals’ big boppers couldn’t hit their way out of a paper sack against Boston?

St. Louis sportswriters are saying Buck, the son of longtime Cardinals play-by-play announcer Jack Buck and a man who hosts a radio show on which LaRussa answers questions, didn’t hesitate to wonder about some of LaRussa’s weird moves in the fourth game of the Series.

But he didn’t do enough questioning. Neither did McCarver, a former catcher who is supposed to know a few things about hitting.

I hope Dusty Baker was watching when a couple of St. Louis’ players bunted. A bunt was something Baker hardly ever saw – or encouraged – in 2004 with the Cubs.

Maybe that’s because Baker rarely saw a pitch he didn’t like when he played. The word “bunt” was not in his vocabulary then, either.

What’s it going to take for the Cubs to make it to the World Series next season?

They’ve got to dump outfielder Sammy Sosa and get Carlos Beltran [who finished the season in Houston], dump shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and get Orlando Cabrera [who ended the season with the Red Sox], dump Mark Grudzielanek and either turn the fulltime second base job over to Todd Walker or someone else who can hit .300, dump reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who once fell asleep in the clubhouse, dump reliever Kent Mercker, who spent too much time this season telling TV analyst Steve Stone what he thought of him, and find a closer who can get the side out without being lit up with a game-winning, ninth-inning home run far too often [are you listening, LaTroy Hawkins?]


Just as I was about to say that we should maybe start bracing for something called the “Hy-Vee Iowa-Iowa State Classic” football game next fall, along comes word that there won’t be an SCC Michigan-Ohio State Classic” after all.

Maybe you weren’t aware of it, but something terrible was going to happen.

Something called SBC Communications was going to offer Michigan and Ohio State $260,000 each for the next two years to sponsor their football games. A logo for the game featuring SBC’s name was to have been displayed on the scoreboard and on signs around the stadium.

In the event you didn’t realize it, San Antonio-based SBC already sponsors the Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas in Dallas.

So I figured that if that was the case, and if Ohio State and Michigan [and, I guess, the whole Big Ten] thought it was all right for games to be sponsored, Iowa and Iowa State would join forces with Hy-Vee or Kwik Trip or even Roto Rooter to sponsor the next couple of Hawkeye-Cyclone games.

Thank goodness Mary Sue Coleman, the former president at the University of Iowa, had something to do with getting SBC out of the Michigan-Ohio State picture.

Coleman is now the president at Michigan. She and Bill Martin, Michigan’s athletic director, decided the sponsorship idea wasn’t acceptable.

“Money was not the issue,” Martin said.

Oh, sure.

Before we give Martin, Coleman and the folks at Ohio State too much credit, Martin pointed out that 80 percent of e-mails and phone calls from Michigan alumni didn’t like the sponsorship idea.

So I’m wondering if maybe the $1 million payoff would have been accepted by the schools if the e-mailers and callers wouldn’t have voiced their opinions.

And you know what would have been next, don’t you? The players would have been wearing “SBC” on their sleeves. But they wouldn’t have gotten any of the money for doing it. Just the coaches would have profited.

Like the shoe contracts all of ‘em have.


I don’t think the coaches and athletic directors will be pocketing any money from the next idea I’m going to write about.

But you never know.

Anyway, Iowa and Wisconsin announced today that their football teams will be playing for something called the Heartland Trophy, starting with the Nov. 20 game this season in Iowa City.

“We’re delighted to introduce this traveling trophy to all Hawkeye and Badger fans,” Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby said. “The Iowa-Wisconsin series has always been one of the most competitive and hard fought series in college football. The bull on the top of the trophy symbolizes the kind of games that have been typical when the schools meet. It's a trophy that will be treasured by the winning team each year.”


Yes, bull!

Not a pig like Floyd of Rosedale, which goes to the winner of the Iowa-Minnesota game. Not a jug [as in Little Brown Jug] that goes to the Minnesota-Michigan winner. Not bucket [as in Old Oaken Bucket] that goes to the Purdue-Indiana winner.

What I don’t know yet is if the bull has a name. After I see it, I may make up my own name for it.

After all, I’ve seen a lot of coaches throw a lot of bull around. So I’ve been around plenty of it over the years.

The Heartland Trophy was designed by artist and former Iowa student Frank Strub. He’s a native of Iowa City, won a freshman football numeral with the Hawkeyes in 1951. He’s now retired and living in Des Moines.

“My wife [Pat] and I wanted to give something back in appreciation of our college days,” Strub said.

Said Barry Alvarez, a former Mason City High School coach and a former assistant at Iowa who now is Wisconsin’s football coach and athletic director: “This trophy is a terrific opportunity to further showcase a great Midwestern college football rivalry. Having served on the football staffs at both institutions, I’m very aware of how much the matchup means to fans as well as student-athletes of both schools…..”

Vol. 4, No. 272
Oct. 28, 2004