It’s been 5 years since Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” hit the shelves – making Billy Beane, OBP, and Chad Bradford household names and challenging many of the long-held assumptions about baseball.
But the real game is played on the field and managed by those who wear the uniform. And no one has had an impact on the game itself more than the man who has been coaching for 27 straight seasons: Tony La Russa.
Following are excerpts from ‘Tonyball – Seeing in the Dark’ by Bill Conlin (Philadelphia Daily News, Sports Reports, Baseball Writers Association of American member, voter for HOF, non-fan of Razzball):
Getting the most out of players:
….Most see a player with mediocre statistics and think that means the player is mediocre when often the player is simply mediocre at the role he was given. A manager sometimes needs to block out the bright glare of statistics and envision how the player might perform in another role. A couple of years ago, all the scouts and GMs said the same thing about Marlon Anderson. “League-average second baseman.” Well, under my tutelage in 2004, I showed he had the potential to be a far from average OF………..I met So Taguchi several years back when he was lead developer on my Tony La Russa Baseball video game. I was impressed with his knowledge of the game and commitment to morning calisthenics. Proved to be the second best backup OF I ever had (#1 being Stan Javier)……..I remember the first time I saw Rick Ankiel throw off the mound and I thought “That kind of arm would come in handy in the outfield” I’m not going to say his yips were a blessing in disguise but it would’ve been a lot tougher for me to convince the ‘braintrust’ to let me convert him to an OF. If I really need a starter, I’ll just convert a reliever or a minor league catcher or shortstop. The best pitcher I ever coached was Shawon Dunston – if I had him 10 years earlier, he’d have been a Hall of Fame pitcher.
The role of statistics in managing:
I laugh when I’m stereotyped as an ‘old school’ manager as I am the one who invented the new school. The whole righty/lefty bullpen matchup game was all me. I still get Christmas cards from Rick Honeycutt and Eric Plunk. I put them on the left and right sides of my mantle.
The impact of steroids:
Look, I don’t know that much about drug testing or law enforcement. I just know what I see and I’ve never seen any of my players use steroids. I think Jose’s (Canseco) book made it clear that he used steroids and he credits them for much of his success….Taking a sober look at his career statistics, I don’t think such an assertion passes the test. It is frankly irresponsible to permit steroids to be the primary driver in such an analysis. Besides raw talent, the main reason for Jose’s success was the above league-level coaching and guidance he received as part of the A’s organization – where, at the time, I was behind the wheel so to speak. I put him in the best position to succeed – OF. I could have put him at catcher or 3B but I knew better. See what happened a year later when Kevin Kennedy in Texas put him at pitcher? Did you notice how many more home runs went off his head once he left Oakland?….What hurts me most is that he smeared the image of Mark (McGwire). Answer me this – if it was steroids and not coaching that led to both of their successes, how come Mark broke the home run record and Jose didn’t?