Tag Archive | "Connie Mack"

LaRussa Carved Distinct Path On The Road To Cooperstown

Monday morning, the inevitable became reality as the announcement was made that Tony LaRussa had been selected for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For the most successful manager born within the last century, the decision was honestly not a difficult one to reach. Rather, it is a due that shows that persistence truly does pay off in the end.

larussa_tony

LaRussa was the backbone and identity shaping presence for two of the memorable runs for a pair of baseball’s most distinguished franchises. And despite not ever being one to shy away from stating his mind or bulldogging his tactics through anything—or anyone, who may doubt them, the results stood for themselves: LaRussa was simply the best at what he did for over three decades.

After cutting his managerial teeth with the Chicago White Sox, it was in Oakland where first made his major bones by building the American League powerhouse of the late 80’s and early 90’s around the Hall of Fame (and Hall of Fame-caliber) talents of Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Mark McGwire, Dave Stewart and Jose Canseco, among others. After taking the head job in 1986, over the next nine seasons the A’s won three American League pennants, with the peak being their victory in the 1989 World Series.

However, it was his tenure in St. Louis that will stand as the definitive run of his career. When he arrived in St. Louis, the Cardinal franchise was on a downturn. After being the most successful National League franchise of the 1980’s, they had not been to the playoffs in 10 seasons and had struggled to keep their head above water within their own division.

All of that changed when LaRussa took the helm.

The organization underwent sweeping changes in 1996 with the new management group headed by Bill DeWitt took over, and one of the first changes made was to acquire LaRussa to lead a revival from the bench. With new general manager Walt Jocketty, he was armed with a new look Cardinal club, and LaRussa swiftly led the group back to the top of the newly minted National League Central and within one game of the World Series. Over the following 15 years, he would reach the postseason 10 more times, including three World Series, with victories in 2006 and 2011. By the time he decided to call it quits, his mark on the franchise was indisputable. Of his 2,728 victories, 1,408 came in the Cardinal uniform, making him the most successful St. Louis manager ever by 367 wins. He won seven divisional titles and never went more than three years without reaching the postseason. All things considered, he restored the luster to the Cardinal name.

However, these means were not reached without some friction along the way. His non-compromising style was unapologetic and was not questioned without one of his signature glares, the look of which you could almost read him attempting to gather himself to not respond with too much hostility, verbally at least. This approach caused notably friction between him and even his most talented players. Ozzie Smith mostly stayed away from the team during his tenure, due to his disagreement with how his final year was handled under LaRussa. His rift with the Rasmus family is well known, as was the resistance between Scott Rolen and himself, leading to Rolen’s departure. TLR’s persistence on doing things his way annually ruffled even the feathers of the masses that came out to support his team.

But ultimately, his way proved more often than not to be the best way. If there is one thing he cannot be tied to, it is the textbook. His championship teams in ’06 and ’11 stand in as a stark reminder that he had a skill for making the unlikely seem like the best option, and ultimately triumphing. His reliance on a succeeding with an powerful American League approach in the slash-and-dash National League furthered this methodology. As a manager, he staunchly stood by his guys, and took the hits when things went wrong. Case in point remaining in the blame he takes for the improbable collapse of Rick Ankiel’s career. He believed in players earning their stripes, but once they did, he would stick with them throughout the rest of their career. Much of this is shown in his career-spanning relationship with Dave Duncan, as well as the carryover of many of the standouts of his Oakland days contributing in St. Louis as well. The acquisition, and coaching return, of Mark McGwire only furthers the point: once you were in, you were in for life.

He believed in the game being played the right way, and quite often, whether it was clear in the moment or not, that was his way. Although the motive may have seemed seemed cloudy, the outcome often was not. While he never captured the people the way that Herzog did, nor was he a face of the organization in the way that Matheny is, but he would not have been who he was if he had been the congenial type. It was not in his nature to be welcoming or too often engaging, but it was his focus and demeanor which often raised his teams above both their talent and pay level. Regardless of how many MVP’s, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year winners he may have had in tow, there was no doubt who ran the show. It was undoubtedly Tony’s team.

In the end, success breed acceptance, and he became a part of the Cardinal family, as his permanently shelved #10 on the outfield walls proves. Only two others have outdone him in the wins category, Connie Mack and John McGraw. Of that trio, him and Mack are the only coaches in North American sports history to manage over 5,000 games.

And while he heads to Cooperstown with joined by another duo of greats in his contemporaries Bobby Cox and another former Cardinal skipper in Joe Torre, with all due respects, neither did what Tony did to reach this pinnacle. LaRussa will on in time as a complicated, but undeniably incomparable presence in both Cardinal and baseball lore.

Posted in Cardinals, Cooperstown Choices 2013, MinorsComments (1)

Black History Month: Bob Trice

Imagine yourself back in 1953 in Philadelphia. You are on the mound for your major league debut, and you walk out to a thunderous boo. You begin your warm ups, and the booing continues. The game wears on, and nothing changes. You look at the opposing pitcher, Don Larsen of the St. Louis Browns, and he is dealing out there, making your teammates work for every run. The game finishes, and the booing just will not wear down. You walk out of Connie Mack Stadium, and the people just will not stop annoying you with booing and threatening words. However, you continue on your path to the hotel room and realize that you set the standard for integration for the Athletics organization. This is the day that Bob Trice made history, on September 13, 1953.

Bob Trice broke the color barrier for the Philadelphia Athletics at Connie Mack Stadium, and set the precedent for future Athletics teams, which would later move to Kansas City. His impact on the organization was more than just a sideshow attraction. He made it possible for not only African-American players like Jarrod Dyson and Derrick Robinson, but for Latino players like Joakim Soria, Jonathan Sanchez, and Salvador Perez on the current 40-man roster. His numbers were not outstanding, and his minor league success did not carry over into the Major Leagues. He was a combined 9-9 with an ERA around 6.70 in his three seasons in Philadelphia and Kansas City. He also had 28 strikeouts and 60 walks in 152 innings pitched.

Trice will never be remembered in the same way as the greats, like Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, or Roberto Clemente for running into a lot of prejudice and playing exceptionally well, but the people of Philadelphia will always remember the day he stepped on the mound and showed his skills against Don Larson. The stadium at the intersection of Lehigh Avenue and North 21st Street was filled to see how Trice would perform for a struggling A’s team, and even though he did not earn the victory, he set the bar relatively high with his first start. He threw eight innings, letting up five earned runs, no walks, and two strikeouts.

As we watch Royals baseball this spring, we will see a newly transformed team, with all sorts of different players from different parts of the world. From Mike Moustakos to Jarrod Dyson, Bruce Chen to Jonathan Sanchez, we see many different colors and ethnicities, and we should be thankful to the man that helped them be a part of the team. Thank you Bob Trice, for helping to make Baseball the game it is today.

Posted in Featured, RoyalsComments (0)

Black History Month: Curt Flood Broke A Different Barrier

Curt Flood was a star player, who spent 12 seasons patrolling center field for the St. Louis Cardinals’ after being traded from the Cincinnati Reds following the 1957 season. During his career he was a three time All Star and won seven Gold Gloves. He was not a power hitter, but did a little bit of everything, and did it all well. Despite his accomplishments on the field, Flood’s most important contribution to baseball is his challenge of the game’s vaunted anti-trust exception, and how he helped usher in a new era of player rights and rising salaries.

The Cardinals won 87 games in 1969 with the 31 year old Flood as their longest tenured player and still producing at a high level. Therefore, it was with great surprise when it was announced on October 7, that Flood had been traded with several other players to the dreadful Philadelphia Phillies for a package highlighted by the mercurial Dick Allen. While the Cardinals got back a star player in Allen, the trade was shocking for the way it jettisoned their senior leader.

Flood didn’t want to go to Philadelphia for several reasons. After spending 12 seasons with the Cardinals, he had established his home, family, and business ventures, and felt he should have a say if asked to relocate. The Phillies were also coming off a 99 loss season and played their home games at the ancient Connie Mack Stadium, which had a rough field that would have not been kind to Flood’s knees. Additionally, Flood, an African American, never forgot brushes with racism he experienced during his career in Philadelphia.

Flood refused to accept the trade, a move which defied 100 years of control professional baseball had over its players. After determining that he would be backed by the player’s union, he officially refused to report to the Phillies and petitioned to become a free agent. He sent a letter to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, stating pointedly- “After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.”

To nobody’s surprise, Kuhn denied Flood’s request. He maintained Major League Baseball’s rights to have exclusive contractual control of the players. In his response to Flood, Kuhn wrote, “I certainly agree with you that you, as a human being, are not a piece of property to be bought and sold. That is fundamental in our society and I think obvious. However, I cannot see its applicability to the situation at hand.”

The request of free agency was something that many players had previously wished was an available option, but was something owners had always fought hard against to maintain their control. They were aided by baseball’s reserve clause, which was an exception to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 that prevented business from creating monopolies. In 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that Major League Baseball was not interstate commerce, making them exempt from the law and allowing them to control their players with an iron fist. Major League Baseball fought for such ruling to prevent rivals like the Federal League from raiding their rosters. It meant that baseball players who wanted to play professionally for a living would play on the major leagues’ terms, or not at all.

Any player who didn’t abide by baseball’s labor rules could expect their career to end quickly. One excellent example of this was pitcher Hal Trosky, Jr., who refused to sign a contract with the Chicago White Sox organization in 1961 because he knew he didn’t figure in the big league team’s plans. He asked to be released or traded so he could seek a better opportunity, and when the White Sox refused his request, he declined to sign his Chicago contract. The White Sox never officially released Trosky until 1972, more than a decade after he had thrown his last pitch; ensuring he never played professional baseball again.

Flood knew his request to Kuhn would be denied, but he was prepared to fight. He filed a $1 million lawsuit against Kuhn and Major League Baseball, alleging they were violating federal antitrust laws. For Flood, it was not a matter of black and white, but of principle. Baseball’s union chief Marvin Miller later said that when Flood was asked if he filed the suit because of perceived racism, the player replied, “I wish it was, but we are dealing with an issue that affects every player. Color has nothing to do it.”

The case immediately placed Flood in the national spotlight. With race being such a hot button issue at the time of the suit, many people did believe his action was a result of black power. Therefore, it’s not surprising that his comparison of baseball to slavery became quite polarizing. His lawyer, Arthur J. Goldberg, told the press, “Flood decided he cannot play under an illegal system- and I agree… He is not willing to be sold into servitude.”

Flood went further, stating, “The problem with the reserve clause is that it ties a man to one owner for the rest of his life. There is no other profession in the history of mankind except slavery in which one mad was tied to another for life… In slavery, men were shipped from one plantation to another and in baseball, players are shipped from one franchise to another.” The notoriety of the suit redefined Flood within the context of baseball. He was no longer the star outfielder, but rather the face of resistance and labor rights.

Although Flood’s suit had the official unanimous support of the player’s union, many players were actually divided on the issue, with a good number even supporting the owners. While former players like Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg testified on Flood’s behalf, no current players took the stand or even attended the trial. With such a contentious issue, no player wanted to endanger their own career by sticking up for Flood.

Flood’s case went before Supreme Court, which in 1972 ruled 5-3 in favor of Major League Baseball, in a type of decision known as a “stare discisis,” or leaving things the way they were. It wasn’t a total loss for Flood, because in the meantime the owners had agreed to the “10/5 Rule,” or “Curt Flood Rule,” which gave players with 10 years of major league experience, with the last 5 or more with the same team, the right to veto trades.

Flood sat out the 1970 season because of his case and his refusal to go to the Phillies. Finally, in November, 1970, the Cardinals relented and sent two minor league players to the Phillies to complete the earlier trade. Flood was then traded to the Washington Senators, where he agreed to report while awaiting the adjudication of his case. Flood struggled mightily and experienced reprisals because of his suit. Fans sent vicious and racist hate mail, and before one game at Yankee Stadium, he found a black wreath, the symbol of death, hung in place of his uniform in his locker. Many players avoided him and he was a pariah amongst the owners. His Washington manager, Ted Williams, was reputed to have derided him frequently because of his actions.

All the negativity made Flood withdraw into himself, and after 13 games, where he hit .200 with 2 RBI, he decided to retire. He finished with his career with a .293 batting average, 1,861 hits, 85 home runs, and 636 RBI. Being only 33 when he hung it up, it is likely that the reaction he received because of his lawsuit hastened the end of his career. A very good playing career may have been one that was Hall of Fame caliber if he hadn’t felt the need to retire so early.

It wasn’t until 1975 that Flood’s sacrifices and principles fully paid off for all major league players. That year baseball’s reserve clause was abolished, opening the door for free agency, higher salaries, and more player rights. While he hadn’t won his case, Flood had succeeded in changing the opinion of many fans and players about the importance of player rights. Marvin Miller used momentum from Flood’s case to make such gains, saying of the lawsuit, “Once we had that, it was only a question of a year or two before we were able to get rid of the reserve clause.”

In addition to the prominent role Flood played in changing the labor landscape of baseball, he was also a great player. Like many other agents of great change, his sacrifices paved the way for the comfort and success of others. Curt Flood should be remembered as much for his selflessness and stubbornness as much as his ability as a baseball player. As President Bill Clinton said after Flood’s death in 1997, he was a man, “whose achievements on the field were matched only by the strength of his character.”

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (0)

Tony LaRussa Announces Retirement

TONY LA RUSSA ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT;

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON CAPS 33-YEAR CAREER FOR

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS ALL-TIME WINNINGEST MANAGER

ST. LOUIS, Oct. 31, 2011 Tony La Russa, the winningest manager in St. Louis Cardinals franchise history, today announced his retirement after a record 16 seasons as the team’s manager. La Russa, 67, guided the Cardinals to their 11th World Championship this season and leaves the game ranked 3rd all-time in managerial wins (2,728) behind only John McGraw (2,763) and Connie Mack (3,731).

“My most prominent feeling today as I reflect back on my 33 years of managing and my 16 years as a St. Louis Cardinal is my overwhelming gratitude for the good fortune that I have had and the many people who helped me along the way,” said La Russa. “I had the opportunity to work for three organizations that were all very different, but very much the same in the most important way – their drive for success.”

“On behalf of the entire Cardinals organization and our tremendous fans, I want to thank Tony for everything he has done over the past 16 years to help keep the Cardinals among the most respected and revered franchises in all of professional sports,” stated Cardinals Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill DeWitt, Jr. “Tony leaves behind a legacy of success that will always be considered one of the greatest eras in Cardinals history; an era that began immediately with a Division title in 1996 and was capped off with a World Championship in 2011”

La Russa, who was named the Cardinals 48th manager on October 23, 1995, guided the Cardinals to a franchise record 1,408 wins. He led the Cardinals to eight division titles (1996, 2000-02, 2004-06 & 2009), three National League pennants (2004, 2006 & 2011) and two World Championships (2006 & 2011).

“It has been a privilege and an honor to work with one of the greatest managers in the history of the game,” said Cardinals Sr. Vice President and General Manager John Mozeliak, “Tony has been a leader, an innovator and a friend.”

La Russa is 2nd all-time in games managed with 5,097, including stints with the Chicago White Sox (1979-86) and Oakland A’s (1986-95). He ranks 1st on the Cardinals all-time games managed list with 2,491 and his 16 years of continuous service were tops among active managers/head coaches in the four major professional sports leagues.

La Russa’s Cardinals teams finished above .500 in 13 of his 16 seasons. They recorded 105 wins in 2004 and 100 wins in 2005, making La Russa just the second Cardinals manager to oversee two 100-win seasons. This year La Russa became only the second manager to win two World Championships with the Cardinals, joining Billy Southworth (1942 & 1944). La Russa and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to have led both a National and American League team to World Series titles.

During La Russa’s 16 years at the Cardinals helm, the team surpassed 3 million in season attendance 13 times, including a franchise record 3, 552,180 fans in 2007. His Cardinals teams finished no lower then 3rd place in all but three seasons.

La Russa’s Cardinals teams posted a National League best 913 wins during the decade of the 2000s, winning a league-leading 33 postseason games during that same time frame. Since joining the Cardinals in 1996, La Russa’s teams led the National League with 50 wins in the postseason and their .544 regular season winning pct. (1,408-1,182) ranked 2nd in the N.L. during that span.


FUN FACTS – TONY LA RUSSA ERA

1979 –FIRST YEAR AS MAJOR LEAGUE MANAGER; WHITE SOX

U.S. PRESIDENT – JIMMY CARTER

PRICE OF GAS – 86 CENTS/GALLON

TOP FILM – KRAMER VS. KRAMER

TOP SONG – ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL, PINK FLOYD

ESPN BEGINS BROADCASTING

SONY WALKMAN IS TOP SELLING TECH ITEM AT $200

1996 –FIRST YEAR AS CARDINALS MANAGER

U.S. PRESIDENT – BILL CLINTON

PRICE OF GAS – $1.22 CENTS/GALLON

TOP FILM – THE ENGLISH PATIENT

TOP SONG – MACARENA; LOS DEL RIO

EBAY WEBSITE LAUNCHES

DVD’S FIRST INTRODUCED IN JAPAN

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (0)

BBA Names Arizona’s Gibson, Tampa Bay’s Maddon Top Managers

BBA Names Arizona’s Gibson, Tampa Bay’s Maddon Top Managers
Top Blogger Organization Awards Connie Mack Award For 2011

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon were named the 2011 Connie Mack Award winners today by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. The Connie Mack Award recognizes those considered the top manager for the season.

Gibson took over an Arizona team that finished last in the National League West in 2010 and led them to a divisional title in his first year on the job. Gibson’s Diamondbacks led all year long and finished a comfortable eight games ahead of defending World Champion San Francisco to move on to the postseason stage. Voting was done before the Diamondbacks lost to the Milwaukee Brewers in five games in the National League Divisional Series.

Gibson was a unanimous winner, scoring the top slot on all 21 ballots cast by the portion of the membership that voted on the National League award. Ron Roenicke, whose Brewers defeated Gibson’s squad, finished second in the balloting, while St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony La Russa finished third.

Maddon was rewarded after leading his team to the largest September rally in history, leading his Rays from nine games back in the wild card race to passing up the Boston Red Sox on the last day. As in the National League, voting did not take into account the Rays falling to the Texas Rangers in four games in the American League Divisional Series.

Maddon received the top billing on 22 of the 25 ballots cast for the American League voters, easily outpacing Detroit’s Jim Leyland and Texas Ranger manager Ron Washington. Washington garnered the three first place votes that did not go to Maddon.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League
Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay (22) 113
Jim Leyland, Detroit 48
Ron Washington, Texas (3) 37
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles of Anaheim 13
Joe Girardi, New York 9
Manny Acta, Cleveland 5
John Farrell, Toronto 1

National League
Kirk Gibson, Arizona (21) 105
Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee 39
Tony La Russa, St. Louis 16
Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia 13
Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh 7
Terry Collins, New York 5
Bruce Bochy, San Francisco 3
Freddi Gonzalez, Atlanta 1

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of this writing, the organization consists of 316 blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into “chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted. The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split between the two leagues.

Chapters generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot. Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Notably, though the Alliance’s awards come out well before their official counterparts, the BBA selections have matched those of the Baseball Writers of America in all but two instances in the past two years. This, of course, does not include the Goose Gossage Award that is exclusive to the BBA.

Ballots are posted on the respective blogs and for this award, were tabulated on a 5-3-1 point scale for first through third place. In the interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots. Chapter affiliation is in parenthesis. Those chapters that decided on the group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Baltimore Sports and Life (Baltimore)
Baseball Is My Boyfriend (Texas)*
Baseball North (Toronto)
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
Contract Year (Oakland)*
500 Level Fan (Toronto)
The Flagrant Fan (General)
Kings of Kauffman (Kansas City)*
Misc. Baseball (History)
Monkey With A Halo (Los Angeles of Anaheim)
Motor City Bengals (Detroit)
North Dakota Twins Fan (Minnesota)
Old English D (Detroit)
The Rays Rant (Tampa Bay)
Rise of the Rays (Tampa Bay)
Seattle Mariners Musings (Seattle)
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Twins Trivia (Minnesota)
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)

National League
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)
Appy Astros (Houston)
Blog Red Machine (Cincinnati)
Cincinnati Reds Blog (Cincinnati)
Dugger Sports (Philadelphia)
The Eddie Kranepool Society (New York)*
The Flagrant Fan (General)
I70 Baseball (St. Louis)
Left Coast Bias (San Diego)
Misc. Baseball (History)
On The Outside Corner (St. Louis)
Padres Trail (San Diego)
Prose and Ivy (Chicago)*
Raise The Jolly Roger (Pittsburgh)
Rockies Woman (Colorado)
22 Gigantes (San Francisco)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)

Prior Winners: 2010: Ron Washington, Texas; Bud Black, San Diego
2009: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles of Anaheim; Jim Tracy, Colorado

The official website of the BBA is located at baseballbloggersalliance.wordpress.com. The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba. For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at founder@baseballbloggersalliance.com.

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, I-70 Special Reports, RoyalsComments (0)

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Ballot: NL Manager Of The Year

Every year, the group known as the Baseball Bloggers Alliance places their ballots for various awards to be announced at the end of the season. This year, Bob Netherton and I will be placing the votes for the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance in the category of Manager Of The Year. The award is officially titled The Connie Mack Award, so named because of the winningest manager in baseball history.

For me, this year’s group of skippers came down to a few criteria. Who did more with less? Who found ways to win games that were not meant to be won? It was not about taking a team that was supposed to win and winning (Sorry Charlie Manuel). It was about taking a team that had been written off (even on a game-to-game basis – everyone should be beating the Astros right now) and doing something unexpected. So without further ado, here are my top three choices for the Manager of the Year.

3. Tony LaRussa (St. Louis Cardinals) – Believe it or not, this is not a hometown pick. I am not a LaRussa fan, and I make no qualms about saying so. The man overmanages at times, yet finds ways to win. He is the third most winningest manager of all time, and will probably pass up John McGraw in the next season, should he return. But this award is not about longevity. It is about this year.

LaRussa’s Cardinals did more than anyone would have predicted they could this year. Their march to the postseason really did not begin in earnest until September, as they found themselves 10.5 games out of the race (wild card and divisional) during the week of August 24. They lost an ace in Adam Wainwright before the season began. Superstars Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday both suffered injuries that landed them on the shelf throughout the season. Guys that few out of the Midwest had heard of named Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso led the team in games played. Yet this team prevailed, made a historic comeback, and found their way into the playoffs. Tony might make me nuts, but he must be doing something right.

2. Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh Pirates) – The Pirates had been complacent in the cellar of the National League for 18 years entering the 2011 campaign. Most people probably could not name 3 players off of the Pirate’s roster. The definition of a young team – Hurdle had only two players on his roster over the age of 30 this year. Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty. This team was doomed from the start.

Then something remarkable happened. Hurdle’s club put together a 47-43 first half. On July 19, game number 95 on the season, the Pirates were up a half game on the Milwaukee Brewers, a season high seven games over .500, and shocking the baseball scene. It was not going to last, according to pretty much everyone, but the Pirates held out longer than anyone thought they would. Hurdle had a young team, but he brought out the best in them, and if the team can stick together for a few years instead of trading them away for aging veterans, they could surprise again next year.

1. Kirk Gibson (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Last year, the Diamondbacks lost 97 games, finishing 27 games back of the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants. Gibson, that of postseason fame himself, took over the reins of the team at roughly the halfway mark of that largely forgettable season. This season, Gibson brought in the A-Team for his coaching staff. Don Baylor, Alan Trammell, Matt Williams and Charles Nagy, among others, are all roaming the halls and dugout steps of Chase Field. Former coaches and managers in their own right, All-Stars whose playing days are not all that distant, now all together in one dugout. Every time you looked into that dugout, you wondered how Gibson got all those guys in one place.

This year, on the backs of a strong pitching staff led by starter Ian Kennedy and reliever J.J. Putz, the Diamondbacks shocked the National League West, running away from the division and finishing 8 games ahead of the Giants and the rest of the pack. Gibson made moves that other coaches would not make, used a regular lineup of players aged 23-30, and earned the respect of the rest of the National League in the process. Gibson might just be starting out his managerial career, but he is off to a good start.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals as well as edits for i70baseball.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

 

Posted in Cardinals, Featured, I-70 Baseball Exclusives, I-70 Special ReportsComments (1)

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Ballot: NL Manager Of The Year

Every year, the group known as the Baseball Bloggers Alliance places their ballots for various awards to be announced at the end of the season. This year, it is my pleasure to place the votes for the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance in the category of Manager Of The Year. The award is officially titled The Connie Mack Award.

The National League this year has shown some diversity amongst the teams. Highly competitive races came down to the last few weeks of the season, highlighted by three teams and the men that guided them. In my mind, the top three managers to be considered for the award are listed here….

3 – Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds
I know, as a Cardinal person I should not even utter his name. However, all things considered, I think you have to acknowledge the job that Baker did in Cincinnati this season with a team that most did not expect to even finish above .500. I am personally not a fan of his management style, and honestly should probably put Walt Jocketty’s name in parenthesis behind Baker’s, but all things considered he took a team that should not have been in playoff contention and turned them into division champions.

The only thing keeping Baker from climbing higher into this list is the team’s collapse down the stretch. A team that had every opportunity to bury the Cardinals and seal the division very early on, the Reds resembled the World Series Champion Cardinals from 2006 that were known for “backing into” the playoffs. The Reds capitalized more in the month of September from the Cardinals inability to win then they did from their ability to do so.

2 – Brad Mills, Houston Astros
Speaking of teams that everyone picked to lose, the Houston Astros were picked by many to challenge the Pirates for the opposite end of the division race. A very young team that had some financial problems with veteran stars, the Astros were viewed as a franchise that was in turmoil. Locked into rebuilding with very talented youngsters, the team was mired in the back end of contracts to star players that needed to be replaced.

Brad Mills took a young group of players, watched talent like Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman be traded away, and somehow put together a season that suggests that the Astros could be competing sooner rather than later for the division title. A team that most picked to finish dead last was capable of posting a record that ended a mere 10 games below .500. Mills was rewarded with an extension to his contract, showing faith in his ability to lead the players through the remainder of the rebuilding process. With Mills at the helm, the rest of the National League Central should take notice of the Houston Astros.

1 – Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants
There are teams that overachieved and there are teams that went above and beyond. Bochy took a Giants team that many picked to be contenders, but not playoff ready, and has led them into the playoffs and past future Hall Of Fame manager Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves and into the National League Championship Series to take on baseball’s latest dynasty, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Most pundits did not think the Giants were quite “there” at the begining of this season. But behind Bochy’s leadership, the team leveraged great play from rookie cornerstones and solid play from veteran leaders to put themselves in a postion to steal the Postseason away from everyone involved.

There you have it, my picks for the Connie Mack Award for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

Posted in FeaturedComments (10)

Tony LaRussa: The Man St. Louis Loves To Hate

It is true in just about every sport. The fans will second-guess, criticize and belittle the management staff at the helm of the team. Every loss, bad decision, mental lapse and poorly executed maneuver will have the team’s die hard fan base wondering if he has lost his touch. Tony LaRussa, as successful as he has been, is no different.

Tony sits in the third spot when you look at all time list of wins for a manger. Though he most likely will not catch Connie Mack before he calls it a career, John McGraw is well within his sites with a few more years left in his gas tank. He has led two different franchises to World Championships. He has coached four players who would win Rookie Of The Year, five Most Valuable Players, three Cy Young Award Winners, and has won three Manager Of The Year Awards (including the very first one in 1983). His strategy is simple, win every series by taking two of every three games and do not worry about winning streaks.

Still, every day fans clamor about his micro managing ways. People criticize when he substitutes a pitcher, pulls a double switch, trusts a veteran over a rookie or plays the odds of every statistic available to him. They sit back the next day and question whether or not the game has passed him by. They wonder if this will be the season that it all ends.

Tony’s contract expires at the end of 2010 and there will be much speculation between now and then on whether he will come back for another year or not. Tony does not like to discuss such things until after the season ends and he has the time to think through the decision without emotions playing a large part. The team has seemingly left him with an open door over the past few seasons, allowing him to decide his own fate and inform them if he wishes to return. The team has shown no interest in making a change until the manager simply does not want to return.

The franchise has made a very conscious decision to focus on a farm system that has been heavily depleted. The management style over the organization has changed to be one that values prospects and youngsters. Tony’s value on veteran ball players does not match up well with this. At times over the last few years, it was obvious that there was a power struggle between upper management and field managers.

This season the team retired the number 24 in honor of Whitey Herzog. Long regarded as one of the top managers to ever lead the Cardinals, Whitey helped the team to three playoff series and one World Championship. Tony LaRussa has led the team to seven playoff appearances and won a championship of his own. He has been instrumental in the arrival of Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire to this city. He has kept this team competitive and helped players like Matt Morris, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright build strong seasons after finding themselves injured and struggling to regain form.

Tony plays the number game, turns away prospects, makes double switches, and makes many fans reach for the Tums as they wish for the best. He can irritate the most loyal fan and yet reward you with situations you did not think were possible. For all the second-guessing, arm chair quarterbacking and demands that fans make for him to be replaced, he will easily go down in history as one of the most successful, determined, and rewarding managers this city has ever seen. He will find his way into the halls of Cooperstown, New York amongst the best ever in the game of baseball. He will leave the Cardinals and head home to his wife and daughters in California or possibly to one more managerial assignment in another town.

The only question is, will it happen in 2010?

Posted in Cardinals, FeaturedComments (4)


Fantasy Sports Machine