Beyond the Bison: Five Days in October

By Julian Dorey


Opinions can change at the drop of a hat. One moment in time, one intricate pitch, or one simple swing of the bat can reshape the way others regard a player or a manager.

After winning his second World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals and his third overall, it is safe to say that manager Tony La Russa will go down as one of the most highly-respected baseball managers of all time. La Russa did not manage his way to championships in big markets like New York or Los Angeles, but rather in the quieter towns of Oakland and St. Louis.

There is no doubt that La Russa is an eccentric clubhouse chief. The game of musical chairs that he plays with his bullpen tends to annoy all of his opponents, and his constant lineup changes probably wouldn’t work too well with the other 29 lineups.

Despite all the credentials La Russa has, it’s amazing to think that four days before the skip popped the champagne in the clubhouse, the press was labeling him as the “biggest goat in America.”

During game five in Texas, with the series tied 2-2, La Russa made the routine phone call to the bullpen in the eighth inning to get his ace closer Jason Motte loose. What happened next is mostly hearsay, but La Russa made two phone calls and watched five hitters come to the plate before Motte even started warming up. There was apparently a “miscommunication” on the phone lines.

After the game, La Russa chalked it up to the loud and rowdy Rangers fans, and praised them for the job they did, but such a large mistake in such a monumental game could not go overlooked. Even if the fault did not lie with La Russa, he was the leader of the team and would inevitably take the fall.

In the two ensuing off-days before the series headed to St. Louis for game six, the restless media hammered La Russa for his gaffe. Many said that if the Cardinals did not win two in a row to take the Series, La Russa’s legacy would be forever tainted.

For those three days, there’s no doubt La Russa was experiencing a living hell.

But, the tides turned on day four in a historic game six. The Cardinals came back multiple times in a thrilling 10-9 victory and forced a game 7. Suddenly the critics were quieter than an empty church.

On the fifth day of a long journey, the Cardinals completed La Russa’s short-term redemption, winning their second World Series in six seasons 6-2.

Observing La Russa carry himself and his team through those two off-days demonstrated what kind of manager he is. Never did he consider the gravity of the situation or the effect such a mistake could have on his legacy 50 to 60 years from now.

La Russa continued doing what he does best and pushed his team for two straight games. Five days in October cemented a legacy of one of the greatest baseball minds we have ever seen. Those same five days could have ruined it.

La Russa does things his way in an effort to win at all costs. Now he has—again.

But that’s why they play the game.

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