Nice piece in the Times this weekend about Dave Duncan:
- Tony La Russa had an unusual experience last week. For the first time in his memory, he managed a game without the reassuring presence of Dave Duncan.
Duncan, who has been La Russa's pitching coach since they were in Chicago together in 1983, took Tuesday off for personal reasons. The division-leading Cardinals soldiered on without him, with Duncan's protégé Adam Wainwright throwing eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory against Houston.
"It was very strange,” La Russa said. "I don't know if he's ever missed a game before. If he has, I can't remember it.”
La Russa is considered one of the top managers in baseball, a winner of two World Series titles who is called an innovator, a motivator, a tactician and even, by some, a genius. But he readily acknowledges that without Duncan ministering to the pitching staff, the story all these years would probably be different.
"It's amazing what that guy does,” La Russa said. "He's so freaking good, it's unbelievable.”
Duncan's suddenly a hot topic because his contract expires after this season, and he's been sounding less than enthusiastic about returning to the Cardinals next season. Why? Here's St. Louis columnist Joe Strauss:
- He is angry - publicly so at a St. Louis media he believes stoked last month's trade of his outfielder son Chris to the Boston Red Sox and, until now, privately at a franchise that has created a minor-league pitching philosophy independent of his and bullpen coach Marty Mason's input.
A number inside and outside the Cardinals organization view Duncan's smoldering dissatisfaction as a precursor to him leaving after this season. That belief only gained steam last week when Duncan asked general manager John Mozeliak for a one-day leave of absence upon the team's return from a 5-2 West Coast trip to address "personal business."
Dave Duncan is a hot commodity, and for good reason. He's not thrilled with his bossess, and for reasons that any father could probably understand (he was apparently angry at not just the local media, but also with the front office over how his son's situation was handled).
My guess is that Duncan will be back, but only after he believes that he's been treated with the appropriate respect, perhaps in the form of a hefty raise. I'd love to see Duncan someday considered for the Hall of Fame, and I suspect the Coop is poking around in the back of his mind, too. But while his magic might work just about anywhere, it's also possible that Tony La Russa has been a key to Duncan's success. And it won't help his Hall of Fame case if he goes somewhere else and -- as happened to Leo Mazzone -- his new charges struggle.