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One Last Strike is Tony La Russa's memoir of the 2011 major league baseball season and, in passing, a memoir of his very successful career as a big league manager. Last season, La Russa led the St. Louis Cardinals out of nowhere to win the National League wildcard slot, and then, improbably, advanced to the League Championship Series and the World Series. The Cards won the title in what was one of the great World Series of all time.
La Russa managed St. Louis for 16 seasons. Before that, he spent ten seasons managing the Oakland Athletics and seven seasons managing the Chicago White Sox. La Russa also had a less than illustrious career as an infielder. Last year's baseball season was his last.
La Russa talks to NPR's Robert Siegel about retirement, steroid use and being on the road.
On retiring from managing baseball
"Interestingly, especially to my friends, I do not miss it at all, in the sense of being in the dugout. What I do miss is being involved in the competition as a player and as a manager of fifty years, of waking up in the morning during the season and expecting to have an outcome of win or lose that night. I do miss that competition, but not the dugout."
On forecasting the success of major league baseball players
"I think, you know, the idea of evaluating a high school player especially, and then trying to look forward and ... figure his development, there are certain criteria that you look to give you an idea, but everybody that signs has a level of talent. Some are very talented, some are less talented, but the successful producers in major league baseball — and probably in sports — they have a competitive physical and mental toughness. And players that get into the competition and are not distracted by fame and fortune, and have the toughness to deal with all the ups and downs and the challenges, they are worth more than their weight in gold."
On how Major League Baseball should handle the records of players like Mark McGwire, who have admitted to using steroids
"Well, I think the simple answer ... [is to] treat [McGwire] like you would treat everybody else. I really have no real idea how it's going to be reconciled, whether it's in the record books. I just think as far as the players are concerned, treat them all the same ... If he's not [going to be admitted to the Hall of Fame] because he used, then don't put anybody in. There's a lot of guys out there, and there are only a few poster boys that are being singled out ... I don't think that's fair either. Punish all of them, or punish none of them, and ... put an asterisk next to that embarrassing time."
On how La Russa might have managed his team differently in order to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs
"There's no quick and easy answer, but ... there did originate the concept of workouts, legal and proper workouts to enhance your stamina and strength. I know that [in] our official program, there was no ... messing around, no illegalities. Now what happened away from it — so there were signs ... We could see, for example, if someone was getting stronger without working as hard, or got strong quickly. And you started to suspect that there were other things involved. As you raised the issue or you pushed it up the levels of the organization, there were obstacles, and I ... think probably MLB was having a tough time understanding what was going on. But you couldn't test — the union would argue for right of privacy and collective bargaining obstacles. So, you know, there's only so much at that point — you know, I hate making excuses, because I'm just ... offering you an explanation. But we did observe, and we did question."
On why the Anaheim Angels haven't thrived, despite their acquisition of terrific free agent pitchers and rookie Mike Trout
"You know, they had a pot of gold and a TV contract that allowed them to really go out and spend, and they already had a team. But the story in the West is the upstart Oakland A's, who are — I think their payroll is like 50 million, maybe 100 million less than the Angels and the Rangers — if you draft smartly and develop, the young guys, they play with enthusiasm. You don't have the ups and downs of, and distractions that some of the older guys have. They stay healthier. Also, when you introduce new teammates ... Look at the Dodgers, they made the trade, they look so much better on paper — they haven't really had the record to support it, because they're not quite a team. They haven't gelled. It's that thing we talk in the book a lot about, that chemistry that comes from teammates respecting and trusting and caring for each other. You just can't make it automatic and press a button."
On why Anaheim Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, who left the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of last season, had a slow start this year as a result of being away from his family
"You can't ... computerize that. I mean, that's human nature. His wife was pregnant with her fifth child, which she just delivered two or three weeks ago. He had a lot on his plate. He tried to do too much. And, in fact, when I talked to him, I reminded him that the year before, he got off to a slow start and then tried to force things, and Mark McGwire, our hitting coach, reminded him — just take what's there. And pretty soon the real Albert emerged, and it has emerged this season."
On La Russa's daughters, who send his wife a Father's Day card every year as a joke about La Russa always being on the road
"They're laughing ... but I'm not, you know. Because they have forgiven me for my excessive concentration and distractions, but I haven't forgiven myself. I should have stayed at home a little longer and come home sooner, and when I was home, I should have paid more attention to them. I was taught this leadership philosophy of no regrets. It pains me to have regrets, that I didn't pay more attention to the family than I did."