Sit across from Tony La Russa once in your life. Look him in the eye and, in all seriousness, say, “I don’t believe you’re committed to winning.”
Even if you’re at a charity dinner, the rest of the evening would not be pleasant. If you like to play but you don’t like to compete, you won’t like La Russa.
Jim Harbaugh has become famous for the fact that everything is a competition. Harbaugh competes in every interview. He competes for attention. He competes even in conversation because nothing is casual to him. La Russa is different. He doesn’t compete in everything, but when he competes, La Russa competes WITH everything.
When La Russa was an employee of the MLB front office, he was an occasional guest on “Doug and Wolf.” When we would ask him about managing again, he would struggle to answer every time. It was clear he didn’t want to manage, however, he was too transparent to hide one thing: he couldn’t stand not competing.
Ken Kendrick and Derrick Hall hired La Russa away from the MLB front office. The analytic crowd mocked Arizona for going from the “Grit Era” of Kevin Towers to the “Compete like Hell” mantra of Tony La Russa. When La Russa’s first hire was non-analytic, fiery competitor Dave Stewart as GM, every “spreadsheet seamhead” wrote off the D-backs. A calculator doesn’t compute passion and fire, therefore it’s unusable for a sabermetrician. A calculator has never sat across from Tony La Russa and learned how to win.
The analytics crowd will applaud the Arizona Diamondbacks staff for the Greinke signing using advanced metrics to explain how good Greinke is. You’ll soon see articles and blogs about Greinke’s BABIP at Chase Field to justify why this signing makes sense. Greinke is George Washington in the sabermetric revolution because he was the first starting pitcher to win a Cy Young despite a poor won/loss record. I’m sure some writer/math stud will even try to add points to Greinke’s projected WAR because now Greinke gets to hit in a hitters’ park for half his starts.
The credit for signing Greinke goes to every member of the D-backs organization with Kendrick being first and foremost, since it’s his $200 million. Make no mistake, money had a lot to do with the Greinke signing but cash only put you in the conversation because many teams were ready to pay for him. There’s one aspect of this signing that no one in the calculator crowd will acknowledge: La Russa’s competitive fire is infectious. Once the money is relatively equal, great baseball people attract other great baseball people.
Zack Greinke is a Diamondback because they paid him. Zack Greinke is also a Diamondback because there isn’t a formula to measure how it feels to sit across from Tony La Russa talking baseball and winning. Tony La Russa is a winner. Zack Greinke is a winner.
Now, analysts can use their calculators to add up the Diamondbacks’ wins.