There are times when you want to hold coffee, a backpack, and your wallet at the same time. It might be nice to be able to hold your stuff and get the door for an attractive someone, or to be able to pick your nose, your butt, and rub your eyes simultaneously upon waking up on an unfamiliar couch somewhere. So it could, in theory, be helpful to have a third arm surgically attached to your body. This is the kind of utility the Red Sox now have thanks to their hiring of Tony La Russa.
Bringing Tony La Russa into the Red Sox front office is a bit like attaching a third arm. It could be helpful! But then, if you think it through a little bit, there start to be some problems. Like, where should it go? Do you attach it to your chest, or your side, or your shoulder, and if your shoulder then which shoulder? And then where do you find a shirt that comes anywhere within a thousand miles of fitting? Also, how do you explain the expense to your family? “Honey, I raided little Tommy’s college fund to have this third arm attached to my neck.” Come to think of it, that thought process reminds me a lot of when La Russa’s Diamondbacks’ signed Zack Greinke.
Bringing Tony La Russa into the Red Sox front office is a bit like attaching a third arm. It could be helpful! But then, if you think it through a little bit, there start to be some problems.
When you consider La Russa’s extended CV, which includes World Series championships as manager of the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals, his drunk driving arrest and support for numerous right-wing causes such as anti-immigrant and pro-Glenn Beck with all the garbage he wears, and his shambolic tenure as Chief Baseball Officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks, a single salient question emerges: Why? And in truth that’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps La Russa will work to implement a Seven Pitching Change Per Game rule for Red Sox pitchers, or maybe he can work with the catchers on the proper way to waste time during a mound visit in order that the reliever in the bullpen will be able to throw an extra warmup pitch or two. There are probably other things he could do that might be helpful to the organization but they escape my mind at the moment.
I kid, of course. As evidenced by the number of teams he’s worked for, La Russa is a respected baseball mind, so from that standpoint perhaps he can add something that I, your humble author, can’t fathom or comprehend. It’s entirely possible, at least the very last part. Drilling down on that point though, two things emerge. First, isn’t being a respected baseball mind Dave Dombrowski’s job? And second, throughout his career, La Russa’s specialty has been working from the dugout. As mentioned above, he’s won multiple World Series with different organizations as manager, but the one time a team hired him to work in their front office, he, with a strong assist from then-GM Dave Stewart, effectively torched the place. La Russa was the one in charge of a front office that made wasteful and stupid decisions with talent, that overvalued unimportant aspects of players, that got worked over hard in trades, and, maybe most frighteningly, that was chronically unprepared in free agency. The last point is driven home like a nail to the skull by their decision to give Zack Greinke a six-year, $206 million contract essentially on a whim.
This isn’t the resume of a person who should have real responsibility in a baseball front office unless that responsibility is…uh…damn, a factual cul-de-sac. Let’s just assume I said something there and it was important and good. Thanks.
And then there’s the subject of analytics. Analytics, you’ll recall, was one of the selling points in the decision to hire Theo Epstein as GM of the Red Sox, and later, Ben Cherington as well. And as we know, those hires didn’t work out at all. The hiring of Dave Dombrowski, at least narratively and probably realistically too, represented a step away from Theo and Ben and their type of objective thought process. Dombrowski’s hiring of La Russa, who’s understanding and ability to use analytics borders on comical, does more than represent another step away from analytics, from objective analysis, it represents a step backwards with your eyes closed while standing at the top of a stairway covered with banana peels and thumbtacks.
Perhaps La Russa has learned from his mistakes and spent the season boning up on the way modern baseball teams are run and managed. Perhaps he had an interview with Dombrowski in which he gave a meaningful and well-constructed PowerPoint presentation featuring Greek symbols and copious cat memes. Perhaps he’s sorry for his past digressions, and his competitive fires won’t let him settle as the guy who walked into the Diamondbacks front office, loudly farted, and then jumped, still cackling, through the third story plate glass window. Or maybe he’s friends with Dombrowski and they thought working together would be a hoot.
Bringing La Russa on to the Red Sox will likely have a negligible affect on the on-field product and on the front office as a whole. There are, after all, numerous other smart people who work there and will be able to naysay any harebrained ideas. So mostly this won’t matter, and in truth, I’m just writing about it because the Red Sox haven’t signed J.D. Martinez yet. But it’s not an unimportant point to note the danger in the willful ignorance La Russa has demonstrated time and time again. Even if unlikely in the first place, bringing him into the Red Sox braintrust might make it that much easier for bad things to happen. By doing this, the Red Sox have added a third arm to their chest. At times La Russa may prove useful, but mostly it’ll just be awkward.
Photo by Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports