As some of you know, STLCardinalBaseball is affiliated with a group of baseball geniuses known as the United Cardinal Bloggers (or UCB for short). You can visit the various sites involved with this group by going to our handy-dandy blogroll located here. One of our ongoing activities is a roundtable discussion in which we ask the other members their opinion on Cardinal-related topics.

Our turn came up today. While I really wanted to ask everybody if they thought beer prices would ever come down, I ended up asking this question:

We are just beginning a brand new era of Cardinal baseball. Matheny is following one of the most successful eras of Cardinal baseball – the La Russa Era. While it pains me to say this, the La Russa Era did a lot of things right (obviously) with contributions from many people (manager, GM, players, etc.). And, as I’ve pointed out before, lots of ridiculous mistakes were made as well.
Here’s the question: Name the very best decision and the very worst decision of the La Russa Era. It could be anything – a trade, an in-game call, a personnel move, etc.
Here are the responses from the group: 
Daniel Solzman: Treating Ozzie Smith the way that he did is easily the worst decision.  Hands down.  Next to that, running Scott Rolen out of town…but if he didn’t run Rolen out of town, then we don’t end up with David Freese at 3rd base and who knows whether we would have won the World Series this year, let alone make the playoffs.
The best decision would be using pitchers, even light hitting ones pinch hitters late in the game to save our hitters that are on the bench in the event that they are needed later in the game as a defensive replacement.

Tom Knuppel: On a personal note the worst decision LaRussa made was drinking and sleeping at the wheel in Jupiter.

Baseball wise it was probably the day Ankiel tanked as the starter and led him away from pitching.

The best was made throughout the seasons as he always had his players prepared to play late in the season as he gave them days off when the fans hated it, but they were still “more fresh” than players from other teams.

I resisted in saying the best decision was applying for the Cardinals managers job and the worst was when he resigned.

Daniel Shoptaw: For me, I’d say the worst decision of the TLR era was the Scott Rolen situation. Obviously, there are dominoes that fall from that and our current history might have been a lot different if Rolen had stayed, but I hated that a “Cardinal guy”, a mold that I felt Rolen fit well, got so discouraged in St. Louis that he had to basically demand a trade. That was a situation that didn’t need to get that bad.

I’ll echo Daniel in the Ozzie Smith issue, but I’d mitigate that by it being TLR’s first season in St. Louis and having a motivating tactic backfire. Would Ozzie have been that good in his spring or last season if he’d played regularly or not had that chip? Who knows. Replacing a 40+ shortstop with a much younger one is, ironically, not something TLR would be accused of later in his career.

Best decision? Tough call, but I’ll say being creative enough to use Adam Wainwright out of the bullpen in 2006 instead of having him spend the year starting in Memphis. That experience had him in the right place when Jason Isringhausen went down–and we know what happened then.

Bob Netherton: Great question, Ray.

The worst call is easy, I think.

The date was October 14, 2001. Game Five of the National League Divisional Series between the Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks. Matt Morris and Curt Schilling were locked into a brilliant pitching duel through the first 8 innings. Going into the ninth inning, the score was 1-1, courtesy of a pair of solo home runs (Reggie Sanders for Arizona and JD Drew for the Cardinals).

In the top of the ninth inning, Jim Edmonds led off with a single. Playing for the win, Tony La Russa called on Kerry Robinson to pinch hit for Mark McGwire. McGwire was obviously hurting, and had gone 0-3 against Schilling with 3 strikeouts. Robinson’s job was to move Edmonds into scoring position, giving Edgar Renteria or Mike Matheny a chance to drive in the go-ahead run. Robinson successfully sacrificed Edmonds into scoring position, but Schilling would record his 8th and 9th strikeouts to squash the rally.

La Russa took the bat out of one of the games most feared power hitters, in what would have been his last professional at-bat.

His best decision – also easy, I think.

The date was April 22, 2011, a Friday night game between the visiting Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. As game time approached, so too did a terrifying storm front. Once the front blew through, the clear weather behind meant that the game would be played, so Tony La Russa totally schooled the opposing manager, Dusty Baker. Instead of burning his starter, Kyle McClellan, he called on Jose Batista to start. Batista faced exactly one batter before the rains game. After a long rain delay, Batista was done and the originally scheduled starter, Kyle McCllellan came into the game and pitched 6 strong innings.

On the other side of the diamond, Edison Volquez had done his normal pre-game warmup, but the long delay also meant he was done – without throwing a pitch. Matt Maloney would try to salvage the game for the Reds, in long relief. Maloney was shaky and the Cardinals would score runs in each of the first three innings, on their way to a 4-2 win. McClellan would earn the win, in relief, and Maloney would take the loss.

Kevin Reynolds: Wow, Bob…I swear to you…before I read your response, I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing on the worst decision. The McGwire/Robinson AB has stuck with me for years, perhaps because of the look on Mark’s face. He was excited and smiling to go up to hit in that situation…and then turned around at the sound of Tony’s voice. The look on his face said it all. He was crushed. His best supporter in the game lost faith in him. I think it factored into his decision to retire – not the main factor, but a significant part of it. I still believe Mark was about to do something dramatic and historic in that AB…but Tony took it from him.

And…Tony has actually said he regrets that decision, especially knowing now what he didn’t know then…that it would be Mark’s last AB.

As far as the best…remember, I only read Bob’s worst decision reply, so I apologize if I am unknowingly taking someone’s answer…

Benching Scott Rolen for Game 2 of the NLCS in 2006. And I say that knowing that Rolen was my favorite Cardinal during his time here.

Rolen was hurting at the end of the season due to his lingering shoulder issue…but he wouldn’t say it. He finally did say it to Tony and was surprised Tony benched him.

In Game 1 of the NLCS, Rolen went 0-3 with a walk and the Cards lost 2 to 0. For Game 2, Tony benched Rolen in favor of Scott Spezio…but he told the TV network before telling Rolen while Rolen was on his way to the park. Scott likes to say he was more upset that Tony didn’t tell him first…and I’m sure that was part of it…but one thing I loved about Rolen was how hard he played. He hated the idea of being benched anyway…regardless of who knew first.

In Game 2, Spezio went 2 for 4 with a walk, two runs scored, 3 RBIs, a triple, a double, and even reached once on an error (one of the times he scored). He played an errorless game at 3B and the Cards won a critical Game 2 (already down 1 game to none) with a score of 9-6. The breakdown looked like this:

2nd Inning: The Mets had a 3-0 lead after scoring 3 runs in the first. Spezio reached on an error and scored a run in a 2 run inning. Cards down 3-2.

7th Inning: The Cards were losing 6-4 in the seventh inning and in real danger of going down 2 games to none. Spezio hit a huge triple to drive in 2 runs and tie the game at 6-6.

9th Inning: With the score tied, Spezio hit a double for 1 RBI. He later scored on an RBI single by Juan Encarnacion in what would be a 3 run inning. Cards ended up winning by that margin…9-6.

Rolen was back at 3rd base for Game 3 and the rest of the series…furious, but rested and perhaps motivated. He hit .278 for the rest of the series going 5 for 18 with 4 runs scored and two walks. One of his outs included a near game/series winning home run in the late innings of Game 7. It took perhaps one of the greatest catches of MLB postseason history by Endy Chavez to pull it back in and save the Mets for a bit longer. The Cards won the NLCS and went to the World Series.

In a 5 game World Series, Rolen went 8 for 19 and hit .421 (OBP .476 / SLG .737) with 5 runs scored, 1 home run, 3 doubles, 2 walks, and 2 total RBIs.

Rolen hated the decision to bench him in Game 2, but he HAS to admit Tony made the right decision. Spezio played a HUGE part in that Game 2 win…and likely saved the series for us. When Scott came back, he was rested and fired up to show Tony he had been wrong.

He only ended up proving him right.

The decision to bench Rolen and start Spezio in Game 2 of the 2006 NLCS was, to me, one of TLR’s best decisions as a Cardinal.

Tyler: I think batting the pitcher 8th is one of the most forward-thinking, progressive decisions made per the on-field management of this team and I wish we could see a return of that.

The worst folly is obviously the way Ozzie Smith and Scott Rolen were treated and effectively outcast by La Russa. He failed extensively in interpersonal skills while his on-field acumen made his crass attitude acceptable to some.

The greatest move made by the organization of La Russa’s era has to be the acquisition of Jim Edmonds for cents on the dollar. That was a great trade it happened, five years later, and will always be.

Christopher Carelli: His best decision was the way he used Wainwright back in 2006. Some guys get more out of a different role in the majors than being untested in AAA. It certainly worked in the Cardinals favor in 2006 and beyond.

His worst decision(s) surround his handling of Ozzie Smith and Scott Rolen at the end of their tenures. Others have provided the details, I’ll just agree that TLR was not the best at these situations.

Mark Tomasik: Best decision: keeping Albert Pujols on 2001 Opening Day roster and giving him a chance to play right away.

Worst decision: the mishandling of Rick Ankiel in 2000 postseason.

Nick: Wow – ditto what Mark said. Exactly word for word.

We also had a couple of responses from our Facebook page:

Jill Lawson: It’s hard to find just one particular moment/decision – My beef with TLR was his penchant for leaving pitchers who have nothing in entirely too long, to the point where the game gets completely out of hand and we had no ability to get back into the games.

Rose Nation: Worst: drinking and driving

Nice to see that TLR drinking episode still getting a lot of play among the faithful!

Thanks for all of the responses!


About The Author

Lifelong Cardinal fan and general loudmouth.