Series managers have impressive credentials
The World Series always puts both managers under a high-powered microscope - and this year is no exception. The pressure of the games magnifies everything Tommy Lasorda and Tony La Russa do. It makes them instant targets for the golden throats on TV and radio, every writer who can spell the word dumb, and millions of fans who continually fantasize that they could do better. The big difference, of course, is that Lasorda and La Russa are charged with making the first guess, while everyone else can benefit from that infallible instrument known as hindsight.
Anyway, as the best-of-seven classic moves on to Oakland after the first two games here, it's a good time to assess the two field pilots and wonder what effect, if any, their styles and strategies may have on the outcome.
Lasorda was born talking. and when he isn't talking he's eating - which may be why he decided to go into the restaurant business (he owns three). In addition to managing the team, Tommy is virtually another publicity man - out there every day like a guy on the back of an old-fashioned medicine wagon selling Dodger Blue, Dodger Pride, Dodger Personnel, and even Dodger Dogs. He never saw a player in an L.A. uniform he didn't like.
Lasorda doesn't just answer questions, he goes swimming in them, diving fearlessly into uncharted waters for just the right adjectives. In three minutes or less he can make someone like reserve first baseman Franklin Stubbs sound like a candidate for the Hall of Fame.
While Lasorda's criticism of his players is not so gentle in private, they could commit any number of baseball atrocities at the plate, in the field, or on the mound and he would never berate them in front of reporters. This is known in the trade as protecting your players, and Lasorda carries it to extremes. Believe me, it is something his players appreciate.
To put a yardstick on Tommy as a strategist is to guess how many marbles there are in a cookie jar. You can never see all the marbles at one time, just as you can't see all of the manager.
I know writers who don't think Lasorda could manage anything as complex as a pushcart. It's hard to argue, though, with the fact that Tommy has won six division titles in the last 12 years. No other big league manager has done that.
While La Russa doesn't have nearly as much neon in him as Lasorda, Tony is the first man you'd want on your team if you were planning to climb Mt. Everest. You'd want him because he wouldn't forget anything.
La Russa has the kind of total recall that is embarrassing to anyone who can't remember where he left his umbrella. He runs his club in an organized, efficient fashion - which isn't surprising when you learn that he is a a lawyer who passed his Florida bar exam years ago.
Tony has also elevated the construction of a group of bullpen mechanics to an art form. He finds the right tool for the job, using his role players in baseball the way the Boston Celtics' Red Auerbach pioneered such specialists in basketball.
``A manager's No. 1 job is to see that his players compete as hard as they can,'' La Russa once said. ``If you have a manager with that gift, even if he's got no idea about handling a pitching staff, he's going to do better than the one who knows baseball cold but has the type of personality where the players won't put out for him.
``Sometimes you're bound to be wrong,'' he added when discussing the way people question managerial strategy. ``That doesn't bother me. Baseball is second-guessing. That's the fun of the business.''
There are 24 egos on every major league team that have been growing like weeds since Little League. Overpaid, overpampered, and overprotected since boyhood, they can have a manager reciting Rudyard Kipling's ``If'' 40 times a day if they aren't careful. But La Russa has been able to see that problem for what it is, and defuse it with logic.
While he can't match Lasorda's overall record, this isn't the first division title Tony has won. In 1983, he led the Chicago White Sox to the American League West title by 20 games. Before that, the White Sox hadn't won anything in 24 years.
Sure, the A's have exceptional talent like Jos'e Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, etc. But the bottom line is that all of La Russa's horses go in the same direction. Not too many managers can make that statement.