Esquire: "Tony La Russa can't win at anything that counts"

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My take on Tony La Russa: he’s a bizarre, often humorless and mildly unpleasant guy who manages in ways that aren’t aesthetically pleasing to me. But Charles Pierce at Esquire Magazine makes me look like La Russa’s P.R. director:

But the truly remarkable thing about La Russa is his rather unspectacular record at winning anything that counts. Eugene McCarthy once said of Walter Mondale that the latter “had the soul of a vice-president.” Tony La Russa has the soul of a semifinalist. Yes, he’s won a couple World Series — the same number as have Cito Gaston and Terry Francona . . .

. . . What more ably limns La Russa’s career, however, is his remarkable inability to win with talent . . . since moving his law degree and (as far as I know) his ballet school T-shirt to St. Louis, La Russa holds the distinction of bringing into the 2004 World Series against the Red Sox perhaps the least well-prepared 105-win team in baseball history.

I hate to defend La Russa — like I said, I really don’t like the guy — but this is an outrageous reach. The author here is simply trying his best to be provocative while completely failing to acknowledge the nature of the playoffs (i.e. that they’re subject to wildly random fluctuations of luck and circumstance). Even I, an avowed La Russa loather, appreciates that he’s a Hall of Fame manager.

Heck, he has one more ring than my team’s Hall of Fame manager has, and I’d say that my team’s Hall of Fame manager has, over the course of his career, had more talent than La Russa has. Indeed, it’s pretty tough to make an argument that any manager over the past quarter century has been better than old Tony. At most it’s a three-way argument between him, Cox and Torre, quite possibly in that order.

I got all kinds of guff for that Jeter piece the other day. The difference between this and that, however, is that when I’m trying to stir the pot, I’m not going to misrepresent a guy’s record on the field. Indeed, even when I’m messing with Jeter and his many, many fans, I’ll be the first to acknowledge his greatness as a ballplayer.

By the same token, it’s a free country and you can hate on Tony La Russa all you want. But you gotta do way better than this guy at Esquire does in order to even begin to argue that La Russa is not a great manager, let alone make a convincing argument.

Video: Nomar Mazara crushes a 491-foot home run

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 27:  Nomar Mazara #30 of the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on April 27, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Rangers rookie outfielder Nomar Mazara crushed the longest home run of the season to date, according to Statcast, with a 491-foot shot to the upper deck in right field against the Angels on Wednesday afternoon. With the bases empty and no outs in the second inning, Angels lefty Hector Santiago threw a 1-1 off-speed pitch, which did not fool Mazara in the slightest.

Statcast measured it at 491 feet. Giancarlo Stanton previously had the longest home run at 475 feet off of Hector Neris on May 6. Franklin Gutierrez hit a 491-foot shot on Saturday against Reds pitcher John Lamb.

Mazara entered the afternoon hitting a terrific .317/.364/.483 with seven home runs and 18 RBI in 162 plate appearances.

Blue Jays activate Devon Travis from the disabled list

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 22: Devon Travis #29 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates scoring a run in the third inning against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on July 22, 2015 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
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The Blue Jays announced on Wednesday afternoon that the club has activated second baseman Devon Travis from the disabled list. To create roster space, ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte has been optioned to Triple-A Buffalo.

Travis, 25, last played on July 28 last year. He battled a shoulder injury for which he would undergo season-ending surgery. He burst onto the scene as a productive rookie, batting .304/.361/.498 with eight home runs and 35 RBI in 239 plate appearances before being sidelined.

Thus far, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney have handled second base for the most part for the Jays. But the club has gotten a meager .585 OPS out of the position, the lowest mark in the league. The return of Travis should be quite a boon. He is batting eighth in Wednesday night’s lineup against the Yankees.

Adam Wainwright is not a fan of the proposed strike zone changes

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6 to 1 in Game Five of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 9, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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It’s probably not a big shocker that a pitcher is not a big fan of the strike zone being made smaller, but Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he is not a fan of the proposed changes to the strike zone we wrote about recently, calling the proposal “a horrible, horrible idea.”

Horrible, he acknowledges, because he’s a pitcher with a vested interest so, yes, let’s give Wainwright credit for self-awareness and for disclosing his self-interest. But he thinks it’s a bad idea for another reason too: more hits will lead to more balls in the gap and thus longer games.

I get the intuitive nature of that — the longer it takes to retire a side the longer games go — but it doesn’t necessarily follow that offense and game times are related in the way Wainwright implies. There was a lot more scoring in the 1990s and early 2000s and games were actually shorter then than now. Partially because of other factors (i.e. there were not quite as many pitching changes and because guys played at a faster clip). Partially, I suspect, because there were fewer strikeouts and strikeouts take a longer time than guys grounding out or having some of those balls in the gap caught on the run by a fast outfielder.

As I said last week, I suspect that we’ll see fewer balls in the gap than Wainwright implies and, rather, a lot more walks as pitchers test umpires to see if they’re really taking away that low strike. In the short term that’ll actually make games longer, though not for the reason Wainwright thinks.

 

 

Report: Jonny Gomes has retired

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Jonny Gomes of the Kansas City Royals looks on before Game Two of the 2015 World Series between the Royals and the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo hears from a source that former major leaguer Jonny Gomes has decided to retire from baseball. The 35-year-old spent the 2016 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japan Pacific League, but he struggled at the plate, batting .169/.280/.246 in 75 plate appearances. Gomes left the Eagles by mutual consent back on May 11.

Gomes won a championship with the Red Sox in 2013 and the Royals last year. He ends a 13-year major league career having hit .242/333/.436 with 162 home runs in 4,009 trips to the plate.

Gomes was known as a clubhouse leader during his playing career, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up coaching or managing in some capacity in the future.