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At 1:30 in the afternoon on a muggy spring Monday in Boston, the Oakland Athletics are working on their data base. Tony La Russa, the Oakland manager, and three of his aides are working in the small, spartan office used by the visiting team's manager, just off the larger but still cramped room where the team dresses. There will be a game `tonight at Fenway, and the pulse of the ballpark is quickening. For the men in La Russa's office the atmosphere is like that inside a cramped bunker during a day of desultory shelling at Verdun. The booming cannons echoing in the concrete cubicle at Fenway are actually beer kegs being unloaded, none too gently, from trucks and onto the concrete floor on the other side of the cubicle's wall. The only soft sounds in the office are the splats of tobacco juice into paper cups.
That is not a sound often heard in the management suites of major corporations. However, it is important to remember that a baseball manager is management. True, he also is in the ranks with the players—labor, if you will—in that he is an active participant in a competition for two to three hours on game days. But all day, every day, in season and out, he is management.
This day, in Boston, the manager is seated at a metal desk dreary enough to be government issue. He is wearing socks but no shoes, jeans but no shirt and a frown of concentration. On the desk is The Elias Baseball Analyst. With La Russa are Lach, Dune and Schu.
Rene Lachemann, a former manager of the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers, is the Athletics' first base coach. He is halfway dressed in his uniform—pants and undershirt—and on his feet are shower thongs. He chews tobacco and swears constantly, almost musically, using the strongest language to express or embellish even the mildest thoughts and feelings. Dave Duncan, a former catcher, is Oakland's pitching coach. Tall, quiet and reserved, he almost always speaks in a tone high school teachers use to sedate unruly classes. Duncan has the demeanor of a deacon. He is in full uniform. So is Ron Schueler, whose official title is special assistant to the vice-president, baseball operations. Schueler is a jack of many trades and a master of one of baseball's modern trades, that of advance scout. He has been in Boston watching the Red Sox play the Mariners.
As the beer kegs bounce and rumble on the other side of the wall, the sound in the room is the soft murmur of men swapping information. Duncan does most of the talking as they analyze the Red Sox. La Russa listens, occasionally questioning or commenting, constantly writing notes in a tiny, meticulous shorthand. This meeting amounts to panning for gold, sifting mountains of gravel, one panful at a time, looking for glittering flakes. And finding them.
"We threw him 20 first-pitch strikes last year, and he swung at one of them. I have him with one ground ball to the left side, right down the third base line."
"The three fastball hits he got last year were all up, two up in the middle, one on the inside part. He got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight outs on fastballs."
"Bankhead [a Mariner pitcher] struck him out yesterday with curves."
"He's a good middle-breaking-pitch hitter—that's his bat speed."
"Last year he was trying to go the other way—inside out—with runners on base."