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Posts Tagged ‘Tony La Russa’

At the end of the ’89 season David Bush, an S.F. Chronicle writer, wrote up a summary of Mark McGwire’s season. What’s at least somewhat interesting about this story, aside from the picture of one slice of McGwire’s ballplaying days, is how it reflects the current attitude toward sabermetrics-type analysis by McGwire, La Russa, and the Chronicle. Some excerpts:

Mark McGwire finished the year with some very noteworthy statistics. The numbers certainly attract attention, especially all those little numbers to the right of the decimal point.

Among the American League leaders in home runs and RBIs, McGwire spent most of the season apologizing for a batting average that was snoozing in the .220s in September before finishing at .231.

“This is the most difficult year I’ve ever had,” said the 26-year-old slugger. Most players would give a lot to have a year as difficult as McGwire’s. In his third full season he hit more than 30 homers for the third time, he drove in more than 90 runs for the third time and he played in his third All-Star Game.

“Everybody is looking at my batting average, and saying I had a bad year,” said McGwire. “I’m sure I’ve gotten some heat. There is no question that my home runs and RBIs don’t belong with my batting average. But that should tell people that the hits I get are doing something.”

“My stroke has been pretty much the same all year,” he said. “That isn’t the problem. I have just been pulling my head off the ball. When I stay down, I’m all right, but I haven’t been able to do that consistently.”

“If you look at his season overall you would have to say it’s good,” said manager Tony La Russa. “His No. 1 offensive responsibility is to produce runs, and when you get over 30 in homers and in the 90s in RBIs, you are doing that. But he prides himself on being a total hitter, so he’s not satisfied.”

At season’s beginning, McGwire seemed primed for a blockbuster year. He hit .360 with eight homers and 23 RBIs in spring training, and kept it up when the regular season began.

He went 8-for-22 with three homers and eight RBIs in the first six games. This was made even more impressive by the fact that Jose Canseco was out of the lineup with his broken wrist, putting even more burden on McGwire.

“That was probably the hottest I have ever been in my life,” said McGwire. “I was on everything.”

Then, in Anaheim, he felt a twinge in his back and had to leave the game. He went on the disabled list for two weeks with an injured disk.

“When I came back I had a few good games, but all of a sudden I was trying to find something and it just wasn’t there,” said McGwire. That began the battle that he still is fighting.

A declining batting average is usually a symptom of impatience. But if McGwire has changed as a hitter this year, he has become more particular about the pitches he attacks.

“I think I have learned to be more patient in certain situations,” said McGwire. “I don’t chase as many bad balls, and my walks are up. If they are going to walk me, I’ll let them.”

McGwire walked 76 times in 155 games last year. This year he has 83 in 143, which is the reason his on-base percentage is .340. That’s nice, but no substitute for bigger digits in the batting average.

“It would be interesting to see what my season would have been if I hadn’t been on the disabled list for those 15 days,” he said. “But you can’t live on “what ifs.’ If I average 30 homers and 90 RBIs a year for the rest of my career, that’s pretty good. I’d take that.”

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This is a bit of a departure from this blog’s strict focus on the 1989 season, but I happened to come across a game account for Tony La Russa’s first game with the A’s on July 7 of 1986, in which Dave Stewart, making his first A’s start, picked up his first win since September of 1984 by beating Roger Clemens in Boston. It seemed relevant since Stewart and La Russa are so integral to the 1989 A’s, so here’s some lines from the account, by Bruce Jenkins of the S.F. Chronicle: “Canseco and Kingman put on a batting-practice display that bordered on the surreal. Kingman hit one monstrous drive after another, way over the left-field wall. Canseco preferred the distant bleachers in center field, routinely rocketing 450-foot shots toward a wildly appreciative group of fans.”

Also before the game, La Russa said: “If I’m boring, I apologize. It’s just that I can’t get my mind off this game. I’ll be the same way later – thinking about tomorrow.”

And, in the sixth inning, with the A’s and Stewart already up 3-1, and Lansford on first: “Clemens tried a slider on the first pitch, and Canseco drilled it into the left-field screen for his 20th homer of the year. Then came Kingman, hacking a head-high fastball into the night – just like batting practice – and the A’s had a 6-1 lead.”

Second baseman Tony Phillips also “made two sensational plays, diving to his left to rob Boggs (fifth inning) and racing far into center field to snare a blooper by Don Baylor (sixth).”
Phillips gave this quote: “Hey, I’ve got to show that man I can play. If I don’t produce, he won’t stay with me too long. I’ve got to prove I should stay in the lineup.”

Stewart pitched six innings plus and gave up three runs for the win before leaving, then a guy named Dave Von Ohlen, in his first appearance for the A’s, came in with runners on first and second, no one out, in the seventh. He gave up an inherited run, then Bill Buckner bunted, and Jerry Willard sprang out to pick up the ball and threw to third to start a double play. Ohlen left and a guy named Doug Bair came on to get the save with seven straight outs.

Afterward, Canseco, who was boasting even as a rookie, said about Fenway: “I think I’d hit 50 homers a year if I played here. That’s how much I like it.”

Lansford said: “It just felt like we finally had the right guy (manager) on the bench. A guy with experience and a proven record. Tony La Russa just exudes confidence – and you play like your manager acts.”

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Tony La Russa

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In ’89, Tony made his offseason home in Sarasota, Florida.

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