Tony La Russa has been busy in recent months. The former manager of the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals is now a senior executive with Major League Baseball and a recently-named Hall of Famer.
Handling the accolades that go along with his upcoming Cooperstown induction and preparing for the new instant replay rules to be implemented in MLB this season are two of his major activities.
In the latter role, La Russa and fellow MLB executive Joe Torre have been visiting Major League clubhouses this spring, briefing players on the upcoming changes brought on by the expansion of instant replay.
As one would expect, every stop along the way also includes a meeting with the local press covering the team of the day. At Kissimmee, La Russa was asked about the Hall candidacy of a pair of players that have not yet made it, former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell and second baseman Craig Biggio.
La Russa’s response, as reported by MLB.com, was curious. He believes Biggio is going to get into Cooperstown, but casts blame for Bagwell’s state on the voters’ reliance on newfangled stats.
"The new metrics have a real important place, just don't exaggerate them, and I think they get exaggerated at times. Like with Jack Morris, and maybe Bagwell”, La Russa said.
The blame seems badly misplaced.
Let’s get real. The reason most people believe why Bagwell is not getting enough votes to get into the Hall is not sabermetrics – it is steroid suspicion. You know that, I know that and certainly La Russa, a very intelligent man, knows that. So why insult our intelligence?
Bill Baer of NBC Sports Hardball Talk did a thorough job of explaining how “the new metrics” actually bolster Bagwell’s Hall case, not hurt it. Providing examples, Baer instead attributes Bagwell’s current voting purgatory on a segment of “baseball moralists” among the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who have ruled Bagwell guilty of PED use despite any hard evidence.
One of the few blemishes on La Russa’s long, successful and celebrated career was his role as manager of two of baseball’s most prominent sluggers of the steroids era, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. The ex-manager angrily defended McGwire for years as not being a user up until the day Big Mac finally admitted what was obvious - to most everyone except his skipper. That is, if we actually believe what we have been told.
Sadly, when given a chance to cast light on the real issue with Bagwell, La Russa instead chose an easy scapegoat at which to misdirect blame, stats nerds. Here in the real world, MLB on the whole and La Russa specifically continue to duck one of the game’s ugliest issues – the legacy of players from the steroids era. It is easier to just leave it on the laps of the writers and then take potshots at imaginary targets when the going gets tough.
Instead of remaining in denial, it is a shame that La Russa does not use his prominent national platform to try to help undo the damage that period did to the game. Who better could help broker the creation of more specific and fair guidelines on how to treat players from this time than La Russa, now a senior executive with MLB?
Numbers aren’t the problem, Tony, but you knew that already.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.