I remain firmly in the camp that Tony La Russa made a bad decision in deciding not to go with R.A. Dickey as the All-Star Game starter. The arguments for Dickey over Matt Cain are pretty clear both statistically (Dickey has been the better pitcher) and thematically (Dickey has been the better story), so I won’t rehash them.
But what there has been less-than-satisfying talk about is why La Russa made this decision. The official line is that there are concerns about Buster Posey catching Dickey’s knuckleball, but that seems less than satisfying for a couple of reasons and is actually inconsistent with La Russa’s own statements.
Specifically, La Russa said that Dickey will still pitch in the first part of the game. Which means either (a) he’s going to have to pitch to Posey anyway; or (b) La Russa is going to pull Posey in the first part of the game and replace him with Carlos Ruiz, thereby leaving the NL with no catchers on the bench for most of the game, as they are only carrying two. Not very La Russaian of him to be so incautious.
So, the reasoning is still nebulous. But Tony Manfred Business Insider thinks he knows why La Russa chose Matt Cain:
The baseball world sees Dickey and his knuckleball as a gimmick, an odd and fleeting path to effectiveness that automatically disqualifies him from the realm of great pitchers and places him his own separate and inferior category … The basic lesson is this: Greatness in sports is not about objective superiority, it’s about satisfying popular assumptions about what greatness ought to look like.
There’s an inherent bias against players who succeed differently.
So Dickey is being penalized, consciously or otherwise, because he doesn’t adhere to baseball orthodoxy? That’d be a swell explanation if the man who made the decision was anyone but Tony La Russa, who has been the least orthodox great manager in baseball history. He fundamentally changed bullpen usage. He batted his pitcher eighth. He never had any problem mixing it up with established figures in the game be they players, other managers or members of the media. Indeed, La Russa’s m.o, would have him more likely to make some unorthodox move than anyone.
Which probably best explains the choice of Cain over Dickey. Any old manager can pitch the best, most deserving guy to start the All-Star Game. But it takes a singular, genius-infused maverick like Tony La Russa to go with the less obvious choice.