Tony La Russa, baseball manager, is now the subject of condemnation, conspiracy theorizing and ridicule.
Finally, the World Series is getting some attention.
La Russa’s curious managerial moves and inability to use a landline telephone to the bullpen have his St. Louis Cardinals on the brink of World Series elimination by the Texas Rangers. Everyone has an opinion, nearly all of them negative, on Game 5 Monday night.
First, the recap
From The Post’s Dave Sheinin:
In the pivotal eighth-inning confrontation against [Mike] Napoli, St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa had the wrong pitcher on the mound — lefty Marc Rzepczynski, instead of closer Jason Motte — because, according to La Russa, his request to the bullpen to get both Rzepczynski and Motte warmed up several minutes early was only half-heard. Only Rzepczynski warmed up.
“What happened was that twice the bullpen didn’t hear Motte’s name,” La Russa said. “I don’t know if it was noisy — probably real noisy. They just didn’t hear.”
There would be one more bizarre moment for the Cardinals, later in the eighth, when La Russa brought in right-hander Lance Lynn to face Kinsler, ordering an intentional walk (the fifth of the game), then pulling Lynn for closer Motte. La Russa said that was another miscommunication with the bullpen; he never wanted Lynn to get warmed up, so when the bullpen sent him into the game, La Russa had him issue the intentional walk, then pulled him.
“When you say Motte,” La Russa said, “they heard Lynn.”
Sure, it was noisy. Sure, it’s impossible to see which pitchers are warming up from the dugout. However, this left La Russa in the baffling position of greeting Lynn at the mound with the question, “What are you doing here?”
The Cardinals, who lost 4-2, now take the series back to St. Louis, where the Rangers will try to wrap it up in Game 6 on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, the chatter continues.
Baseball writers were left trying to explain what they’d seen and they were getting no help from La Russa, whose explanation was twisty and turny.
Tom Boswell to conclude: “Never say the baseball gods don’t have a sense of humor. And never doubt that they will pick the worst possible moment to play their malicious joke on the most appropriate victim for their tragic-comedy. The explanations that Tony La Russa offered for the late-inning chaos in Game 7? The national media isn’t buying it. No manager of his time has been smarter, more obsessed with tactics and more of a control freak than Tony La Russa. But with the World Series tied at two games apiece and Game 5 tied at 2, La Russa’s whole world of order fell apart. Then, afterwards, as he tried to explain the virtually inexplicable manner in which a series of Cardinals-La Russa screwups had led to a 4-2 Texas victory, it was virtually impossible to tell which story was true, which a friendly fib to protect someone under him and what was still just chaos in the Cardinals. And you thought the fog of war never came to the World Series. Nothing will ever top this.”
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated: “Really, my head hurts trying to figure out what La Russa did to this game but mostly how he tried to explain it away. It was like being stuck in a gigantic corn maze. Blindfolded. At midnight. After getting spun around 38 times. Every explanation led to another turn that led to another dead end or false exit. The bottom line is he lost the game having a matchup he didn't want -- a lefthander pitching to red-hot Napoli -- and he lost his last opportunity by getting a runner thrown out who, while down two runs, didn't mean anything. I've never seen a game even close to this one and I hope never again to have to try to explain one like it.”
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports: “In one night, the Tony La Russa Cardinals became the baseball version of the Nixon White House. Bizarre phone activity. Possible cover-ups.Everything but La Russa kneeling in front of a portrait of Connie Mack and praying as his team crumbled. I’m not about to call La Russa a liar over Bullpen-gate, because I honestly don’t know what the heck happened. All I know is that I have never heard a more mind-boggling explanation from a manager, and this one came after Game 5 of the World Series, for goodness’sake.”
The transcript of his explanation will make your hair hurt.
Why don’t managers just text the bullpen?
Andrew Keh of The New York Times wrote about the “last bastion of the land line” only Saturday.
In 2006, the Chicago Cubs and Motorola announced that the company’s i580 wireless phone would be used in the dugouts at Wrigley Field — “ushering in a new era for bullpen phone communication,” according to the news release, which also proclaimed that the phone used in the first game would be sent on to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
One of the phone’s features was that it could clip onto a manager’s belt. But there were issues, too, as Dusty Baker, then the team’s manager, quickly discovered. It only had half-duplex capabilities, meaning that it worked like a walkie-talkie and that only one person could talk at a time. Motorola’s engineers worked with the team and Major League Baseball to remedy the problem, introducing a new phone with full duplex capability, according to Kristine Mulford, a company spokeswoman who worked on the project, but the phone still fell out of favor with the team.
Jason Carr, a Cubs spokesman, said the phone was phased out before the end of the season. And the historic i580 never made it to Cooperstown, according to Sue McKay, the director of collections at the Hall of Fame.
Whatever. Now, everybody’s a comedian.
From a minor-league pitcher: “Maybe the bullpen couldn’t hear bc someone else was on the phone trying to dial out. ‘Hello? Timmy? Is that you?’ -- ‘Get off the phone mom!’ ”
From Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger: “Pilot announces flight time [from Texas] to STL is 1:37, or ‘faster than the time it takes Tony La Russa to get his closer into the game.’ That’s cold.”
Maybe the beer and fried chicken had just arrived in the bullpen.
Gallery: Game 5 in photos
Video: Looking at Game 5