When the Cardinals open the season Wednesday in Miami, Tony La Russa will again be managing the team — albeit remotely from his home in California.
The Cardinals announced Sunday that their longtime manager, who announced his retirement at the end of last season, will return to co-manage with new field manager Mike Matheny. The arrangement is intended to help transition the rookie skipper and is a first in major league baseball.
“Mike has done a tremendous job this spring,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “After talking it over with both Mike and Tony, we decided that it made sense to bridge the gap by having Tony work from home and co-manage until Mike is ready to go solo next year. We’ve seen virtual workers be effective in other industries, and we think it can work here, too.”
Although the club is still working out the details of what the remote work will look like, Mozeliak didn’t exclude the possibility of La Russa co-hosting post-game interviews via Skype and Tweeting responses to reporters questions that Matheny may not be able to or want to take.
“I think that it’s all on the table, since dealing with the media is a big part of the job and something that Tony can help Mike ease into,” said Mozeliak. ”
Though disappointed, Matheny acknowledged the wisdom of the plan.
“I still feel like I can handle it myself,” he said. “But it does help to know that if I forget to use every last one of my relievers, Tony’ll be texting me from his den.”
The only comparable job-sharing arrangement in baseball history was the Chicago Cubs’ “college of coaches” experiment in 1961 and 1962. Mozeliak dismissed the comparison, noting that one of the failures of that unorthodox approach was determining who ultimately had decision-making authority. “We won’t have that problem. All tie-breakers go to Tony. Even for me,” he said.
The news comes on the heels of an announcement that La Russa had taken a high-ranking job in the commissioner’s office. It remains to be seen whether La Russa will be able to keep both jobs, but commissioner Bud Selig maintained that he didn’t feel it would be a conflict of interest, and a spokesman said that Selig was privately hurt that anyone would impugn the commissioner with the suggestion of impropriety.
“Tony has been in this game several decades and has an impeccable reputation,” Selig said. “I am confident that he’ll be able to do both jobs admirably, and everyone I’ve talked to agrees.” Though the duties are vague, La Russa is expected to work on special projects, such as slowing the quantitative analysis trend in the sport and proving the effectiveness of Selig’s PED testing program.
La Russa joins a growing number of Americans who work virtually. Since 2006, the number of U.S. employees who worked remotely at least one day per month increased 39% to 17.2 million in 2008, according to the latest survey available from WorldatWork. After recording a series of pregame speeches with his team-supplied Flip camera that Matheny can play back during closed-door clubhouse meetings, La Russa said that the flexibility of designing lineups for Matheny from his home office allows him to spend more time with his animals.
“This way, I can send Mike an email before the game about some of the matchups I like and not have to leave my dogs,” La Russa said. “Quite honestly, not having animals in the dugout was one of the things that I finally tired of. Who knows, maybe I make a better call in Game 5 if I’ve got a few of my cats there with me.”