On La Russa: Deserves got nothin' to do with it

John J. Hopkins Nov. 5, 2011, 4:16am


"Unforgiven" is the Clint Eastwood 1992 Oscar winner for Best Picture.

Over the years, it has earned a place in the field of classic Westerns, one of only three to win the top Academy Award. It tells the tale of William Munny, notorious as a hired killer, but now a widowed farmer desperately scratching out a meager living on the harsh Kansas plains.

He is reluctantly convinced to come out of retirement to go after a bounty put out by a frontier madame, seeking revenge on a group of cowboys for the mutilation of one of her "girls."

In the climactic scene, Munny stands over the wounded town Marshal Little Bill. With shotgun in hand, he calmly guarantees his death. The Marshal, faced by the inequity of the whole turn of events, shouts in desperation, "I don't deserve this."

William Munny, with resolute firmness, replies, "Deserves got nothin' to do with it." Then, he pulls the trigger, sending Little Bill to his grave.

It is this quote, and its philosophical spin on the fates of life that is today's movie metaphor.

The afterglow of the October surprise that was the St. Louis Cardinals' 11th World Championship had not yet died down. The hawkers still lined the street selling countless varieties of now priceless souvenirs. The residents of Cardinal nation, basking in the unexpected warmth of victory -- improbable at best, miraculous in truth -- had yet to settle in to the routine of life without baseball.

But the biggest shock was yet to come. After 16 record-setting years, Tony La Russa said goodbye, this time for good, this time at peace with himself, his legacy and his role in baseball history secured.

Tony La Russa (TLR to the media) will go down in Cardinal history as the best manager of all time -- period. Vegetarian. Lawyer. Wine drinker. Animal lover. His family stays in San Francisco during the season while he lives at the Ritz Carlton. He's the polar opposite of Whitey Herzog, his closest rival for Cardinal managerial fame.

But unlike the White Rat -- a beer-drinking, bratwurst-eating fishing buddy from New Athens -- TLR will enter Cooperstown thru the front door on the first ballot, not waiting 15 years and depending on the generosity of the "Veterans Committee."

For some perhaps obvious reasons, other mangers were more likeable than Tony -- the aforementioned Herzog and Ron Washington of the vanquished Texas Rangers to name just a couple -- but none were more esteemed. TLR cared not to be popular but demanded and was certainly given respect from fans, from a contentious media and from his players.

In his final year, during the postseason when the end was finally in sight, a mellowing occurred. Perhaps then a measure of genuine mutual affection shown through between fan and iconic legend. After all, it's hard to knock a guy who counts among his friends Carlos Santana, Billy Bob Thornton and Bobby Knight.

I am and will always be a Cardinal fan, but it was hard to not like the Texas Rangers.

Unlike the swelled egos from Philly or Milwaukee, the Rangers organization, starting with Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, seemed like really good guys. It was so painful to watch them in Game 6, the one that by any rights the Rangers should have won, and the World Championship with it.

Any journeyman outfielder catches David Freese's fly ball in the 9th. Any journeyman relief pitcher does not throw a third fast ball to Freese in the 11th. But it happened, making the random consequences of life more underscored.

The good do not always win.

Prayers are not always answered.

Deserves got nothin' to do with it. Just like William Munny says.

For every miracle victory, there is a unexpected -- some might say undeserved -- taste of defeat. There does not seem to be rhyme nor reason.

Is it karma? Luck? Or just the frustratingly cruel nature of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Tony LaRussa has managed in the Fall Classic six times, losing in 1988, 1990, 2004 when his teams were statistically the best in the game, and winning in 1989, 2006 and 2011 when the teams were underdogs.

His Oakland A's were swept in 1990 by the Reds, managed by high school classmate Lou Pinella. The 2004 Cardinals lost four straight to the Red Sox, who after coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees, could do no wrong.

The Fates. Taking it out of the hands of mere mortals.

The search for the new manager continues. Decision day is before Thanksgiving. The shoes are indeed very big to fill, but the prize is unlike any other in the National League, rivaled in baseball only by the Yankees.

The front office needs the courage to be bold, to be innovative. To see the combination of experience, commitment, legacy and availability requires only a short quest.

He is there in former Cardinal third baseman, long time Atlanta Brave coach and Bobby Cox protegee Terry Pendelton.

Be not afraid.

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