Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Less Than Stellar

Tony La Russa is living proof that a successful manager "couldn't have done it without [his] players". Why, exactly, La Russa is so highly esteemed by the sporting press is beyond me, but were I forced to choose one instance of his overrated brilliance I would point to the most recent example, last night's All Star game. Trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, the bases loaded and arguably the best and most feared hitter in either league available to pinch hit, La Russa passed over Albert Pujols in favor of Aaron Rowand.

Nothing could justify the decision, nothing that is except La Russa's equally well-known penchant for making himself, not his players, the center of attention. There will be all sorts of spin today in the wake of La Russa's decision but none of it will convince this fan. Adding insult to injury, Pujols was the only National League position not to get into the game. The forecast is for chilly winds in St. Louis.

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Ryan Howard's early exit from the State Farm (or was it Chevrolet) Home Run Derby preempted any discussion about the contest's ruining his swing. Next!

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As advertised, I did not watch the game, but I did tune in for the pre-game "show" just to see what would transpire with the various personalities gathered. Appropriately, Willie Mays was the center of attention. Growing up in an American League city (Baltimore) at a time when interleague play did not exist and the only out-of-market games televised were the weekly Saturday game of the week on NBC (they virtually never showed a West Coast game), I rarely got a chance to see Mays play. All of my friends and acquaintances who did, however, insisted he was the best they'd ever seen bar none. Last night the folks at MLB and San Francisco tried to replicate the spontaneous outpouring of emotion by the players that occurred during the AS game in Boston a few years ago when an aging and ill Ted Williams stood on the mound to make a ceremonial first pitch and all of the players gathered around him to feel the aura and pay him homage. Nothing quite that spontaneous or emotional took place last night. Instead, Mays walked into centerfield between two lines of players, coaches and managers, who politely applauded him. He then threw a ceremonial first pitch from centerfield to Jose Reyes, also stationed in centerfield. After signing the ball, Mays got into a 1958 convertible and took a spin around the perimeter of the field, tossing souvenir balls into the stands. It was cliched baseball at its most unimaginative, hardly befitting one of the true legends of the game.

1 comment:

David said...

Right on the mark with your take on the Mays ceremony. It was clearly modeled after Ted Williams' appearance in '99, but he just kept walking (I kept thinking: where's he going?! slow down and let everyone shake your damn hand already.), finally threw a ball from center field to Jose Reyes (?!) and then stopped to sign the baseball (lots of practice there; almost as if he sensed that was most expected from him.) About as spontaneous and touching as the Taco Bell promotion which preceded it.

The pre-game intros are basically the only halfway compelling aspect of the entire exhibition, but they're over before you know it...funny how everything else is so excruciatingly drawn out for 45 minutes, but the PA announcer just zooms through the players in rapid-fire succession, like it's roll call on the last day of school.

I somehow made it through the sixth inning and roughly 250 commercials before my friend and I succumbed to the total boredom and went out to eat. I was stunned to learn that LaRussa had seen fit to send an overmatched Rowand up there with the game on the line, in lieu of Pujols - the kind of 'strategy' which confirmed why the game is always so damned boring in the first place - despite all the gratuitous assertions, no one on that field is playing to win. Still, this is just another notch on LaRussa's head-scratching legacy. I wonder how he is regarded in St. Louis after all these years, and how would fare in a more critically minded city.