Monday, October 17, 2005

Against The Wall

In a comment over at Brian's blog, under a post wherein he points my attention to the Cardinals' three-game collapse, I ask whether anyone else has noticed that Tony LaRussa, Super Genius, has been swept in two World Series' and just watched his team drop three straight in the NLCS.

Well, Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has noticed it:
The theories are plentiful why the Cards have up until now played this NLCS as though it were a joyless burden, rather than a carefree pleasure, much of it hinging on the maddening overthinking and uptight postseason managerial style of one of baseball's sharpest thinkers, Redbirds skipper Tony La Russa.

La Russa is one of the sharpest tacticians in the history of the game, and will one day have his bronzed bust in Cooperstown. But so many baseball insiders wonder why La Russa's teams thrive in the heat of the summer, yet struggle mightily in the cool of autumn.

What happens to his teams in October can best be epitomized by the way the Cards have been playing since the momentum-shifting Game 2 loss back at Busch. Over the past few days, you could see it in the body language of their biggest star and likely National League MVP, Albert Pujols. He has spent most of the NLCS snarling at reporters and sending off an uneasy, tense vibe in the clubhouse.
LaRussa's overmanaging is always annoying, but in the post-season it becomes positively infuriating. Is he to blame for the Cardinals' bats falling asleep? Considering he insists on hitting Larry ".095" Walker cleanup, yes he is.

If there's any good news, it's that Burwell reports there's been a turn in attitude in the Cardinal clubhouse:
Yet about a half-hour after this difficult loss, just when you expected to see the players as uptight and edgy as their boss, there was a much-needed personality shift that began with the most important guy in the clubhouse - Pujols.

If you're looking for a sign that this series is not over, that this team has not emotionally packed it in, that tonight might be a free-and-easy bit of postseason enjoyment, not a panicky walk off the edge of a plank, perhaps the sight of a smiling Albert Pujols was it.
On another note, what is the deal with Major League umpiring? This is getting embarassing. Everyone has seen the umpires' travails in the ALCS, and in yesterday's NLCS the home plate ump tossed out LaRussa and center fielder Jim Edmonds (which, frankly, may have been the best thing that happened to the Cardinals yesterday. It was at least one less crucial strikeout, and one less boneheaded one-pitch pitching change).

Don't get me wrong. Umpiring is not the Cardinals' problem. But Bernie Miklasz provides some interesting history on home plate ump Phil Cuzzi:
Cuzzi has an odd history. He failed to get a minor-league job three times after attending umpire school. He finally got a shot at the big leagues as a fill-in ump, ironically working his first major-league game at Busch Stadium on June 4, 1991. But in 1993, the National League fired Cuzzi.

And Cuzzi stayed out of umpiring for nearly three years, until knocking on the hotel-room door of then-NL President Leonard Coleman in 1996 to beg Coleman for another shot at umpiring. Cuzzi navigated through the minors again, then was hired by Major League Baseball in 1999 after more than 20 regular umps were replaced after resigning during contentious labor negotiations.
These are the kinds of umps MLB wants to put on display in its fall showcase?

No comments: