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La Russa on McGwire, others in Mitchell Report

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  • La Russa on McGwire, others in Mitchell Report

    IMO, Tony comes off as being sort of delusional on this matter.

    La Russa on McGwire, others in Mitchell Report
    By Bryan Burwell

    February 23, 2008 -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa (right) hits ground balls to infielders.
    (Chris Lee/P-D)

    JUPITER, FLA. — When he is out here between the chalk lines, Tony La Russa seems to practically glide across the wide expanse of the Cardinals spring training complex, talking baseball with whoever wanders through the Roger Dean Stadium gates. When the talk is pure baseball — February phenoms, managerial philosophy or glove stories — the Cardinals manager is an enlightening and engaging baseball poet laureate.

    Yet early Monday morning as he stood on the manicured outfield grass, the legendary manager's conversation slowly shifted from the romance of baseball to its uncomfortable steroids legacy. This is the fascinating conversation we've all been waiting for since his name and so many of his current and former players' names were mentioned in the explosive Mitchell Report. You may not agree with his version of the truth, but La Russa didn't duck one question.

    With the passion of a baseball man and the arguments of a lawyer — he's both — La Russa steadfastly refuses to believe that Mark McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs. He manages five players in spring training who were implicated in the Mitchell Report — three more than any other team in baseball. He tried to bring in Barry Bonds, endorsed the signing of Juan Gonzalez and compares McGwire to Roger Clemens as if it were a good thing.

    And makes no apologies about any of it.

    Question: When you were deciding on bringing in Juan Gonzalez, were you at all concerned about his name being linked to the Mitchell Report? This isn't even a moral issue. Just from a pure baseball standpoint of not knowing what kind of guy you're getting now?

    La Russa: "There are a lot of players who have done something to enhance their performance who don't have that swing. It's one of the best swings of our time. ... For me, it was always a matter of, what do you need? If Juan were a first baseman, we'd have no need. But he's an outfielder, so we had a need. To me, his only issues were being out of the game for several years. The issue of that stuff from the Mitchell Report doesn't cloud my mind because we're going to evaluate him only on what he does now."

    Q: You have more than your fair share of Mitchell Report guys on this team. Does it bother you that there's a perception that you give safe harbor to steroid guys?

    La Russa: "No, and I'll tell you why not. One way I was taught to survive is my No. 1 accountability factor is myself. This is my 30th year doing this at the major league level. There isn't anybody — the commissioner, our owner, the fans, you — there isn't any person, man or woman, who can make me any more accountable than I am now right now because of myself. And I know there isn't anything we've done in all those years that was — with one small exception where we stole signs, a little hiccup — there isn't anything else that has happened on our ballclubs in Oakland or St. Louis that there's a hint of illegality. There isn't anything that we didn't actively and proactively attempt to do it right."

    Q: But that's not what most of us think.

    La Russa: "You're missing my point. If I'm going to base the way I survive on everything that others think, I have no chance." MORE BURWELL
    Q: Does it bother you that rightly or wrongly, you and (assistant coach) Dave McKay have gained the unflattering label as the so-called godfathers of baseball's steroid era with your connections to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire?

    La Russa: "That's one of the crosses you have to bear, but let me tell you something about Dave McKay (the strength and conditioning guru of those Oakland and Cardinal teams). Dave McKay has as much or more integrity as any man I've ever met. He's so pure in his integrity, and that's why I fight so hard to defend what we've done. There's no chance that what happened officially at Oakland was tainted. Does it mean that we were policemen or that when our guys are not in our facilities, are not in our weight rooms that guys didn't experiment? No, you can't make that claim."

    Q: Would you have cared if you did know they were "experimenting"?

    La Russa: "Yeah, I would care because when I saw a guy who got stronger quickly without working hard, oh yeah, that implies a lot of other things about what he's willing to do."

    As we continued to talk, we moved on to McGwire and his tainted legacy. La Russa compared McGwire's work ethic to that of another man caught in the steroids swirl, Clemens. In spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, La Russa maintained that both of them deserve a pass. "There's a certain amount of credit that should be given to a guy who's worked hours and hours to get stronger and bigger," he said.

    I reminded him that the whole point of using many performance-enhancing drugs is to increase the ability to work and train harder. "So working hard doesn't give you an alibi that you didn't use drugs," I told him.

    "Well, that's what you believe and you're probably right according to testimony, but that's not what I believe," La Russa said. "I watched Mark McGwire work."

    I interrupted him.

    "Wait a minute, Tony. You still don't believe McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs?"

    "Absolutely not."

    "Come on."

    "Absolutely not," he said. "If you see Mark today, he still looks like he did then."

    "No, he doesn't," I said.

    "Yes, he does," La Russa said.

    "No, he doesn't," I repeated.

    La Russa tossed his hands in the air and looked at me in frustration. "Are you asking for my opinion or yours?" he said.

    "I'm asking your opinion," I said. "But we're having a conversation, and I'm disagreeing with you."

    He smiled. I smiled. He shrugged his shoulders. I shrugged mine, then the manager lowered the barrel of his bat to the ground and took a smooth golf swing and smiled again.

    "Now I believe we started this conversation off talking about what most excited me about this spring training," he said. "Let's get back to that."

    And so we did, and suddenly I understood and agreed with almost everything he said again.
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  • #2
    Dr. Wadler tried like hell---finally successfully---to have andro classified as a steroid and banned by baseball, because taken in sufficiently large doses---it behaves exactly like any other steroid.

    McGwire started taking it around 1994, after an injury year, and his numbers started exploding. he reluctantly stopped around 1999, (Wadler was telling him how bad it was that use by high school kids was becoming enormous), and his body broke down in 2000, and 2001.

    No reporter wants to explore the andro issues.

    "Wait a minute, Tony. You still don't believe McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs?"

    No fun to consider the much trickier issues of whether it was the legal, but destructive andro---and nothing else.


    • #3
      He does sound like an idiot when discussing this matter, but I am fine with him saying he would take any player....allegations or not.

      The rest are being hypocrites. There is a cloud around everyone.
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      • #4
        LaRussa defends the players because they were his ticket to the big time.

        If we take Canseco at his word - the father of steroids in the modern era.

        That would make Oakland - and LaRussa's team - the team of steroids in the modern era - which followed him to St. Louis.
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