Monday, October 31, 2011

Cardinals Win World Series, LaRussa Promptly Retires

All photos of NLDS Game 1 and NLCS Game 6 available on Flickr.

Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals for winning their 11th World Series title in franchise history, 2nd only to the juggernaut that is the New York Yankees. As much as I dislike the Cardinals, they truly did deserve to win with how well they played in the last 2 months. The team's stars rarely hustle and the lineup is filled with whiners and jerks, but they also just flat out know how to play baseball and do a lot of little things right. The Cards' dangerous lineup featured all 1-8 regulars hitting near or above .300, and since the trade deadline they had also featured one of the best bullpens in the majors. In fact, against the Brewers in the NLCS, they became the first team in NL history to record more outs with the bullpen than with the starting rotation in a 7-game series. I would think that after Adam Wainwright went down in February and with all the blown saves in April-May, that most people including myself wrote this team off pretty quickly. But they persevered and continually defied the odds to write one of the greatest championship stories in the history of baseball.

The author of this book was skipper Tony LaRussa, who after a wild weekend of celebrating in St. Louis, announced his retirement after 33 years as a manager. LaRussa won 3 titles (2 with the Cardinals and one in 1989 with the A's) and leaves the game 3rd all time in managerial wins behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw. I have personally witnessed the past 14 years of LaRussa's career, since the Brewers joined the NL Central in 1998. I have come to loathe his managerial style and his attitude towards the game. He changed pitchers and lineups way too much and played way too many mind games to make the game bearable. He's also a whiner and doesn't hold a lot of accountability. But you can't argue with results - the guy just knew how to win. He put together one of his best managerial efforts in his last season, long after everybody wrote this team off. Some of his best seasons were 85, 87 win campaigns where he took a bunch of scrapheap players and ragtag arms and won despite all the odds. He always got the most out of his players and has always received nothing but high praise from players past and present who have said they would die on the field for Tony. A lot of credit generally falls to his longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan, and rightfully so, but LaRussa was certainly the star of the bench this season. Despite what I think of him, he will go down as one of the greatest in-game strategists and most cerebral managers of all time, and is certainly a lock for the Hall of Fame. The biggest compliment I can pay LaRussa is that by virtue of his retirement alone, the Brewers stand a chance at repeating as division champs in 2012.

Speaking of the Brewers, congratulations to my hometown team on a historic year! The Cardinals disposed of them in a 6-game NLCS on their way to the championship, but the Brewers fought hard all the way despite all five of their starters being absolutely gassed from the long season. Now that I've had time to digest the season and to calm down from the agony of defeat, I really couldn't be prouder of this team. They achieved a career high in wins (96) and their best ever home record as a franchise, and they made the entire season exciting to watch. Prince is probably gone in 2012, but they still have a lot of players under contract - including all five starters - and I think they have at least one more year to make a run at this thing, this time with even more playoff experience under their belts. One thing is for certain - 2011 MVP candidate Ryan Braun is locked up until 2020, which will always give me a reason to go to the ballpark, no matter how grim the team may look.

Brewers 96-66, +6.0, NL Central Champions, lost in NLCS
Reds 79-83, -17.0, 3rd in NL Central
Twins 63-99, -32.0, last in AL Central

Erik - 17
Peter - 40

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