Tony La Russa stepped down as Cardinals manager on October 31, calling it quits after 33 seasons, 2,728 wins, and three championships, but being retired won’t keep him from managing this year’s All-Star game.
Pennant-winning managers get the honor of managing the next season’s All-Star game and MLB announced that La Russa will manage the National League team in July.
And there should be plenty of Cardinals fans in attendance, as the game will be played at Kauffmann Stadium in Kansas City. And presumably they’ll make sure the bullpen phone is working.
In previous years when the pennant-winning skipper is unavailable to manage the All-Star game for whatever reason the league’s runner-up manager gets the nod, which would have been Ron Roenicke of the Brewers. However, there’s precedent for the La Russa situation, as Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh retired following a World Series win in 1971 and came back to manage the All-Star game in 1972.
Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.
Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.
Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.
What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.