There’s believing in your decisions, there’s refusing to admit you’re wrong and there’s wondering why, oh, why there are so many fools to suffer in this world. No. 1 is fine, No. 2 is bad and No. 3 is, ‘‘Jeez, Tony.’’
Tony La Russa is a lot of things, but infallible isn’t one of them. Someone in the White Sox organization should tell him that. He can talk all he wants about his willingness to acknowledge mistakes, but he has a 60-year reputation in baseball for thinking he’s right and everybody else is IQ-deficient. All of it done with a dismissiveness that makes you understand how ants must feel during the Chicago Marathon.
La Russa made a managerial decision during the Sox’ game Thursday against the Dodgers that madly stoked the bonfire that’s ever raging on social media. With the count 0-2 on Trea Turner in the sixth inning, Sox reliever Bennett Sousa threw a wild pitch, allowing Freddie Freeman to advance from first to second. Rather than have Sousa pitch to Turner, La Russa ordered an intentional walk — yes, an intentional walk with two strikes on a hitter. Max Muncy, who La Russa thought was a weaker hitter in that situation, came to the plate and (of course) hit a three-run home run, giving the Dodgers a 10-5 lead. They would go on to win 11-9.
Just after La Russa made his controversial move, a TV microphone picked up the voice of a fan at Guaranteed Rate Field who spoke for everyone: ‘‘He has two strikes, Tony!’’
When a reporter asked La Russa about the decision after the game, the skipper subtly played the You Don’t Know Baseball defense. Yes, he argued that Turner was a better two-strike hitter than Muncy, but mostly what he seemed to be saying was, ‘‘The world is populated by nitwits.’’ It was him against the world, and he was right at home.
‘‘Muncy is there, so it’s an easy call for me,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘I mean, if Turner gets a hit there, I would be walking into the lake or something because that would have been stupid.’’
Listening to him explain his thought process might, in another time and place and final score, be interesting, like listening to a chess grandmaster explain all the options in his head. In this case, however, you just wanted to scream, ‘‘Move the freaking pawn, Tony!’’ The final egg in the La Russa nesting eggs in his brain should have said, ‘‘Pitch to Turner, Tony!’’ Nope.
You can’t teach the imperiousness that La Russa wears like a sweater tied around his neck. Nor would you want to.
It was pure coincidence that his mistake and subsequent heel-digging came just two days after the Angels fired Joe Maddon, another manager who is a complete stranger to admitting mistakes. Cubs fans will remember Maddon’s overuse of closer Aroldis Chapman during the 2016 World Series and his later defense of it. And they’ll recall Maddon’s bizarre decision to pull Kyle Hendricks after 4‰ innings, 63 pitches and a 5-1 lead in Game 7 of that series. It took an emotional speech by Jason Heyward during a rain delay to take Maddon out of the equation and rally the troops for an 8-7 victory in 10 innings.
Afterward, Maddon responded the way he always did when one of his decisions backfired. He said he believed in the thinking that was behind the decision to pull Hendricks at the time it was made; therefore, it couldn’t be called a poor decision. Whenever he played that card, I always had the same thought: So the forest fire you started was fine because you believed in the decision to smoke a cigarette at the time you lit it?
The World Series title helped wipe away 108 years of bad Cubs history, and it should have given Maddon job security that few managers have had. He was gone three years later, however, having worn out his welcome. A 12-game losing streak with the Angels did him in this time, but he couldn’t seem to grasp why he was canned. Really?
There’s no moral of the story to any of this. Maddon always has been his own man but never has had a patron. La Russa can do whatever he wants because he has an owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, who thinks his manager is a genius. He also has an owner who hates change.
Two managers who think they’re always right, one who always gets away with it.
One of the ironies here is that Maddon now is criticizing what he calls an overreliance on analytics by the Angels — the same Maddon who was the matinee idol of the stats crowd when he was managing the Rays and the Cubs.
And here is La Russa, one of the first managers to introduce statistics into in-game decision-making, being attacked by the creature he helped create. He said he made the right decision on a two-strike intentional walk. The analytics crowd begged to differ — at dangerous decibel levels.
Never Wrong Joe and Too Smart Tony, linked by a complete lack of self-awareness. One is still employed.