I recently read One Last Strike by former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and was given the opportunity to interview him over the weekend.
Daniel Solzman: Thanks for joining Redbird Rants today, how are things treating you out on the west coast?
Tony La Russa: Well, it’s a lot better than the east coast. You always feel now adays that you don’t feel close to anything and what’s going on. The east coast, it’s hard to —right now, it’s bright blue and beautiful. It’s hard to enjoy it.
Daniel Solzman: I was really impressed with One Last Strike. Of all the magazines and books that came out about the Cardinals season in 2011, it was—by far—the best book. How long did the book take to write from start to finish?
Tony La Russa: Oh, boy. We started messing around with it, probably in a serious way, in December. Then we made a little change in a sense that it was at first more just a retelling of 2011. The publishers and the editors had a good suggestion to explain something that we did but it was the coaching staff or some strategy or some way to play the game, and then, where it did it come from. I explained who I learned it from. Actually you know, counting managing 30 years, about 50 years, they said “I think people would enjoy historical reference and the credit that should go to the teachers.” That really got me. We got to the first of the year in January and it start getting pretty intense.
Daniel Solzman: I’d say those references really helped me enjoy the book a lot more with definitely getting an idea of why you made the decisions that you did.
Tony La Russa: Well, I very much appreciate your comments because that was the point—to explain to people just how amazing that team was. A lot of the cases were that the coaching staff tried to put guys in a position to succeed from all those ideas. They come from somewhere. Who taught you when and where so I thought it was really neat to give them credit and I really enjoyed doing that.
Daniel Solzman: Looking at what Mike Matheny was able to accomplish as manager in his first season, should Cardinal fans be satisfied with another trip to the NLCS or do you feel that fans should have wanted more?
Tony La Russa: I think that attitude with the Cardinals, for years, is to be greedy. That’s what you got with 11 championships, 18 National League pennants. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fans wanting to get to the World Series and win it. That’s the philosophy that the players had, Mike and the coaches had. But what I think you need to understand—and we all need to understand—is that that there are other teams that have talent and they’re trying to win it. That’s why it’s a competition. Sometimes, you get beat.
Tony La Russa: (Laughs) That’s a really—people think there’s probably an easy question to answer. That’s a good one. Sure, the one I want to replay over and over again—whether it’s in my mind or actually put on a DVD and watch it—would be David’s because that was a win and we enjoyed it. But you can’t really go anywhere when people talk baseball history and somebody doesn’t mention the shot of Kirk. When you’ve been in baseball 50 years, you obviously love the game, and embrace the history of it. You take some knowledge and pleasure; but with pleasure, you take an appreciation for being part of the history, to actually be there and to see one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history. For a long time, that was it. It was nice to have one on the other side. Of the two of them, definitely, one was heartbreaking and the other was heart-making. The excitement was ridiculous when David hit the home run.
Daniel Solzman: You’ve been around Yadier Molina for a majority of his career. Would you say he’s one of the top 5 catchers all time?
Tony La Russa: Well, you know, sometimes—I’m always respectful of guys that have played in the past—the hall of fame catchers. You talk about Johnny Bench. Carlton Fisk. Bench was playing when I was in Atlanta. Fisk, I was able to be on the same team with him. I’m always respectful of the great catchers that around now in recent history so I never ignore them but I will say that I had the privilege of watching Yadi’s first game through 2011. In many, many ways that you would evaluate a catcher, I don’t believe the game can be played any better by anybody than the way Yadi plays it. I’m not saying others don’t play it. A few others have played it as well—different pieces—but the total game–the receiving, the throwing, the thinking, imagination, the winning—I believe he’s, which is my favorite way of showing respect, tied for first with the best of all time.
Even before his breakout season this year, he has been regarded by our competitors as as tough an out in our RBI sitiuations as our big run producers like Albert, Edmonds, or Rolen. If you look at his batting averages in postseason play, even in one year where he hit .220, he still had a huge postseason. When I say he’s tied with the best defensively, there are some guys that have better offense or hitting stats but it would be a big mistake not to recognize that he is a tremendous clutch pressure hitter. The year he had last year is the kind of hitter he’s going to be: high average hitter to go with production. As you get tougher in the book, I brag on him with delight. I kind of delight bragging on him because, when you get a chance to see him every day, he does stuff; even this year, I’ve watched 20 games in person from upstairs. He’s so good. He’s one of the greatest. He’s as good as anybody who has ever played the position if that’s how you want to say it.
Daniel Solzman: Are there any more books in the works that we should be looking forward to reading?
Tony La Russa: (Laughs) You know, I have been approached but I think, at some point, you’ve got to try not to run out your welcome. I remember that Three Nights in August book. That I was kind of the book that I wanted to write and wanted to be a part of but (I didn’t write it, Buzz Bissinger did.) after I retired. The whole point of it was the more that people understand what’s going on, the more they enjoy the game. I think that’s the reason that writers are nice. I wanted to do it after I retired, not while I was active but we had a foundation and a building to pay for. This one was not planned but it was such a compelling story and people were so curious about how that team pulled all those miracles off. I wasn’t working and I felt that it would be a really neat historical piece to give credit where credit is due. That team really put it on the championship.
Daniel Solzman: Thanks again for joining us and I hope retirement is treating you well.
Tony La Russa: Thanks for the chance to talk about the opportunity to brag on these guys.