Photo: SD Dirk / Flickr
For a week or two there, Tony La Russa couldn’t really do anything wrong.Then the World Series comes along, and suddenly a few things started going wrong. At which point La Russa’s predilection for micro-managing suddenly seemed an affliction rather than a gift. And suddenly it was easy for the second-guessers and the naysayers and the nattering nabobs to engage their reflexive negativity and scepticism.
“If he were such a genius,” they said — OK, maybe I said — “why has he lost so many postseason games? Why has he lost so many postseason series?”
It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? We know that Tony La Russa ranks third on the all-time list for career managerial wins, and is going to pass No. 2-man John McGraw next season. But when it comes to La Russa’s postseason record, mostly what we know is that in 33 years he’s won two World Series.
That seems like not a lot, right? Two in 33 years?
Casey Stengel won seven World Series in 25 years.
Joe Torre won four World Series in 29 years.
Sparky Anderson won three World Series in 26 years.
Tommy Lasorda won two World Series in 21 years.
Tom Kelly won two World Series in 16 years.
Shoot, Cito Gaston won two World Series in 12 years.
All of those guys have more impressive World Series records — championship records — than TLR.
Ah, but that’s only half the story.
Bobby Cox won one World Series in 29 years.
Whitey Herzog won one World Series in 18 years.
Earl Weaver won one World Series in 17 years.
So maybe it’s not as easy as Tom Kelly and Cito Gaston made it look.
Still … two in 33 years.
Hey, in 48 hours it might be three in 33 years. Which would look better. But still not great. Not compared to Joe Torre and Casey Stengel and Sparky Anderson, all of whom will have fewer career wins than La Russa but more World Series championships.
And in 48 hours it might still be two in 33 years. It might be two forever.
There are extenuations. Before the Wild Card Era, La Russa managed five postseason teams, and one of them won the World Series; that’s the most likely outcome, based purely on chance. During the Wild Card Era (and before this season), La Russa’s teams have been in the playoffs seven times, and won one World Series; again, according to chance that’s the most likely outcome.
So La Russa’s teams have no better or worse than we should have expected … Except shouldn’t we expect more from a Hall of Fame manager who’s widely acknowledged as perhaps the smartest manager of his time. Shouldn’t we expect more from someone who’s been good enough to manage for 33 years, who’s managed the players La Russa has managed?
Has La Russa come close to winning more than two World Series? Actually, he’s come strikingly not close. In the three World Series his teams have lost, they won exactly one game. His A’s won a game against the Dodgers in 1988, were swept by the Reds in 1990, and his Cardinals were blanked by the Red Sox in 2004.
On the other hand, La Russa’s Series wins have been just as lopsided. His A’s swept the Giants in 1989, and his Cards swept the Tigers in 2006. Yeah, that’s right: this year marks Tony La Russa’s first World Series to last more than five games.
Why focus on World Series alone, though? Five World Series (before this one) and 21 games … seems like a lot of games, but of course it’s really not. What if we look at all the postseason games La Russa has managed? Wouldn’t that give us a better read on his actual abilities? To whatever small degree we can do that?
And here’s the thing … Before this World Series, La Russa’s teams have played in 25 postseason series. They won 15 of them.
That’s really good.
Before this World Series, La Russa’s teams played 116 postseason games, and won 64 of them. That’s 55 per cent.
That’s really good, too.
One hundred and sixteen games still isn’t a truly significant sample size, and La Russa’s .552 winning percentage in those games still doesn’t tell us much about La Russa that we didn’t know already.
One thing it does tell us, though: Tony La Russa has been far from a postseason failure. He’s won more than his fair share of postseason games, with a record perfectly in keeping with the rest of his career. The only thing that’s missing is another World’s Championship or two.
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