Series skippers seize success in distinct ways

Series skippers seize success in distinct ways

ST. LOUIS -- You will see two distinctly different managers in the dugouts at this year's World Series -- one known for his cerebral strategizing, the other for his celebratory struts and stomps.

The Cardinals and Rangers are both here in large measure because of the successful swaps Tony La Russa and Ron Washington made when calling down to the bullpen in their respective League Championship Series. And yes, both were on the phone frequently.

But the similarities between the two molders of mind and leaders of lineup seem to end there, unless you consider the broad-based perspective that both have earned the ear and the affection of the men on their rosters.

"I think Tony is more laid-back in the dugout," said Cards reliever Arthur Rhodes, who played for both skippers this season. "Wash gets excited. He enjoys it, jumps around, throws his hands everywhere. Tony gets excited, too, but he just stays calm and cool and watches the game."

La Russa has long been regarded as one of the game's all-time great managerial minds, and he has the 2,728 regular-season wins, four league pennants and two World Series titles to show for it.

"You don't win 2,000 games or whatever it is by accident," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. "He's certainly a Hall of Fame manager. Everybody wants to have a list of the best ever or whatever, but he's among the best tacticians that the game has seen."

It will, of course, be a long while before Washington is considered in that conversation, but you can't ignore the high-energy, highly successful culture he's helped craft in that Rangers' clubhouse.

"When the leader of the team, the skip, the guy who's in charge and makes decisions is having a good time and messing around, it allows us to be free and do that," Josh Hamilton said. "When we're playing, he feels like he's out there with us. He treats his players very well and doesn't do anything to embarrass them."

So when analyzing the deepest depths of the lineup, the strengths of the starters and the abilities of the bullpens in trying to determine who has an edge in this battle they call the Fall Classic, it's imperative that we also consider the dynamics in the dugouts. Clearly, La Russa has more postseason credentials, but Washington also has the street cred that comes with a clubhouse full of guys who would run through walls for him.

When the topic of "matching wits" with La Russa was broached, Washington revealed himself, once again, to be a man with no pretension.

"I don't think I can ever live up to matching a wit with Tony La Russa," he admitted. "But what I will try to do is put my players in the right position. And if my players perform, I don't have to worry about matching wits; they'll take care of things."

And Washington will certainly be rooting them on every step of the way, vocally and visually. The FOX camera crews have shown an obvious fondness for shots of Washington running in place in the dugout, waving his hands and strutting his stuff as he cheers on a runner flying around the bases.

"I like it when he gets his feet going," Mike Napoli said with a laugh. "He's up there running with the guy, and it's kind of funny. He gets us up. Just watching him, he brings a lot of energy. Even when things aren't going right, he's always in the game doing stuff like that, which keeps everyone loose. It's fun."

Of course, sometimes the fun has to meet the fundamentals. For the most part -- and with a big tip of the cap to Alexi Ogando -- Washington has done a better job of managing his bullpen this October than last, though there have been some anxious moments with Koji Uehara. Washington's decision to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera with the bases empty in Game 4 of the ALCS nearly backfired in a big way, but the Rangers survived and the second-guessers were, momentarily, silenced.

Whether you support his occasionally unconventional maneuverings or not, Washington has undoubtedly made his mark on a team that has advanced to consecutive World Series to become AL elite.

"It's awesome how he's such a 'what you see is what you get' type of person," outfielder David Murphy said. "I'm not saying there are managers that are phonies, but everything you see on camera is the real, true Ron Washington."

What you see on camera from La Russa is, well, a little more tense.

"I used to hate him," said Berkman, who, in another life, was a Houston Astro and, ergo, a La Russa rival.

Berkman expounded on that thought.

"He sits over there in the corner of the dugout and, from the other side, he offers no expression," Berkman said. "Sometimes he has on sunglasses, and you're like, 'What's with this guy? Is he trying to hide his eyes?' He sort of has an aura that rubs you the wrong way if you're playing against him. But that's not how he is at all if you're playing with or for him."

La Russa cracked a slight smile when Berkman's take was presented to him. He's heard such things before. Many times, in fact.

"The way I was raised -- and that's why I don't have any problem with any manager that you people think I have problems with -- the manager's responsibility is to your team," La Russa said. "That's your family, baseball family. And the benefit of the doubt goes to your team. ... You get close to your players, you care for them and you've got their back and have some fun with them. But that's your players, not the other players."

So La Russa is fiercely loyal and, therefore, completely polarizing. Sometimes, in sticking up for his players, he's been accused of whining. Sometimes, in making creative moves, he's been accused of thinking he's smarter than all who have come before or since. But if we can judge a manager only by the results, then his results would seem to speak for themselves.

"One of the things I love about Tony," said outfielder Matt Holliday, "is he's not randomly doing things. He has a reason for everything he does."

Holliday admitted there are times when he second-guesses La Russa and even asks him -- politely, of course -- what he was thinking when he made a certain move. And every time, he said, La Russa offers a defensible answer.

"You've got to give managers the benefit of the doubt that they know their team and what matchups are in their favor," Holliday said. "I've seen where guys don't have time to get their guy up, they weren't ready for the pinch-hitter or whatever. But he's never unprepared. He's always got the guy ready. When you see that, you appreciate it."

Both La Russa and Washington are clearly appreciated in their clubhouse, and, with so many personalities to juggle, that's the first step toward managerial success. But in a Series with an iffy outlook for the starters, the ultimate success likely awaits the man who does the best job of working the late-inning matchups in his team's favor. And that's why the La Russa-Washington dynamic is as intriguing as any in this installment of the Fall Classic.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.