The Astros and White Sox are set to square off, hopefully for five games, in the American League Division Series starting Thursday in Houston. Managers Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa have combined for 58 years of experience on the job. It isn't too surprising, given that, to say that their paths have crossed a few times. But there is a ton of history here, actually, between two men who for years and years insisted they were still friends off the field.
They were actually teammates for a quick second with the 1971 Braves. That's seemingly when they first got to know one another. Then, in 1986, La Russa was fired from his post as White Sox manager and hired midseason by the Athletics. Baker was on that team in his final season as a player. La Russa in the past often spoke glowingly about what a good veteran leadership presence Baker was in the clubhouse. Once Baker retired, though, he didn't join the A's coaching staff. He went across the bay to the Giants. He was their hitting coach in 1989, when La Russa's A's beat the Giants in the World Series.
Still, there wasn't really anything simmering between the two. They were just friends who once played together and then later saw one manage the other for a bit.
It was Baker's Giants against La Russa's Cardinals. In the third inning of Game 1, Kenny Lofton homered and apparently didn't run around the bases fast enough for the Cardinals' liking. Next time Lofton came up, his tower was buzzed with a fastball and he didn't like it. Benches cleared. Along the side of the scrum, La Russa and Baker were involved in a shouting match. It was a big enough deal that both managers were fined for "conduct unbecoming" of a manager. La Russa was still angry with Lofton for what he believes was an overreaction to a pitch that wasn't intentionally with a purpose.
"I think Lofton should pay the fines for both Dusty and myself," La Russa said (via nytimes.com).
He actually made that request, too, pushing for the player to pay the price for his and Baker's actions.
Lofton would end up hitting a walk-off single in Game 5 to send the Giants to the World Series.
Shouting match in 2003
During the course of 2003, Baker's Cubs and La Russa's Cardinals were fighting for first place in the NL Central. Things finally simmered to a boil on Sept. 3. There had been back-and-forth talk in the media about some hit batsmen possibly being one of the Cubs' "tricks" to get into the heads of the Cardinals. To which Baker said, "I've heard Tony say things before. As far as I'm concerned, tricks are for kids, and I don't take kindly to threats." (via chicagotribune.com)
In the second inning on Sept. 3, Cubs starter Matt Clement hit Cardinals starter Dan Haren with a pitch. Next time Clement came up, Haren returned the favor. And then, fireworks (2:44 is specifically the juiciest part. Baker's lips are NSFW)
The two managers were screaming at each other from the opposing dugouts! Amazing theater right there.
After the game, Baker said this was "just the beginning" and that the Cardinals were overreacting to the Cubs bringing the fight to them on the field.
2010 fight in Cincinnati
Baker was now with the Reds while La Russa was still with the Cardinals. Brandon Phillips paved the way for this one. Before this game against the Cardinals, the Reds second baseman said the following (via stltoday.com): "I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they're little bitches, all of 'em. I really hate the Cardinals."
Many will remember before the bottom of the first even started that Phillips and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina got this thing going and it turned into an ugly melee with La Russa and Baker again squaring off.
We're now up to two times when both managers were suspended as a result of their actions against one another in addition to being fined during the NLCS.
This one lingered into 2012, too.
The All-Star snub controversy
Remember, La Russa retired from his post with the Cardinals after winning the 2011 World Series. He also had the right to manage the 2012 All-Star team. Reds players involved in the fight, Johnny Cueto and Phillips, had cases to make the team, but did not. Baker suggested the snubs stemmed from the 2010 fight and that La Russa was holding a grudge. Cueto had words as well. La Russa replied as such.
"The comments Dusty made clearly disappoint me and are attacking my integrity. The All-Star experience is too important to let anything stand in the way of a decision like that." (via Yahoo)
More: "I feel betrayed by him," La Russa said (via CBS local). "Professionally is one thing, but that was personal. I'm really upset about it. That was a knife in the back there that I don't think I'll forget."
La Russa even mentioned this incident in his book and referenced Baker, but he only called him "the Reds manager" and didn't use his name, saying this harmed the "friendship" the two claimed they shared for so long.
Will we add another chapter during the 2021 ALDS?
The best guess is that isn't very likely. Sure, they're are meeting in the postseason yet again, but La Russa is 77 and Baker is 72 and they haven't sparred in years. Their teams played six times this season and nothing of note happened between the two. They shake hands before the game and then get down to business.
If there is an issue between the two teams, however, remember the extensive history here between these two. It would be pretty funny if there was another issue.