The worst time for a manager is an offday in the postseason. The world has a day to dissect what he had to decide in a second.
Be glad you're not Tommy Lasorda.
This was the season when the Los Angeles Dodger manager's reputation rose rapidly. After five division titles in nine years, everybody decided the little round man must know what he was doing. Now, he's got us wondering again.
Baseball is most enjoyable when viewed under a microscope. That only happens in October, when everybody watches the game the way pros do every day -- obsessively. After such analytical scrutiny and the Dodgers' three straight loses in St. Louis, Lasorda has questions to answer.
Why not start Fernando Valenzuela in games 1-4-7, as the Cardinals are doing with John Tudor? Almost every team since '03 has done that with great pitchers in seven-game series.
Lasorda wants Orel Hershiser to get two starts on Chavez Ravine grass (in Games 2 and 6), not St. Louis turf; the Cardinals on a plastic rug scare Hershiser. His brand of Orel surgery requires ground ball outs. Question: is it worth sacrificing Valenzuela for a whole game just so Hershiser can pitch on grass?
If the pennant comes down to Game 7, lots of folks are going to wonder why jittery Bob Welch is facing Tudor. In three postseason starts, Welch is 0-3 and has allowed 17 base runners (and eight runs) while getting only 12 outs.
After the Dodgers won the first two games, Lasorda announced Jerry Reuss for Game 4, not Valenzuela. What was the rush? Why not wait and see if Los Angeles won Game 3?
Reuss has the worst playoff record in baseball history: 0-7. He and Welch both have pressure problems, especially on the road. Welch, usually a regular-season Cardinals killer, walked six and missed second base by 10 yards on a pickoff throw. Reuss was worse; he allowed the first seven runs of a record-setting nine-run inning. Reuss even had a bunt go between his legs.
Lasorda has also fallen in love with the intentional walk. He's givin' 'em away like Cracker Jack prizes -- seven already, including five in one game (two in the first inning). He hasn't been punished yet, but, never fear, baseball's god is a just god.
More questions nag us. What's with Enos Cabell? He's one for 12, yet Lasorda even pinch-hit him for Greg Brock on Monday in mid-at-bat after Brock had missed a 400-foot homer foul on the previous pitch. Brock thus became the first player to knock both himself and the pitcher out of the game on the same swing. Cabell hit into a double play.
Why is Steve Sax, a proven leadoff man who's hot (six for 16, three doubles) batting seventh and eighth, while Mariano Duncan, a gimpy .244-hitting rookie who looks scared to death, keeps batting leadoff, though he's one for 13? Even Dave Anderson batted leadoff.
Why has Candy Maldonado, a .225 hitter with no career credentials, started twice ahead of a solid veteran like Ken Landreaux. Landreaux goes five for 10, so Maldonado (one for seven) starts the next game. Landreaux got back in Monday and had two more hits. Let's see who starts against Tudor in Game 7. Don't break up that platoon, Tommy.
How could Lasorda let Valenzuela work out of six multiple-runner jams on Monday? Was Ozzie Smith's home run just moments after Valenzuela left the game merely the law of averages sticking its tongue out at Lasorda?
This brings us to the infamous Take Sign of Game 5: seventh inning, score tied, Dodgers on first and second, none out, count on Sax 3-1, Valenzuela on deck and wild fast rookie Todd Worrell pitching. Quick, what do you do?
You can let him hit. Or you can have him sacrifice.
There's only one thing you can't do. Put on the take sign. Tommy did.
"I don't want to second-guess him. I have enough trouble managing my own team," said St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog. Translation: there but for the grace of God . . .
Any veteran player has enough sense not to swing or bunt at ball four. You don't need to tell Sax what to do on a ball. What do you want him to do with a strike: hit it or bunt it?
Sax took strike two, then fanned.
"If he hadn't chased a bad pitch, we'd have had the bases loaded with none out," said Lasorda, shifting blame.
Lasorda then let Valenzuela hit for himself, though he'd labored through four jams and more than 100 pitches. Thus ended the only Los Angeles rally of the last five innings in a 3-2 game.
This bill of particulars seems damning. Yet it doesn't get to the heart of the problem of October managing.
This is the month when everybody gets smart. But, in baseball, as in most things, there isn't just one right way -- the smart, safe, self-protective way. Lasorda has always been willing to trade a bushel of percentages for a thimbleful of self-confidence. He manages, pardon the expression, from the gut. And the heart. Not the head. He plays hunches and favorites, not odds.
That can work, too. Valenzuela, the courageous one, did escape those jams. Hershiser, thanks to grass, might get it in his head that he's a great clutch pitcher. Duncan and Maldonado have gotten playoff experience, and they've felt their manager's trust. If you want to know why the Dodgers love Lasorda as he loves them, think how much Welch and Reuss appreciate the chance Lasorda gave them to shuck their October-gag reputation.
Lasorda might be a lousy chess player. This playoff has put him in his poorest light. What Lasorda does best we might not see: He reads people.
For example, to the babyfaced Hershiser, he screams "Bear down, bulldog!" and Hershiser reminds himself to move a few hitters off the plate.
Baseball is a game of numbers and tactics. But, more than anything, it's a game of men. And that reaches areas that we're glad remain mysterious.
Ozzie Smith spoke for many on Monday. How does a man who's never hit a homer in 3,001 left-handed at bats suddenly hit a sudden-death game-winning home run left-handed? "I was trying to hit the top half of the ball and hit the bottom half by accident," Smith said.