Tony La Russa on Dave Duncan: Part One

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa discusses the impact of his long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan.

Earlier this week in a USA Today article entitled "The pitcher's repairman: Cards coach Duncan retools arms", Mel Antonen reviewed the considerable long-term success of St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. Antonen looked at the subject from different angles, securing brief quotes from Duncan himself, current and former players, and of course from his boss, manager Tony La Russa.

I was in Washington with La Russa last weekend when he spoke extensively about what having Duncan on his staff has meant over the years. This article as well as part two will cover those remarks in detail.

On Duncan remaining:

"I didn't imagine that I'd be managing this long. I just know that I was fortunate because we signed within a year or so of each other when we were teenagers."

On Duncan's start:

"You can ask all those guys – Sal (Bando), Joe Rudi – Dave had a maturity that was different from the rest of us. He just had it figured. You just watched him and the way he handled himself playing cards. Analytical. He was really a smart catcher.

"I know he gives Dave Garcia a lot of credit, but Dave Garcia encouraged him. He went to the bullpen to coach. It was such a natural thing for any of us that knew him. Rene Lachemann, Marcel Lachemann is another guy in that group. Nobody was surprised that Duncan was going into coaching."

On Duncan's approach:

"As friends, we paid attention. In 1982, what he and Rene Lachemann did with that Seattle club – Caudill, Stanton, … We always laugh when we talk about "The Dave Duncan Style". It gets talked about a lot here in St. Louis – pitch to ground ball. Dave focuses on the abilities of the pitchers."

On Duncan leaving Seattle:

"He wanted a $5,000 raise. We were playing the last series of the year there or maybe it was our last road series of the year (it's hard to remember). He was getting roasted. I saw Rene there and he pulled me aside and said ‘Duncan is determined to get a $5,000 raise to $35 grand or something like that and Art Gerosa is saying ‘no'. Dunc is hard-headed. He is going to go somewhere.'

"Ron Schuler had quit at the All-Star break. Ken Silvestri was our interim coach. He said, 'If you ever need a coach, I'd rather have him go to you instead of somebody else.'

"That night while he was getting roasted, I went over to him and we sat next to each other. I said to him, ‘However this goes, if it turns out you're not returning, then give us a shot. We're supposed to be pretty good.' We were 14 (games) over (.500) that year, I think. The next year, '85, was the first year he coached (with La Russa). That's a true story."

On whether it was inevitable they'd be working together:

"I don't know. If he had gone with some other manager – Tom Kelly – who managed for a long time – who knows?"

On whether Sox GM Ken "Hawk" Harrelson tried to fire Duncan:

"Yes because Dave did not toe the company line. Tom Seaver was the pivot point. Hawk was playing games – we're gonna' trade him, we're gonna' keep him. Tom was getting really pissed off. By that time, he was already a 300-win guy. It was in 1986. He wanted to know, ‘What should I do with my family? Should I bring them to Chicago or what?'

"So Dave says, 'It's affecting Tom's performance, all these rumors. Decide one way or another. We can't just keep jerking him around.' Hawk just got pissed and said, ‘Apologize'. Dave said, ‘xxxx you', so to speak."

On Duncan's strengths:

"You can't identify one thing in a pitching coach that could be faced with, because you know that pitchers have different problems potentially, right? Maybe 10 to 15, 20 things that can go wrong.

"Some guys are really good at a dozen things and maybe three or four they need. He's a "10" in each category. I mean that sincerely. I can give examples of every one of these. He's amazing.

"And I think he's getting better. He keeps challenging himself. He was one of the first guys that wanted to get into computer analysis and video. I still do my (stuff) on a legal pad. I'm so old-fashioned, it is ridiculous."

On Duncan retiring:

"I asked him a couple of years ago. He wants to coach longer than I want to manage."

On Duncan being a straight shooter:

"I'll tell one thing that distinguishes Dave from a lot of people in what any of us do. He probably tolerates less, gets personally involved less with B.S. than anybody I've ever met. He hates B.S. B.S. comes in all kinds of forms. He doesn't allow the pitchers to B.S. He doesn't B.S. the pitchers. Wherever the B.S. comes from, whatever the form is."

In closing:

"You can bring in any pitcher that you think could be better than what he is. You don't have to stop and think, ‘I have to worry about my guy – he's really strong in mechanics, but not strong in …. He's a "10" in every category. That's the truth. It's amazing. It's like the Albert Pujols of pitching coaches."

In part two of this interview, La Russa discusses Duncan's work with the mental side of pitching, the deployment of Dennis Eckersley, the use of the ninth-inning specialist and more.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.

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