Tag:Ozzie Smith
Posted on: February 13, 2011 10:56 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 10:57 pm

Pujols, La Russa and "spectacular" distractions

So, is the Cardinals season about to be torpedoed before it even begins?

There was manager Tony La Russa on Sunday, before the first Cardinal of the spring even officially took the field, getting out in front of the issue that right now appears poised to overtake St. Louis' summer.

La Russa admitted Sunday that the Pujols contract situation potentially is a "spectacular distraction" that could turn into a "spectacular excuse" is the Cardinals play poorly.

Understand a couple of things about this.

One, La Russa is a master manipulator who plays mind games as well as anybody in the league. He is adept at spinning situations to create the ultimate "us against them" mentality in the clubhouse.

Two, La Russa thrives in this arena, and he's yet to meet a challenge he doesn't think he can whip. So you bet the Cardinals will be well schooled in the first team meeting of the spring on the volatility of the Pujols talks, what it will mean if any of them starts yapping out of school and of the age-old clubhouse adage, "What you see here, what you hear here, what you discuss here, stays here."

It's hard to remember a La Russa-managed club that hasn't had its share of distractions, some of them even spectacular, many of them orchestrated by La Russa himself. Mark McGwire's return to the game last spring -- sponsored by La Russa -- eventually gave way to peace and quiet. Later in the summer, La Russa's tiff with outfielder Cody Rasmus went public after the manager spelled out his displeasure with Rasmus.

It was La Russa himself who was arrested near the Cardinals' spring facility in Florida in 2007 and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Later that summer, in the aftermath of pitcher Josh Hancock's traffic death, La Russa caused quite a stir when he threatened to take his fungo bat to any reporter who crossed the line with questions about the tragedy.

He has famously feuded with Scott Rolen (hastening Rolen's departure from the Cardinals) as well as Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith (a rift that remains). And remember his Cold War with the umpires in 2003? Among other things, La Russa said that Jerry Crawford has "made it a point to get us."

While none of this relates directly to Pujols, the point is, with the Cardinals, it's always something. Always, there is some controversy or slight, real or perceived, up around the next corner. And it doesn't always mean disaster. Sometimes, the Cardinals thrive in this atmosphere.

Unquestionably, if Pujols and the club cannot resolve the contract differences by midweek and the three-time MVP cuts off talks for the year on Wednesday, this likely will wind up the mother of all spectacular Cardinals distractions. And things could go off the rails, quickly.

But a ticked off Pujols playing with a chip on his shoulder might not be the worst thing in the world. As La Russa said Sunday, the man is "as strong between the ears as anybody I've ever met."

As for the Cardinals, if there is any team -- and any manager -- qualified to head straight out into this sort of storm, it is St. Louis and La Russa.

Doesn't mean it will be a pleasant summer.

But it doesn't mean the Cardinals can't win, either.

Posted on: December 7, 2009 11:21 am

Herzog, Harvey belong in the Hall of Fame

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Veterans' Committee went 2 for 2 Monday in voting former manager Whitey Herzog and former umpire Doug Harvey into the Hall of Fame.

Herzog was an innovator who managed the Cardinals to three National League titles.

Harvey was an umpire who gave new meaning to the standard that umpires are the game's highest authority: He was called "God" by the players because he was never wrong.

As Harvey told me with a chuckle two years ago for a column just before he fell one vote short of election then, "There have been Princes and Earls and everything you can think of in the way of high nicknames in the game. But name another person that the players called 'God.'"

Indeed. And in becoming the first umpire elected to Cooperstown since Nester Chylak in 1999 -- and only the fourth admitted since 1977 -- Harvey's marvelous 47-year career finally has the ending it deserves.

I mean, a few years back the highly respected Society for American Baseball Research ranked Harvey as the second greatest umpire of the 20th century of professional baseball, behind only Bill Klem.

"Doug Harvey, to me ... sometimes you see umpires and you say, 'That guy is not giving his best. He's being lackadaisical,'" says Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, a voting member of the Veterans' Committee. "That never happened with him. He put his heart and soul into the game.

"He always had good control of the game. He had the players' respect. He had the pitchers' respect. This is where he belongs."

Herzog, who, like Harvey, missed election by only one vote two years ago, easily was elected this time with 14 votes (12 were needed).

 Over his 18-year managing career, he led St. Louis to three NL pennants and the World Series title in 1982 and, as Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith -- Herzog's start shortstop in St. Louis -- notes, he changed the way things were done.

"He started building his ballclub according to the ballpark in which we played," says Smith, also a member of the Veterans' Committee. "He found an aspect of the game, an aspect he always highlighted that ... while the New York Mets might have been a better ballclub, we found a way to win the division.

"That was from fundamentals. We knew if we kept the game close, in the late innings, the team that played better defense would win, and we knew we could do that."

Smith speaks of the unique dynamic Herzog brought to the Cardinals during that time, noting in particular the way Herzog sometimes juggled his relievers by moving the pitcher into right field for a hitter and then bringing him back to the mound to pitch to the following hitter.

"Watching the confusion on the other side of the field," Smith says. "It was fun."

As Lasorda says, "Whitey was the kind of guy you didn't know what the hell he was going to do. You'd think he was going to do one thing and he'd do the other thing. He wasn't a [by the] book manager."

What he is -- deservedly so -- a Hall of Fame manager.

Posted on: July 12, 2009 7:16 pm

All-Stars: No Figgins, no back-flips

ST. LOUIS -- The All-Star replacements are trickling in, Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena subbing for Boston's Dustin Pedroia, Milwaukee's Trevor Hoffman in for the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton. Last week, Texas' Nelson Cruz was chosen to replace injured Angels' center fielder Torii Hunter.

Still missing is Angels' infielder Chone Figgins, who really, really was hoping to go.

As in, he's spent much time over the past few weeks watching replays of old All-Star Games on MLB Network during the day before leaving for work in the afternoons.

Figgins was hoping that maybe in a National League park, without the designated hitter, there'd be more room for a speedy scrapper like himself. He also was hoping that maybe he'd have an in with American League manager Joe Maddon, a former Angels coach.

No dice.

Figgins certainly is deserving of consideration: He's ranked ninth in the AL in on-base percentage (.392), tied for second in triples (six), fourth in steals (27) and fourth in batting average against right-handers (.342).

Besides, he recently promised that if selected, he'd do a backflip in St. Louis in tribute to Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

"I heard that," said Smith, 54, who managed the United States team in Sunday's Futures Game at Busch Stadium. "That would have been nice to see, because I darn sure can't do it anymore."

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com