The Meaning of Gerald Laird

So the Cardinals have their long-sought backup catcher: Gerald Laird will caddy for Yadier Molina in 2011. In and of itself, this seems to be a fairly vanilla addition. Laird is a catch-and-throw type, and he’s put up miserable offensive numbers in three of the last four seasons. At age 31, Laird probably has little hope for significant improvement outside of some “lightning in a bottle” randomness.

On another, greater level, though, the addition of Laird (and the puzzling trade of Brendan Ryan) shows that Tony La Russa still has a major voice — some would call that voice shrill, loud and tiresome — when it comes to the Cardinals’ personnel decisions. Despite having a staff that shows strong groundball tendencies (tendencies that may be even stronger since Jake Westbrook will be around for a full season), the Cardinals dealt away an elite defensive shortstop and left in place a second baseman who, according to both eyes and numbers, is awful at the position. Now they’ve added a right-handed backup catcher who can’t hit — Jason LaRue 2.0, if you will.

The curious thing is that the Cardinals have a perfectly reasonable in-house solution in Bryan Anderson. Anderson is a left-handed hitter — something the 25-man roster could use more of — cheap and capable of actually contributing with the bat. Laird may be better with the glove, but given the proclivities of the staff the shortstop position was the obvious place to sacrifice offense at the alter of defense. But so much for that.

If you needed further evidence of La Russa’s tacit distaste for Anderson, it came last season on April 17. In that 20-inning root canal, La Russa twice — twice! — let a reliever bat with the walk-off run on third base. All the while, Anderson sat marinating on the bench.

Anyhow, La Russa is obviously getting his way this winter. Don’t be surprised if he contrives a way to become frustrated by reserve infielders Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene. If that comes to pass, Aaron Miles will be, menacingly, a phone call away (or maybe Mike Gallego?). Then, against all evidence, he’ll probably refuse to platoon Lance Berkman with Allen Craig, despite the fact that Berkman can’t hit left-handed pitching these days.

None of this is to suggest that La Russa is somehow an awful manager. That’s obviously not true. In many ways, I’m still awed that the ’96 Cardinals made the playoffs and the ’08 Cardinals mustered a winning season. But my suspicion is that La Russa is not very good at managing a team whose young contributors aren’t decidedly “old school” in carriage and bearing. Lack that window dressing, and you might find yourself marginalized, benched or traded.

If nothing else, with Laird’s addition the Cardinals at the margins are now La Russa’s kind of team, and that might turn out to be precisely the problem.

Print This Post

Handsome Dayn Perry can be found making love to the reader at's Eye on Baseball. He is available for all your Twitter needs.

22 Responses to “The Meaning of Gerald Laird”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. LGM says:

    Not sure if they had another catcher on the bench, but maybe La Russa left Anderson on the bench because he didn’t want to be left without a catcher in case of emergency?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • nomar34 says:

      a 20 inning game is an emergency

      +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • matt w says:

        Yeah. I’ve got no insight into T La Russ’s thinking (can we start calling him T La Russ?), but even if you had to forfeit if the backup C came out — if the next alternative was to have a pitcher strap on the catcher’s gear, and throw intentional balls to him until the winning run was in — the extra WPA from having a hitter bat would be worth it.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • AA says:

        Most teams have a position guy who can crouch in a bind. I’m sure they could have moved a pitcher to the OF and shuffled things if they were THAT desperate.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • AK707 says:

      After that many innings, you don’t worry about injuring your backup – you are already nearing the point where position players will have to pitch. Besides, you need to start worrying about how squatting for 20 innings in a row is going to affect your starting catcher for the rest of the week. It might be time for a double switch.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Dayn Perry says:

    LGM – That was indeed the rationale given, but that’s a ridiculously over-cautious way to manage an extra-innings game. My suspicion is that had it been a veteran catcher on the bench, then TLR would’ve pinch hit. I can’t prove that, of course.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jack Str says:

      LaRussa’s career should have ended that night. He was outmanaged in that game by Jerry Manuel. What’s left for a man after he’s been outmanaged by Jerry Manuel?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. CircleChange11 says:

    I’m still awaiting the news that Rasmus has been traded for Aaron Rowand and Freddy Sanchez.

    2 high contact, low walk types that we like to hit at the top of the order in front of Pujols & Holliday.

    You get a lot of Old School grit with Rowand, and Sanchez is tough at fouling off 2-strikes pitches like you know who (Eckstein).

    I have been a big supporter of TLR throughout his tenure in StL. But, it’s time. He seems to just be looking for a fight now. This should be a pleasant year with him and the media.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. jordy says:

    i’m impressed the 2006 cardinals were doing anything other than watching the playoffs from the couch. worst world series winning team in my short lifetime.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      i’m impressed the 2006 cardinals were doing anything other than watching the playoffs from the couch. worst world series winning team in my short lifetime.

      Really? The worst world series team in your lifetime?

      I ask because it’s the same team that won 104 and 100 games in the 04 and 05. They went to 2 WS in 3 years and the time they didn’t make the series they lost to HOU is the “Pujols Bombs Lidge” series.

      What was different about 2006? Injuries.

      Lost SP #2 (Mulder) for the year.
      Lost Pujols for a month (oblique)
      Edmonds missed 70 games.
      Eckstein missed a month
      Isringhausen (closer) missed a month (Wainwright called up)

      So, over 3 seasons, this team won 290 games. How does that compare to every other team from 2004-06.

      Injuries, Man. Injuries.

      +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • cje says:

        True talent-wise, that team matches up well with many World Series teams. Their results in the regular season due to injuries and players playing ineffectively through injuries made them lucky to get to the playoffs. Besides, everybody knows the correct answer is the 87 Twins.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ofMontreal says:

        Ha ha ha cje! Yes, you’re right. Even tho in sentiment I must agree that watching the Tigers give that series to the Cards was monstrously painful. Injuries and all.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. joeiq says:

    I don’t understand the Ryan Theriot diss. He has a positive career SS UzR. Negative last year but in limited PT.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ofMontreal says:

      You must have never seen him play. CKarhl had an interesting post about this dilemma on BP yesterday(the inexactness of available defensive metrics). Suffice to say that the riot sux as a SS in a big way. Now as a 2B he isn’t bad, but he still can’t hit. As a Cubs fan I’m over the moon about this.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. deadpool says:

    Its not like this is anything new. The whole “J.D. Drew” mistique seems in retrospect to be entirely a creation of TLR. He didn’t seem to have any trouble with the Braves, Dodgers, or Red Sox other than just being hurt. The “attitude problems” seemed to only occur with TLR. I was just amazed last season that Anderson ever made the 25 man over Pagnozzi’s nephew.

    That whole team has been a cult of personality for so long now, its almost unfathomable what’ll happen when TLR retires.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. JayT says:

    It really seems to me that LaRussa needs a GM that is willing to talk back to him, and I’m not so sure Mozeliak is that guy. I really think that the Cardinals are on the verge of a very dark time for them.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. CircleChange11 says:

    I agree that the 06 WS was not all that entertaining, but the NLCS was.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. F. Redbird says:

    Why does everyone put this all on La Russa? Carpenter and Pujols, two of the pillars of this team, were visibly upset with Ryan at multiple points last season because of his aloofness. Carp had to chew him out in the dugout that one time after Ryan went into the field with the wrong glove or whatever that was. From a numbers perspective, the Ryan trade makes little sense. From a clubhouse perspective, it needed to be done.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      LaRussa is a grouchy old school dude. He has a keen skill of irritating a lot of people. Not judging that, just repeating what is often said about him. I don’t mind it. He is reputed to not like young players, which always seemed weird to me since his A’s teams had 3 consecutive ROYs (Canseco, McGwire, Weiss).

      But the point I wanted to make was about the Carpenter situation, where CC29 was generally lambasted by internet comments. The big deal was not necessarily the glove situation, but that Ryan was farting around with teh runner at 2nd (also a runner at 1st), and then was out of position for what should/could have been an inning ending double play.

      Granted at the lower levels, it’s the pitcher’s responsibility to wait for the player to get back into position. In this case, there was no real threat of a steal, and a higher chance of an infield play, so I interpreted it as CC29 basiclly telling him to get his head out of his ass.

      This type of thing is not all that uncommon IMHO. Throw in Carpenter’s competitiveness and demeanor, as well as being a veteran, and some might call it “leadership”.

      The Cardinals are not often a popular opponent, and a lot of that comes from LaRussa. Again, I don’t mind it. But that seems to be the way it is.

      I don’t really like seeing Ryan traded for something the Cards will not immediately use, especially when Ryan at SS and Theriot at 2B is likely an improvement over Theriot and Skip in the same positions.

      There’s always something going on with TLR whether he’s punishing Rasmus by keeping him in the minors, even snipping at AP5 on rare occassion.

      I do like that TLR is always under the skin of Dusty Baker, it’s one of his redeeming qualities.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jirish says:

      Maybe because it’s LaRussa’s job to do the chewing out, and not Carpenter and Pujols’? They pay him over 4 million a year-he’s supposed to make it work. Period.

      Hey, Brandon Phillips called it-whiny bitches. This move confirms it. They don’t want to play with that annoying Ryan, so poof, he’s gone.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Stan says:

    When oh when are the authors at fangraphs going to realize that Allen Craig (and John Jay) are reverse platoon guys and that Jay kills lefties while Craig hits better against righties. Every time I see them suggest that Craig will fill in against lefties I scream at the computer.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. T B M says:

    This is so amizing, because as I was trying to check the meaning of my son’s name Gerald, I noted that “evidence of La Russa’s tacit distaste for Anderson came in the last season on the 17 April……………………………………………..,” but this day of 17 April happens to be when this son of mine Gerald was born 14 years ago.

    Vote -1 Vote +1