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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tony LaRussa managed Mark McGwire (twice). So why is LaRussa a Hall of Famer but not McGwire?

Tony LaRussa managed Mark McGwire in both Oakland and St. Louis.  McGwire was in disgrace over his admitted use of performance enhancing drugs (PED), including steroids, when LaRussa hired McGwire to be his batting coach in St. Louis.  Perhaps an act of kindness, perhaps also an attempt to rehabilitate McGwire for his pending Hall of Fame candidacy and to inoculate LaRussa himself as an enabler for the day when he too would be a Hall of Fame candidate as a manager.

Tony La Russa Busch Stadium
"Photo Day," June 29, 2002
By Monowi, via Wikimedia Commons
LaRussa's career as manager was enhanced by drugs, those used by his players.  How come LaRussa is not held accountable by the baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame?

LaRussa managed the Chicago White Sox from 1979 through 1986, part time in the first and last seasons; the White Sox finished first in 1983 but did not advance.  LaRussa took over the Oakland As for their final 79 games in 1986 and managed them through 1995, then on to the St. Louis Cardinals, 1996-2011.  Oakland won pennants 1988, 1989, 1990; World Series 1989.  Tournament finals in St. Louis 2004, 2006, 2011, winning the last two.

So what happened?  Did LaRussa suddenly get smart in Oakland?  Of course the players were better.  No manager wins without good players.  The top two were the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.  Canseco was Rookie of the Year (RoY) in 1986, MVP in 1988 leading the AL with 42 HR, 124 RBI, 170 OPS+.  McGwire was RoY in 1987, setting a rookie record  with 49 home runs (HR); 33 first half, 16 second half;  21 home, 28 road.  So unless you believe that McGwire was corrupted by Canseco in his first season, McGwire clearly had the ability to hit 60 HR even before his physique exceeded that of Superman and/or Hercules.  Maybe chemicals helped boost him to 70 in 1998 in St. Louis, playing again for LaRussa, but even that is just conjecture.

LaRussa's real bad boy was Canseco who broke open the steroid story by writing a book.  Certainly 99% of the baseball writers were too dumb and/or lazy to bother with that issue when it was actually happening.  It's only now many years later that they condemn not only the one big time slugger (McGwire) to admit his use of banned stuff and to make an act of contrition, but also those they merely suspect like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, the two who appear to be the most viable candidates going forward.  The two best players being snubbed are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

2013/2014 Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) Hall of Fame election results:
Piazza 329 57.80%; 355 62.20%  trending up
Bagwell 339 59.60%; 310 54.30%  trending down
Clemens 214 37.60%; 202 35.40%  trending down
Bonds 206 36.20%; 198 34.70%  trending down
McGwire 96 16.90%; 63 11.00%  trending down

In 2015 Craig Biggio will be elected; he was left to twist in the wind with 427 74.80%.  The two new obvious first time candidates who will also be elected in 2015 are Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.  OK, now that the suspense is removed, back to the question posed in this post.

So why is LaRussa a Hall of Famer but not McGwire?

Let's pose the two key questions used by Senator Howard Baker in the Watergate hearings:
What did LaRussa know and when did he know it?

It's at least as plausible that LaRussa knew all along but certainly by 1998 when McGwire set the season HR record.  If the BBWAA members can claim to have enough certainty about some players without direct evidence then shouldn't they have enough to judge the immediate supervisor of those same players?  Isn't LaRussa also culpable and benefiting from the fruit of the poisonous tree?

What the heck?

And the other two managers just elected along with LaRussa should also be held to account, especially Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees 1996-2007 making the tournament every season:
 - six finals, championships bold: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003.  As Yankee manager Torre managed:
- Roger Clemens 1999-2003, 2007
- Jason Giambi 2002-2007
Gary Sheffield 2004-2006
Alex Rodriguez 2004-2007; AL MVP 2005 (48 HR) & 2007 (54 HR)

Obviously, only the pitcher Clemens helped Torre win the final two of those four championships that ensured Torre's Hall of Fame credentials but Torre is surely responsible for the sluggers who later won games for him.

I have long advocated vacating wins and disqualifying teams from the tournament if the league insists on punishing players for PED use.  The hypocrisy of the BBWAA may peak when it votes on the Hall of Fame candidacy of the steroid era commissioner: Allan Huber "Bud" Selig.  It's pointless to hold only the players accountable.  The system is skewed toward using PED.  Increasing millions of dollars are being offered to players who would be fools to not at least consider breaking the rules.  The cost/benefit analysis is overwhelming.  It's too tempting to too many.

The stuff should be legal and allowed by the Major Baseball League (MBL).  It's unrealistic to expect compliance.  I do not like cheating any more than anyone else but I'm much more offended by a pitcher deliberately hitting a batter (Clemens) or using something on the ball (Gaylord Perry inducted in 1991 after writing a book about his cheating) or a batter (Sammy Sosa) doctoring a bat.

Steroid zealots continue to exhibit all forms of inconsistency and hypocrisy.


Cliff Blau said...

A. It's a different committee voting on McGwire than voted on LaRussa.

B. The answer to any question about why some is/isn't in the Hall of Fame is: the voters are idiots.

Kenneth Matinale said...

Actually, it's a committee of the whole voting on the recent players. But both your points are well taken.