Trying to suss out the material impact an MLB manager has on his team's day-to-day performance is essentially an impossible task, and so you're usually better off just not even trying. And yet there are moments in which a manager can clearly do something that swayed his team's fortunes in one direction or another, and whenever those moments arrive it is very fun to point at the TV and shout, "Oh my god, what the hell is he doing?"
The White Sox were trailing the Dodgers 7-5 in the top of the sixth inning yesterday, and Trea Turner was at the plate with two outs and a runner on first. White Sox pitcher Bennett Sousa worked Turner to a 0-2 count, and then threw a wild pitch that allowed the runner to advance to second. Then something crazy happened.
You know a manager has really done something wild when you can feel the sense of befuddlement rippling through the entire stadium. Just look at poor Freddie Freeman trying to make sense of what he is seeing from second base:
And because the universe has a sense of humor, Max Muncy, the hitter that La Russa was so eager to get to the plate in place of a guy facing a 1-2 count, took Sousa deep for a three-run homer. I can't say for sure that Muncy only hit that dinger because of how disrespected he felt by La Russa's decision, but based on his reaction after touching home plate, I think it may have played a factor:
It is one thing for a manager to eat shit in front of everyone like this, but La Russa went and made things even worse after the game by getting extremely defensive about walking a guy on a 1-2 count. His immediate response to a question about it was, "Is there some question about whether that was a good move or not?" and then things just got worse from there:
It is true that Muncy has been hitting like shit this season, but it is also true that Turner is a career .197 hitter in 1-2 counts (as you may have assumed, it is extremely hard to get a hit when you have two strikes on you). Even if you want to accept La Russa's thinking, though, there's still no reason to just hand Turner first base for free. If La Russa's ultimate goal was to deny Turner an opportunity to get a hit, then why not have Sousa just throw the next three pitches way out of the zone or into the dirt? Maybe Turner would have been coaxed into swinging at one and struck out, or put a weakly hit ball into play. Or maybe he would have just spit on three straight pitches, in which case La Russa would have ended up in the exact same situation he wanted to engineer, minus Muncy being angry.
Such an analysis of the decision is not even necessary, though. A lot of different things could have happened over the course of that half inning, but only one thing did: Tony La Russa made a call that caused everyone who saw it to screw their faces up in horror, and then it immediately blew up in his face. That's a short, satisfying story.