Monday Conversation with Tony La Russa

Tony La Russa coveres a wide-ranging set of topics.

Who impressed you yesterday on the squad that played in Fort Lauderdale?

The guy who got four hits, Scott (Seabol). I thought Diaz handled himself well behind the plate. Anthony Reyes fell behind, but he never backed off his aggressiveness. He didn't back off. I was impressed. Sometimes it's easy to do that when you pitch three or four shutout innings. He had a couple of runs and never lost anything. He just came back out there. So, that was impressive.

Is Reyes unusual for his age?

Probably. He's figured out that he has a lot of ability and he's got a lot to learn. He's one of those guys who isn't going to let anything stand in his way. That is a very mature approach. Somebody has gotten to him before he got to us. Whether he learned it alone or someone helped him, you've got to give him a lot of credit.

Is Albert as good as ever?

I think better than ever. He's in better shape about everything. On the field, off the field, practice, clubhouse, everything. He is approaching his prime.

Is it unusual for a guy to stay as hungry as he is?

Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Stan Musial. It is not unusual for great players.

So, you put Albert in that group?

He's had the best four years in history, hasn't he?

Over the winter, you said you hadn't given the second base job to Grudzielanek. Have you decided now?

Yes. You don't like to make pronouncements in January. Once he got here and we watched the way he works – he's the second baseman.

Grudz said he wants to prove himself this season…

It's a great attitude to have. I am just liking whatever his motivation is. That is a good one. I know he wants to help us win. He's showing good legs, a good stroke, good hands and a really good throwing arm on double plays. He's won the job.

How long did that take?

The second day. The first day, I wasn't watching him as much.

How is his meshing with Eckstein?

It is coming along very well. They're spending a lot of time together. They're both good competitors. They're going to be fine, though.

On Grudz as a competitor.

He's always played hard against you. When you see an infielder that's an offensive player – he always gets his hits. Always gets them against us. Runs well. He always gets attention. I could always tell by not liking him coming to bat. That is a good indication.

On his liking to hit #7.

He just wants to play and win, I think. It's a good spot for him.

How tough is it to repeat and how tough is it to motivate the players?

I guess we should take our club over to the other clubhouse and have Bobby Cox talk to them. They've got 13 of them (division crowns). It is hard, but as they've proven, you can have success. That is what it is all about. You just have to separate the years. This is all about 2005. You don't get any carryovers.

Is that the first thing you said to the team this spring?

Bring Bobby Cox in to manage? (everyone laughs) I heard them saying that (points to players and everyone laughs again). I can't remember. That opening speech was two weeks ago. I feel a lot like last year. I think we have a club that has a chance to win. And then, you've got to practice and you've got to play. I mean, there's really no secrets. Nothing really changes from 100 years ago until now. We've got a chance to win. We've got a good club.

On why the Braves are successful over time.

I think they have a very good frame of mind about the year that they are playing in. I think they have a real good philosophy. It's been proven. The way they play the game. The way they pitch the game. They win with it. So, they get a lot of credibility when they say they want to do it this way. And you look at all the banners. It's pretty hard for a wise guy to come in and suggest doing things differently. They're a great model.

How do you rate this team? Last year at this time, you said "pretty good to real good".

I have enough respect for the game and the competition that if enough bad things happen to use, we could just be "pretty good". I think "pretty good" to "real good"; that is the range.

The Braves succeed despite bringing in new guys…

We had 13 (new players) last year. The Braves' core guys are good. Our core guys here are good. It's been that way for several years. We play Cardinal Baseball and have for a long time. We're not changing anything.

On whether anyone has a World Series hangover.

Win or lose, it is a brand new year.

On the middle infield.

You'll see that we will play up the middle as well as last year. That is what I believe.

On Molina.

Outstanding. Just like the guy we lost. I think in the clubhouse and what we've learned about him, he is in a high position. Like Mike, he has those extra qualities.

Is it a situation like with Matheny where you're stressing defense and will be happy with whatever offense you get?

I never had a conversation with Mike that way. Nor will I have one with Yadi that way. What you do is tell them, the first priority is to get outs for the pitching staff. And then, you want them to compete at the plate. The more complete you are, the better chance you have to win. Mike took his at-bats seriously and so does Yadi. We don't tell them, "whatever you get". It is too negative. It is not a high enough expectation level.

Do you see the ability for Molina to be a "plus" catcher offensively?

Yes. I think he will be a tough out.

Have you seen his brothers play?

On TV.

What do you think makes all three of them such good catchers?

Their Dad was a player. I imagine they talked a lot of ball when he was young. Yadi is very smart. Much more experienced for a guy his age. That was true two years ago when he was first here. Part of it was playing ball in Puerto Rico. They play all the time. It's like the Alomars. What you had was a very smart player and his sons were smart. It is an advantage.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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