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  • La Russa's approach will remain the same

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    Taking Stock In Bonding: La Russa's approach will remain the same
    By Joe Strauss
    Post-Dispatch
    03/07/2004

    JUPITER, Fla. - Given more than four months at his California home to ponder what could have gone differently last season, Tony La Russa, perceived by many as the Cardinals' unsmiling dugout sentry, reached a novel conclusion.

    "We should have had more team parties on the road," he said.

    La Russa's read may surprise those who would point to an $84 million team's bloated ERA and uninspired, out-of-character September. The manager's assertion touches on the subtleties of a team that rarely resembled the sum of its talented parts during an 85-win, third-place season.

    On the cusp of his ninth season managing the Cardinals and seven months shy of his 60th birthday, La Russa doesn't believe his 2003 team was a fractured bunch. But he acknowledges the collective purpose that bound the team so tightly during its 97-win season in 2002 may have been harder to find last year. For that, La Russa blames himself for not being more proactive.

    "I've always thought it important to create an environment where players could be together in a social setting away from the ballpark," he said. "For some reason, that didn't happen as much last year. Reflecting on the season, that stayed with me."

    Baseball's winningest active manager, La Russa says he is still learning and scrutinizing.

    He has no plans to stage hang-from-the-chandelier gatherings this summer, but does intend to make time for more player-only functions. He says his approach to this season will be no different than the ones before, though he is entering the final installment of a three-year contract without an option dangling for 2005.

    La Russa has never pressed for an extension before the expiration of a contract. He is financially and professionally secure enough to take his cue from ownership and his clubhouse. La Russa is also savvy enough to realize that the convergence of career milestones, age, contract status and a transitional roster is enough to create a compelling sub-plot about his future for Cardinal Nation.

    "In professional sports there's a tendency to be real dramatic about the people involved," La Russa said. "I get the feeling there's always this need to look at it and make it emotional with a lot of lefts and rights and sideways. I'm the manager of the club. I'm one of those people in that scene. And I think the reality is a lot simpler than that. The reality is we got beat. I wasn't happy. But I wasn't happy about getting beat. It wasn't bigger than that. (Speculation) happens because people want to attach a story to it."

    If La Russa was dissatisfied, he could have accepted an invitation to discuss a return to Chicago as manager of the White Sox. He instead declined immediately.

    "It was more their interest in me, more than the fact they heard I was available," La Russa said.

    If La Russa still feels the urge to manage, he also bears the scars of a figure controversial to many Cardinals fans since the day he accepted the job. La Russa never relocated his family to St. Louis, a fact frequently resurrected by talk-show callers. La Russa's daughters are involved in dance and college in California. Elaine, his wife, is the force behind her husband's awareness for animals and is active in rescue and educational causes. Elaine, for one, has lost patience with her husband's critics.

    "It would be nice to be where he is appreciated again," she said. "I know how he can be hard-core by letting it roll off his back. But you get tired of defending everything, knowing whatever you do, it's not going to be right. If any of his critics were in his position, I know they wouldn't have lasted this long."

    The couple's relationship has become easier to manage since their two daughters have grown. If anything, La Russa says, the distance has become less of a complication.

    "He gives 99 percent to baseball; I give 99 to home," Elaine said. "That's how it has to be for him to be effective with what he does. I feel I'm part of his managing because I allow him to free himself up.

    La Russa remains committed to fund-raising for his Animal Rescue Foundation, which has a goal of $6 million to pay for its impressive new headquarters. He admits he has entered the "last part" of what probably will be recognized as a Hall of Fame career, and has mused about opening a bookstore once he leaves the game. Still, the pull remains.

    "If I was starting my career the last few years still a young manager in today's climate, I wouldn't have a choice," he said. "I'm really limited. This is what I do for a living. Even if the game was tougher to be around, I'd grind it out and do it. But it isn't the beginning of my career. It's the last part of it. I look at how it's changed. Many of those changes have made being around (the game) not as much fun as it was.

    "But I'm here, even with the stuff that isn't fun. A lot of what still makes it fun are the people associated with the Cardinals."

    A number of La Russa's players believe he has become more approachable in recent seasons. Lefthanded reliever Lance Painter, for example, thought La Russa more at ease, when he returned to the club before last season.

    "I think there's a closeness, a trust, with Tony that has developed over a number of years," catcher Mike Matheny said. "He's a very intelligent man, and that can be intimidating to people. But I've seen him put up with a lot and deal with it with class. Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of people have the opportunity to know him that way."

    La Russa met at length with several players in last season's final week. Some conversations were not touchy-feely.

    "Tony doesn't manage by the book. Tony's not predictable," said third baseman Scott Rolen, among those who met with the manager last September. "He's a very smart and very creative man who's constantly rolling things around in his head looking for an edge. I think with someone like that, there is the possibility players can sometimes see things differently than he intends them. Tony might be trying to win a game. A player might look at the move more personally. 'Why is he doing that? Has he lost confidence in me?' It might have nothing to do with that, but sometimes it's difficult for the player to know."

    Said La Russa: "The perception that we had a real divided, negative atmosphere on our club was discussed. Somehow, somebody told somebody something. The plan is for everybody to trust everybody else. But part of that process was also about our pitching. Was there something we could do better? What could we learn from what we went through?"

    There are players who believe La Russa leaves heavy fingerprints on a game. His creativity - hitting a pitcher eighth, briefly adopting a three-man rotation, platooning veterans on the slope of their career - have amused some and frustrated others. La Russa, however, will never adopt a formula.

    "If you're talking about strategy, the book has a lot of holes," he said. "It's important to know what the book says, but you had better be ready to make a decision based on what your personnel and your competition dictate that day. The book can't possibly cover everything."
    RIP Chris Jones 1971-2009
    You'll never be forgotten.

  • #2
    Let the bashing begin.

    Comment


    • #3
      Bashing is unwarranted critcism.

      The Squire being unable to see that he did anything wrong last year merely sets the stage for some "warranted" criticism.
      And, frankly, it has never occured to me that "winning" a debate is important, or that I should be hurt when someone like Airshark or kah, among others (for whom winning a pseudo debate or declaring intellectual superiority over invisible others is obviously very important) ridicule me.

      -The Artist formerly known as King in KC

      Comment


      • #4
        Question:

        How many keggers will it take for Jeff Suppan to reach 18 wins?
        His mind is not for rent, to any god or government.
        Pointless debate is what we do here -- lvr

        Comment


        • #5
          "We should have had more team parties on the road," he said.

          Can't argue there.
          Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by moedrabowsky@Mar 7 2004, 10:38 AM
            Question:

            How many keggers will it take for Jeff Suppan to reach 18 wins?

            hilarious
            Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by moedrabowsky@Mar 7 2004, 10:38 AM
              Question:

              How many keggers will it take for Jeff Suppan to reach 18 wins?
              Since I said I'm not going to make any more predictions here (See also: Stanford thread), let's put this another way:

              Most of the board wouldn't be around to find out.

              Comment


              • #8
                In short, Tony will overmanage the team again, and base decisions on his belief that he is smarter than the game itself. And if it makes the players pissed off when his against-the-book moves dont work, then too bad.
                “I’ve always stated, ‘I’m a Missouri Tiger,’” Anderson said March 13 after Arkansas fired John Pelphrey, adding, “I’m excited about what’s taking place here.”

                Asked then if he would talk to his players about the situation, he said, “They know me, and that’s where the trust comes in.

                Comment


                • #9
                  "It would be nice to be where he is appreciated again," she said.
                  I totally agree.
                  His mind is not for rent, to any god or government.
                  Pointless debate is what we do here -- lvr

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Anybody know if Mrs. LaRussa will be at spring training?
                    And, frankly, it has never occured to me that "winning" a debate is important, or that I should be hurt when someone like Airshark or kah, among others (for whom winning a pseudo debate or declaring intellectual superiority over invisible others is obviously very important) ridicule me.

                    -The Artist formerly known as King in KC

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Damtoft@Mar 7 2004, 01:28 PM
                      Anybody know if Mrs. LaRussa will be at spring training?
                      Going to heckle her, big guy?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Just wondering if she felt more "wanted" in Florida than Missouri.
                        And, frankly, it has never occured to me that "winning" a debate is important, or that I should be hurt when someone like Airshark or kah, among others (for whom winning a pseudo debate or declaring intellectual superiority over invisible others is obviously very important) ridicule me.

                        -The Artist formerly known as King in KC

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Did she rob a bank down there?
                          " Look, forget the myths the media's created about the White House--the truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand."

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