Baseball91's Weblog

October 25, 2011

Cell Coverage in Bullpen of Saint Louis

Some background, on the communication problem between Tony La Russa with his bullpen. Twelve months ago, the St. Louis Cardinals fired bullpen coach Marty Mason, the longtime right-hand man of pitching coach Dave Duncan. John Mozeliak’s move was one indication why there had been hesitation on the part of Tony LaRussa to announce his return to manage this year. On only a one year contract … when you tax someone’s power…. taking what was not yours to take …. you were cutting away at his sources of power.

In the eighth inning of pivotal game five of the World Series, Tony La Russa explained that twice the bullpen “didn’t hear Jason Motte’s name– did not get Motte” up to warm up. “I don’t know if it was noisy…probably real noisy. They just didn’t hear the second time.”

Twelve months ago, Marty Mason had been replaced as bullpen coach by Derek Lilliquist, who since 2002 was in the organization, previously working as pitching coordinator at the team’s Jupiter, Florida spring training headquarters as part of injury rehabilitation. Lilliquist had moved into the dugout during the entire run in September 20111 which earned a wildcard spot, as pitching coach Dave Duncan took a leave of absence due to his wife’s health. Lilliquist’s job duties had never involved talking on the bullpen phone until this season.

There has been tension within the Cardinal organization ever since Walt Jocketty’s firing as general manager. Tony LaRussa still was having to address the different philosophy of owner Bill DeWitt and the other members of the organization to the press, it was said in 2010, on questions about the relationship between the Cardinals’ minor-league development and the club’s major-league coaching staff. And it was getting more and more personal.

Twelve months ago general manager John Mozeliak demoted longtime La Russa confidante Barry Weinberg –Cardinals head trainer since 1998– to assistant trainer, reversing roles with Greg Hauck who was promoted to head athletic trainer. Weinberg had also worked during La Russa’s 10-year term in Oakland as part of his overall sixteen seasons as Oakland A’s head athletic trainer.

So last night, when asked the sort of procedure when you call down to the bullpen, as to who gets the word, and how do the convey it, Tony said: “The bullpen coach hears it, and like he heard Lynn.”

LaRussa said he wanted right-hander Jason Motte in a matchup with Texas’ right-hand-hitting Napoli, so he called down to the bullpen, but coach Derek Lilliquist misunderstood his instructions. According to the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch:
Question: ‘He heard Lynn?”
Answer: “Yeah. That’s why Lynn got up…and I went out there. I thought it was Motte …and they were yelling at me as I went out. I didn’t hear them. It wasn’t Motte. So I saw Lynn, I went, ‘Oh, what are you doing here?'”

When LaRussa signed his one year contract for the 2011 season, it was the makeup of his coaching staff which was believed to be the final detail in his decision whether he would return. Was it with his eyeglasses on or off that LaRussa had said twelve months ago that 15 years is a long time for one manager in “one place,” that the organization might benefit from “freshness”?

The Cardinals were an organization which had fired Jocketty, fired Marty Mason –Mason had worked under La Russa for the 12 seasons after working as a Triple-A pitching coach from 1997-1999 — demoted Weisberg, and had a manager whose contract was up in two week. After both the general manager and the owner have been taxing La Russa’s power, why would he come back?

Bobby Valentine attributed a major mistake to the move by Tony LaRussa, though the ongoing power struggle within the organization — unchanged since that departure of Walt Jocketty — showed up in the call to the bullpen last night, and might have determined the champion of the World Series. Tony LaRussa never really let those kind of mistake happens. Though he has said he would never manage another team after the Cardinals, the timing might be right for White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to pull the plug on his general manager and hire a new White Sox general manager. According to two team sources, meetings at the conclusion of the World Series will involve Jerry Reinsdorf, a few front office executives, new manager Robin Ventura and his coaching staff, and only a few selected scouts. The timing seems right for Reinsdorf to bring back his one-time manager to Chicago. To take some of the Theo spotlight back to the southside.

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