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.

Brandon McCarthy wins final spot in Dodgers’ rotation

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We learned on Monday that Hyun-Jin Ryu won one of the final two spots in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Brandon McCarthy has won the other, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. Alex Wood was McCarthy’s competitor for the spot.

McCarthy, 33, posted a 4.85 ERA across four appearances spanning 13 innings this spring, yielding seven earned runs on 14 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Wood, a southpaw, gave up five earned runs in six innings against the Reds on Tuesday, which might have factored into the decision.

Last season, McCarthy made nine starts and one relief appearance, posting a 4.95 ERA with a 44/26 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. In the event McCarthy falters, the club has Wood as well as Julio Urias and the injured Scott Kazmir as potential replacements.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.