Lovullo embodies D-backs' confidence in face of doubters

October 27th, 2023

ARLINGTON -- On the eve of the World Series, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo had a message for Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, the sports radio personality who famously vowed to retire if Lovullo’s club beat the Phillies in Games 6 and 7 of the National League Championship Series. (Spoiler: They did.)

“A deal's a deal,” Lovullo said with a smile during his press conference at World Series Media Day at Globe Life Field on Thursday. “You can't back out of that one, Mad Dog. You've got to do something.”

In the wake of the NLCS, Russo, who hosts MLB Network’s “High Heat” among many other endeavors, had negotiated on-air with fellow SiriusXM star Howard Stern over how to renege on his promise and, perhaps, walk down a Manhattan city block in a D-backs bikini with a sign saying, “I’m a liar and a dope.”

Lovullo approved of that compromise.

“That will do it for me,” Lovullo said. “But I ain’t going to forgive you until you do something unbelievable. Maybe show up here and say you’re sorry to the entire team.”

Russo’s mid-NLCS rant gets the headlines, but the other side of the story here is the sassy skipper who has been unafraid to punch up in this postseason and let the world know how confident he is in a sixth-seeded Snakes squad that has surprisingly taken October by storm.

Lovullo’s media availabilities this month have been master classes not just in honesty, accountability and accessibility (at the start of Thursday’s presser, he snapped a photo of the interview room to show his mother what it looks like from his perspective) but also in leadership. Lovullo has set a tone for this largely inexperienced team by expressing certainty every step of the way … even when the D-backs were down, 0-2, to the reigning NL champion Phillies in the best-of-seven NLCS.

“Hopefully,” Lovullo said earlier in October, “people are recognizing that you can't just walk all over us. We're a good baseball team. We do things right. We do it in a very uncommon way. We care about things that other teams probably don't care about or talk about, and it's showing up every single day for us.”

Lovullo’s players love him for just that sort of sentiment. This is the second team he has taken to October (the D-backs were an NL Wild Card Game winner in his first season at the helm, in 2017) but the first to come up under his guidance, with real relationships built over time.

“He's had my trust since the first day I met him,” rookie star Corbin Carroll said. “He took time out of his day to meet with me, a young drafted kid whom he might never see again and who might not play at this level. He took time with me during my injury, checking on me, making sure I still felt involved. And then ever since I actually got up here, he’s just been incredible to me. That’s who he is."

Veteran Evan Longoria, who joined the D-backs this year and has certainly been around the block, observed that Lovullo’s deep belief in his team brings “an edge” to his interactions, as demonstrated when the D-backs traveled back to Philadelphia for Games 6 and 7 and Lovullo told USA Today, “We didn’t come across the country to get our [butt] kicked.”

No matter how it might come across in print, Lovullo, it should be noted, doesn’t say these spirited things in a hostile manner. He grew up in L.A. and has never lost his California cool.

But he didn’t like it when Russo made his retirement promise or when Phillies backup catcher Garrett Stubbs said his team would make a “beeline” for the Chase Field pool once they clinched the NLCS on the road.

“I think he's just getting tired of hearing that we don't really belong,” said D-backs executive vice president and general manager Mike Hazen. “We’ve gone on the road to these environments against really good teams and have beaten them, and yet the narrative never seems to change. And so I think the frustration … nothing ever upsets him, right? But the frustration is kind of building with each subsequent round when the narrative doesn't seem to change nationally at all. So he just kind of brings it to the forefront.”

Russo has helped bring it to the forefront, and you could tell that Lovullo was having fun giving it back to the opinionated media personality -- and anybody else who doubts his D-backs.

“I think, at the end of the day, we're all internally motivated,” he said, "like we should be. It's our job to come here, stay motivated and stay focused. I don't think we need extra. But when you get extra, it's like a glass of iced tea. Add a little bit of honey and lemon to it, it tastes perfect. … We just put it on our list and keep those receipts and walk around with a little bit more of a chip on our shoulder.”