If I had a real Halloween party to attend this year, I think I’d go as a seventy year old. Sadly, I may be able to pull off such a costume with a minimum of effort, but that’s only half the story. The full story is that there seem to be a lot of older folks in the news these days.
The White Sox hire 76 year old Tony LaRussa, and our next President will be either 78 or 74 years old. Viewing this positively, it would seem to indicate that septuagenarians (or at least septuagenarians in their even years) can still gain meaningful employment. On the downside…seriously…these people are kind of old, and I say that with a full understanding that I’m closer to that age than an age that most might consider young…so I am (as I often am) filled with contradictions. I’m happy for them, but I’m not sure the “future” is best left in the hands of those who could’ve been on social security for more than a decade.
But this isn’t an essay filled with ageism (though it seems to have started that way). This is an essay filled with youthful optimism…or at least some combination of a celebration of “maturity” and a recognition of the need for “youthful enthusiasm.”
I realize that all things sports related have a certain cyclical nature to them. For example, we often follow a “players manager” with a “disciplinarian” and then when that wears off, we rinse and repeat again and again…and again. But, I really thought baseball was skewing younger. Rocco could be LaRussa’s grandson after all. I think I feel better as a Twins fan with someone in their 30s leading a bunch of guys in their 20s and 30s (assuming Rich Hill and Nelson Cruz leave us), then I would hiring a 76 year old. Until this LaRussa hiring, I’m not even sure I’ve ever used the term “70-something.” There was once a TV show entitled “30 something” but do we really need a show entitled “70 something”….although I guess one could make the case that “Golden Girls” was kind of that show.
All of that said, when Rocco removed Maeda and Berrios because of the analytics “third time through the order” thing, and then especially when Kevin Cash removed Blake Snell using the same analytics, even though Snell was clearly the best player on the field that night, it does give one pause. There has to be something in the middle. There surely must be a place for a proper blend of analytics with a sense of what feels right in the moment.
Many of us old-timers surely had to think that if this prevailing wisdom was present in 1991, then the Twins may very well only have one world series championship. Jack Morris pitched ten shutout innings in game seven. Legend has it, given Morris’ rather well-known bulldog mentality, that if Tom Kelly had removed him at any time, we may have seen the first actual fist fight between a manager and pitcher on the mound in front of a national TV audience.
Ten innings. Today, presumably, he’d be pulled, kicking and screaming, after six fantastic innings, with the assumption that once the hitters saw him for a third time, they’d be squaring up those pitches. Maybe, more realistically, if Jack Morris existed in the game today, he wouldn’t be kicking and screaming, he’d understand that this is simply the way we do things now. Maybe the Twins would’ve ultimately won that game anyway, but one of my greatest memories of one of the greatest world series ever would not have happened in the marvelous way in which I get to remember it.
For those of you too young to remember 1991 (most of you), that game was incredible, and as you might imagine the broadcasters were debating whether Morris would come back out of the dugout for the next inning starting sometime around the 7th or 8th inning. Surely, if the Twins had taken the lead in the bottom of the eighth, he’d be removed in favor of Aguilera, but then again, maybe the bulldog would’ve fought TK in the dugout….who knows? As always with sports, and particularly with baseball it seems, the ability to engage in pure speculation is part of the great joy.
What would you do if you were manager? What would Rocco do? What would Tony LaRussa do? We already know what Kevin Cash would do? We know what Tom Kelly did. What if he had pulled Morris and it would’ve all fallen apart? We’d forgive him, of course, because of our Minnesota sports burden of low expectations….but what a joy 1991 was…and I am left with the thought that part of the reason the Twins won that series, was because of the high expectations that Tom Kelly had for Jack Morris, and that Jack Morris had for himself.
It was a different time, I’m not trying to romanticize it, but it’ll be hard not to revisit one’s youth when we see Tony LaRussa run…well…jog…well…slowly stroll out to the mound next year. Everything old is new again. Or is it everything new is old again? Either way, somewhere between Tom Kelly and Kevin Cash is probably where we should be today. For me, the key is that it is somewhere “between.” Snell should’ve been left in…come on, let’s just acknowledge that sometimes what your own eyes see, should actually be believed. The only part of the World Series that I really regretted this year (apart from the absence of the Twins) was Kevin Cash’s news conference in which he said he wouldn’t change a thing. Seems to me, simple honesty would have required him to say… “crap, that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, if I had to do it over again, I might change a thing or two.”
Coming full circle, perhaps that’s why our “new” President will be either 74 or 78, we simply cannot admit that we are wrong…and frankly, all analytics all the time, serves as protection for a manager who makes a mistake. I don’t think Kevin Cash should be fired, seems to me like he’s a pretty good manager who made a critical mistake probably based on pressures placed upon him from above.
If LaRussa is to succeed, it won’t be because he tries to be exactly who he was, that ship has sailed. But it also won’t be because he simply bows to the analytics that he’ll receive from others. It’ll be because he adeptly marries the two. That would be a marriage that would last.
While I don’t ever wish for success for the White Sox, I do sort of hope that LaRussa can beat the odds and prove that with age comes wisdom and with youth comes analytics and that baseball can be best managed by those who skillfully combine them both, regardless of how old or young they may be.