Fierce competitor La Russa goes out on top


Fierce competitor La Russa goes out on top

Somehow, you could have guessed Tony La Russa wasnt going out unless he could go out looking down at the field he had just laid waste to one last time.La Russa, who announced his retirement this morning three days after cheating the experts one last time by winning the World Series, always had a competitive streak that Attila the Hun would find off-putting. His stock answer to the mindless greeting, How are you doing? was Ill tell you in three hours, and he meant it. The game would dictate his mood.
And the game would dictate his moves. He was among the first of the statistical managers, but he had a fierce sense of his own madcap genius. He did things his way and did so with something of a vengeance, to the point where the new-age baseball analysts often found him not only imperious, arrogant and frustrating, but even retrograde in his strategies.To which he revealed his truest self that of the unrepentant red-ass.La Russa was caricatured a lot of ways in his 30 years of managing, but the one that got the least attention was his frustration with things that didnt go his way. He was generous with his time, and he loved talking about baseball, but his questioners needed, in the words of the mob movies, to come heavy or not come at all. He wanted your preparation along with his preparation, and he wanted you to acknowledge that your preparation was inferior to his. Not necessarily because he was smarter, but because he spent more time at it.As in most of his waking hours.It is instructive that he found kinships with other authoritarians of his day George Will was his Boswell, Bob Knight was his spring training companion. He brooked little argument unless it was (a) well-prepared and (b) had the predetermined result that he would be right and you would be wrong. Not because he was a genius, but because hed worked at the problem longer than you. Youd slept; he hadnt.The day that may have revealed this trait loudest was the day the Texas Rangers came to the Coliseum for the first time since Jose Canseco was pulled from the on-deck circle and told he was no longer and Oakland Athletic. He and La Russa had been butting heads awhile, and when push came to shove off, La Russa won, as he knew he would. Canseco burned the available bridges he had, but La Russa would get the last word because he knew he would.And he prepared for it. He was at the ballpark early, and feverishly wrote out a detailed rebuttal to Cansecos remarks, his work ethic and general Canseco-ness, and he studied it so that he could deliver it for as long as he wished. And he went a good half-hour rhetorically blowing Canseco into small bits.When it was done, he turned to a reporter and said, How did it sound? He wanted to know the job had been done right. His way, his words, but with the acknowledgement that nobody else could have done better.La Russa was not a Zen creature. He and Jim Leyland, one of his best friends in baseball, both had fracases with their best players, and both won. They didnt let small issues become big ones and on the occasions that they did, they dealt with the problem with lineup cards and general managers moving the problems elsewhere.And he especially would not go out except on his own terms. He was ferocious in that he might not win, but he would lose his way. Indeed, his odd explanation for BullpenPhonePalooza after Game 5 was so bad that he felt compelled to recraft it the day after and acknowledge what he knew he should have right after the game. He was in charge, it was on his watch, and there was more he should have done to prevent and correct the problem.He was capable of charm, but it was leavened with stubbornness. He didnt conquer St. Louis, one of the most traditional and hidebound and yet devout baseball markets there is, so much as he grappled with it. He had been the second banana in a big market (Chicago), the first banana in a slightly smaller market (Oakland), and he took on the beast from its belly. St. Louis is as hard a ball town as Boston, and its love for the Cardinals has its jagged edges. La Russa didnt avoid those edges he scraped against them and created new ones, all in pursuit of the next three hours.He crafted his legacy elbows-out, leaving as many detractors as admirers. As a manager, the numbers didnt lie, but his methodology took regular beatings. As a human being, well, baseball was his one true love. If he could stay, he would.But nobody stays. They all go eventually, and he went out the only way he would allow himself to having whipped everyone in his teams path. You may decide for yourselves whether that is an admirable trait, but he admires the hell out of it. He did not leave the job undone. He doesnt have to wait for the next three hours to tell you hows hes doing. He has one more ring. The newest one.And hell be a lousy retiree. Bet on that.Ray Ratto is a columnist for

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

The Super Bowl is today, which means the best day of the year is fast approaching.

Namely, the day after the Super Bowl.

At that point, we as a nation can complete the inventory of gastric damage we did to ourselves on what shall be known to future generations as Fried Festivus.

At that point, the people who bombard us daily with news of the game – the least important part of the week-long trade show, as we have come to learn it – will all be on planes and too tired to re-explain what we already saw 37 times on game day.

At that point, nobody will care that Terrell Owens was apparently one of the first of the 15 Hall of Fame finalists to be rejected for induction because of crimes against the NFL state. The Hall of Fame is one of the sneaky ways in which the NFL never lets us escape its obnoxiously shouty profile, and the fact that Owens is right about the flawed process doesn’t change the fact that he’ll be just fine with the process when it allows him passage.

At that point, we’ll know whether Tom Brady is to be deemed a god, or merely maintain his demigod status. At least we’ll hear more about it, because it is easily the most tiresome debate in the football diaspora, engaged in by idiots with no better idea about how to kill time. A note: If you think Tom Brady is a greater quarterback because his team won a fifth ring, or a lesser one because he didn’t, your head is now officially empty enough to be reclassified a dance hall, and you are of no more value to normal society than a papier-mache goose.

And at that point, we can return to the two things we in these parts care to know – where the Raiders are going, and how the 49ers are going to present their new football brain trust.

We needn’t explain the Raiders again to you, first because you’ve heard it all if you’re paying any attention at all. Mark Davis has been trying to cobble deals at a frantic pace in hopes that one will stick, and his 31 fellow owners still have to decide how much longer they want to endure him, while faced with the painful fact that the East Bay is getting out of the exploitative license-to-be-stolen-from stadium business. They also get to know as they go to the meeting in Houston that will ostensibly decide Davis’ fate that they have ruined California as a market by their excessive greed-laced stupidity and deserve every lousy market the state can give them.

Which brings us to the 49ers, and the latest round of Judge Them By Their Press Conferences.

If there is anything worse than this team’s on-field profile, which is why Jed York hired Kyle Shanahan, it is the way it explains itself to the outside world, which is why Jed York hired John Lynch. Both Shanahan and Lynch will be paraded before a braying mobs, probably Tuesday, and York will be there as well for the cheesy photo array and a few unconvincing words of praise about each of them (as a note, Paraag Marathe will be present but only in hologrammatic form).

They will then promise – well, something or other – and Lynch will be hailed as the face of the glorious future because the man he replaced, Trent Baalke, had the public persona of a meth-tweaked hyena. Hard to find, and not worth it when you did.

Then we’ll all remember that the job Shanalynch (or Lynchahan, depending on what part of Ireland you’re from) are being asked to do is a three-year reclamation at the very least, and that the only useful question either can be asked is “Can you fix this before Jed gets embarrassed and angry and cans you both?”

And on Wednesday, there’s the start of pre-draft prep (in order words, The Eighty-Day Slave Market), and the hamster wheel to hell gears up again toward Super Bowl LII.

Only next year, the chances of relocation hysteria and a front office upheaval are that much less, and we haven’t sufficient distractions to make the year go faster.

But enjoy Fried Festivus. We can always look forward to that, even if we change the name back in December to the more traditional "Christmas."