Before we talk about Boston Red Sox executive Tony La Russa, his remarkably enduring career, and his latest World Series triumph, let’s discuss those 2018 Red Sox.
Do they rank among the greatest single-season teams to win a World Series? You can make the case. They’re certainly on the list after winning 119 games, total, regular season and postseason.
Make that a short list.
How many teams have won at least 108 regular-season games (Boston’s total) and the World Series in the same season? Not many.
Our pal Jayson Stark of The Athletic broke it down:
+ In the wild-card era, the 1998 Yankees, who won 114 games during the regular season.
+ In the division-play era: the 1986 Mets, the 1975 Reds, and 1970 Orioles. Each team won 108 regular-season games.
+ Going back deeper into baseball history: the 1961 Yankees (109 wins), the 1927 Yankees (110 wins), and the 1909 Pirates (110.)
But I think the Red Sox warrant special mention for other reasons.
1-The Red Sox spent only one day of the entire season with a record under .500 … and that was on March 29, after losing their first game on the schedule … and from there, the Red Sox won 17 of their next 18 games. Their worst losing streak? Only three games, which happened four times during the season. The Red Sox had their first three-game losing streak between (April 21-24.) They didn’t have their next three-game losing streak until Aug. 19-21. That’s a stretch of 100 consecutive games between three-game losing streaks. They cruised through 42 consecutive series without being swept.
2-The Red Sox were amazingly consistent in their dominance. They spent 148 days in first place in the AL East. They had the best record in the majors at the end of April (21-7), MLB’s best record at the end of May (19-6), MLB’s best record at the end of June (56-28), and MLB’s best record at the end of July (75-34), August (93-43) and September (108-54.)
3-The Red Sox were the first team in major-league history to defeat two 100-win teams (Yankees and Astros) to get to the World Series. The Yankees won a 100 games this season; the Red Sox eliminated them in five games in the ALDS. The Red Sox disposed of the 103-win Astros in the ALCS.
4-According to a note passed along by a friend at STATS LLC, the 2018 Red Sox were the first team in MLB history to topple both of the previous season’s league pennant winners (Astros and Dodgers) in the same postseason.
5-According to Stark, the ’18 Red Sox won the World Series by taking down the two teams — Astros and Dodgers — that led their respective leagues in ERA. None of the other 108-win teams we cited earlier had to conquer league-leading pitching staffs to collect the big prize.
6-The Red Sox were 7-1 on the road during the 2018 postseason including 5-0 combined in Yankee Stadium and Houston’s Minute Maid Park. And the Dodgers needed 18 innings at Dodger Stadium in World Series Game 3 to give the Red Sox their lone postseason road loss.
7-Only three teams in the wild-card era topped Boston’s 11-3 postseason record: The 1999 Yankees 11-1), the 2005 White Sox (11-1) and the 1998 Yankees (11-2).
8-Heck, let’s add some frivolity to this by pointing out that the Red Sox were crazy-good in their 2018 spring training, going 24-9-1 in exhibition play. So that means they lost only 66 times in 210 games from the beginning of the Grapefruit League schedule to the culmination of the World Series. Excluding the tie in spring training, the Red Sox had a winning percentage of .684 over the preseason, regular season and postseason.
9-Since 1962, the first year that both leagues played an expanded 162-game schedule, the 2018 Red Sox had the 14th-best run differential (+229) among 1,518 individual-team seasons. And that +229 was the third-best by the eventual World Series champ since ’62.
Now, let’s move on…
Congratulations, Tony La Russa.
TLR won three World Series as a manager.
And now La Russa has won his first World Series as a team executive.
La Russa’s first world championship as manager came with Oakland in 1989, and after moving to St. Louis in 1996 his Cardinals won the World Series in 2006 and 2011.
Last November, the Red Sox hired La Russa to the role of Vice President and special assistant to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. They’re old friends going way back to the Chicago White Sox days in the 1970s. So this one was extra special.
What a unique career.
La Russa won his first World Series in Oakland at age 44.
Now he’s won his latest World Seties at age 74 as part of Boston’s executive-level leadership that put together one of the most winningest teams in MLB history for one season.
La Russa would be the first to joke and tell you that he couldn’t hit a fastball.
But, in terms of winning, he still has the fastball.
And La Russa was an important touchstone for first-year Red Sox manager Alex Cora in 2018.
La Russa, who got his first big-league managing job with the White Sox at age 34, knows what it’s like to be a young, first-time manager in the big leagues. And Cora, age 48, coveted La Russa’s advice.
La Russa makes it clear that he respects boundaries and never imposed his opinion on Cora. A stickler for protocol, La Russa was happy to share his viewpoint — but only if Cora asked for it. Or perhaps if a coach asked for guidance.
“I never offered any kind of coaching expertise,” La Russa said. “I think that’s improper. I have a good relationship with the coaches so they come to me with questions. But what really works is for me to work and communicate with Alex, because he knows what’s going on down there.”
Speaking with reporters who cover the Red Sox, Cora emphasized how much he valued La Russa’s input.
“We talk. We talk a lot,” Cora said late during the regular season. “I enjoy having dinner with him. That’s pretty cool. He’s a guy who feels a little bit awkward being in the clubhouse or being there for batting practice. I’m the other way around. Come down, talk to me. You won a lot of games.”
Dombrowski added this: “It’s always interesting for me because whenever (Tony) is not around, actually, a lot of times Alex will ask me, ‘Where’s Tony?’ He’s always asking me where he is.”
Cora would have been foolish — or perhaps insecure — not to rely on La Russa.
When La Russa retired from managing following the 2011 World Series, he ranked second in MLB history to Connie Mack with 5,097 games managed. And this really isn’t a fair comparison because Mack owned the team and wasn’t about to fire himself.
La Russa was third all-time for most regular-season wins with 2,728; only Mack and John McGraw had more. La Russa is No. 2 all-time with 70 MLB postseason wins; only Joe Torre won more with 84.
Think about this for a moment:
With Mack (RIP) and McGraw (RIP) long gone from this world, Tony La Russa has won more regular-season and postseason games combined (2,798) than any living person.
So why wouldn’t any manager seek Don Tony’s counsel?
La Russa has been steadfast in declining to take credit for Cora’s success. To La Russa, it was just a matter of his doing his job — by sharing observations when Cora wanted to run something by the Hall of Fame manager.
“This is really important,” La Russa told MLB.com. “The great majority of what’s going on with the Red Sox downstairs has to be credited to the guys around them every day — all the time. What I am is another guy upstairs. My responsibility is to be available. If somebody asks a question, I give them my opinion. Most importantly … Alex and I have a confidential relationship. I might write down some impressions of what I noticed that I thought might be helpful. I’ve communicated with Alex. … I think there were some contributions I made, but they pale in comparison to the guys downstairs in the fight, in uniform, every day, all the time.”
La Russa is a huge fan of Cora’s leadership.
“He had the great sense to put together this coaching staff and empower them all to work together, in and out of uniform,” La Russa said. “There’s guys in the background, too, providing reports, so his feel for the team concept is important to him.
“In the end, he’s the guy that pulls the trigger, and I thought he was masterful at that. Sometimes you see guys that are smart but they don’t expose themselves by making the tough call. If he believed in it, he did it — and that’s leadership. He has substance. You can’t just be a relationship guy because you’re also making decisions that might not always be popular. But if Alex was convinced it was the right way to go, then he’d go with it. He was just masterful.”
That’s high praise, coming from Tony La Russa — the master manager himself.
Thanks for reading …