The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

May 10, 2012

Mike Pound: Cheering for Tony La Russa, a great manager

I won’t have a chance to watch it, but I will be cheering anyway.

Tonight, when the St. Louis Cardinals officially retire Tony La Russa’s jersey number, I will be in Tulsa, Okla., watching our 14-year-old daughter, Emma, dance. I thought about telling my wife that I couldn’t go to Tulsa tonight because I had to stay home and watch the retirement ceremony. But, once, I also thought about taking up skydiving.

The only difference between telling my wife that I couldn’t watch Emma dance because I had to watch Tony’s retirement ceremony on TV and jumping out of an airplane is that, at least with a parachute, there is a chance I might survive the latter.

As most baseball fans know, last fall Tony led the Cardinals to a second World Series championship with him as manager. A few days later, Tony decided that after some 50 years wearing a baseball uniform, it was time to hang up the cleats.

I can see that. With 2,728 career wins and three World Series championships in two different leagues, I don’t see that Tony had anything else to prove. Sure, if Tony had come back this year, he likely would have passed legendary manager John McGraw, who is second on the all-time win list. But I’m pretty sure that wasn’t something that concerned Tony.

I think Tony thought about what he wanted to do and did it. That sort of thinking, by the way, has made Tony a divisive figure among some baseball fans. For all of Tony’s accomplishments, it always used to amaze me that many otherwise sane baseball fans didn’t like him.

To some, Tony was a showboat, a guy who thought he was more important than the players on the field, who thought he was smarter than anyone else in the game. Tony kept an offseason home near San Francisco — something that bothered many St. Louis fans.

“Hmmm. Spend the winter in St. Louis or spend it in California. Decisions, decisions.”

Tony is a vegetarian. What sort of baseball guy is a vegetarian? Gee, maybe one who knows what really goes into baseball stadium hot dogs.

Tony has a law degree. What sort of baseball guy is a lawyer? Look, this is the 21st century. We now have a president who supports gay marriage. Surely we can open up major league baseball to lawyers.

The thing is, Tony didn’t showboat. He never said or indicated that he was more important than the players on the field. Nor did he ever indicate that he was smarter than anyone else in the game. He just did what he thought would help his team win.

Depending on your point of view, Tony is either given credit or blame for changing the way relief pitchers are used today. Many baseball fans think Tony’s numerous pitching changes (he made 15 pitching changes two days after he retired) were unnecessary.

I don’t know. All I know is that — as I pointed out earlier — Tony retired with 2,728 wins.

While he was in St. Louis, Tony was mocked because he sometimes dared to bat the pitcher eighth rather than the traditional ninth. Baseball “experts” were aghast at such a move. But Tony didn’t worry much about the “experts.”

Tony had a guy named Albert Pujols on his team. Albert may be off to a slow start this year, but when Tony had him, Albert was the best player and the most feared hitter in the game. All Tony wanted to do by batting the pitcher eighth was give Albert a chance to drive in more runs.

So tonight, the St. Louis Cardinals will retire Tony’s number 10, and I won’t be able to watch.

But somewhere in Tulsa, I’ll be cheering.

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