La Russa on Three Nights in August

Tony La Russa discusses Buzz Bissinger's new book and what is next.

Last weekend in Atlanta, Tony La Russa expressed pleasure with the sales levels of the new Buzz Bissinger book written about him and with him, Three Nights in August. "Yes, they're pretty good - so far", he said.

Tony's share of the proceeds is earmarked for his favorite charity, the Animal Rescue Foundation. Exactly where will the money go? "To pay the building off. When we get our website up, you'll see how nice it is. It's pretty good."

Still, La Russa downplays his role with ARF as it has turned into a big business. "I am just a glorified volunteer – my wife and I. We started it, but I think we've got about 35 full-time employees and another 15 part time employees and about 750 volunteers. It is a big deal."

Book sales are as measured on the New York Times bestseller list. Just like the NL Central standings, La Russa knew exactly where Three Nights was sitting. "It was eighth Sunday and it will be sixth next Sunday." He saw the puzzled look on my face. "That is what I asked, "What does that mean?" Because on Wednesday, the Times sends out …based on the sales from the last Wednesday until Tuesday and they compile the sales. And, they say, "Ten days from now, this is what we are going to report."

If the book reaches #1, La Russa admits there is another benefit ahead. "Then, I will pay off the building. And quit signing. They said if we'd get in the top five, it would be a heck of an accomplishment, just because of the quality of the competition."

La Russa wasn't any more satisfied with #6 than he is losing a game on the diamond. Despite my pointing out that #6 is pretty close to the top five, La Russa wouldn't accept it. "It ain't five, just like second is not first. That's just what they're telling me. When it gets to five, we'll be set."

Perhaps La Russa was clairvoyant, as Three Nights has dropped to #12 on the upcoming May 15 Times Bestseller List. So, to get climbing again might mean that La Russa and Bissinger will need to redouble their efforts.

In just about every city the Cardinals visit, La Russa and Bissinger have been doing signings. Atlanta was no exception. On the day we spoke, La Russa had completed one just that morning. "They ran out of books. So, they had to call around to all the other places to get all the ones they had there. And they ran out of those. I said "Wow". So, I had to sign a bunch of those tags for the books that were sold that they can put in there."

La Russa had some fun at his own expense. "Well, it was only 15 books, so it wasn't that big of a deal", La Russa cracked. "I got all excited only to find out they only ordered 15 books!"

When asked if all the book signings were becoming draining, La Russa bristled a bit. He wanted to make it clear that any implications that 100% of his focus wasn't on managing would not be entertained. "I remember where we're going tonight and I am energized", he said firmly.

The reader response from the book, accentuated by a number of recent signings, has been very positive. "The almost unanimous response I get from it is good. He (Bissinger) sets up what is happening for several chapters and then he picks up a lot of steam from the middle until the end, it really gets cranking."

Men aren't the only people finding they like Three Nights. "The women are really liking it, which is great for the book. Women buy a lot of books. They like the personal side."

The coaching fraternity is also apparently relating to the book's messages. "I've gotten a lot of good responses from other coaches. Coaches from other sports have called. Buzz did a good job of describing it."

I asked La Russa how Bissinger knew what he was thinking during the game sequences featured in the book. It wasn't like the two of them were talking during the games or anything as obvious as that. Surprisingly, La Russa had initially wondered the same thing. Said Tony, "I asked him (Bissinger) that. What he did was he had a camera. He'd watch the videotape of the game and he had a separate one. He'd say, "I saw you walk over there. Or, the camera picked up this guy…" You know, he did really intensive note-taking. He had index cards. He'd write something on the cards and then shuffle them around."

La Russa made it clear that Bissinger went out of way to be non-intrusive to him and the team. "And that's when he made a lot of points. He wasn't up in anyone's faces. He was just there and little-by-little, earned everybody's trust."

Still, it seemed to me it would be difficult for the very private manager to let Bissinger inside. La Russa agreed - to a point. "That is a concern I had, but I realized that I wanted to be part of it. Even kids will see it and say "there's a lot going on". I think it was someone in the game who said, "I love the game and now that I read the book, I love it even more"."

La Russa explained further. "The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the stuff we are talking about is Baseball 101. Mr. Cox, Dusty Baker, we've all learned when to play the infield in, when to play the infield back, pitching this, defending the running game. We all know it the same. So, it is matter of how it is applied. When you use it and how you teach it. There aren't really a lot of secrets there that are peculiar to that style of play. So, I am not too worried."

But, that doesn't mean all managers and teams play the game the same way. "There are several schools of thought and philosophies among managers and coaches. There is that intense view, where you're taught that every edge, you pay attention to every little play because at some time during the season. That play, during the course of the season, will win you one or two games. You get six or seven of them, and that's a dozen games."

"I think the other side is that it's a player's game. You show up. They need to get themselves ready and I am just going to watch the game and make my moves." Clearly, La Russa does not subscribe to that philosophy.

It was almost time for the day's game. There was enough time for just one more question, so I interrupted the deep analysis. In closing, I asked La Russa if there were any plans to take Three Nights to other media. He admitted there was some interest. Just not with him.

"Somebody's called, but I don't want any part of it - unless they pay the building off. They'd have to write a check for several million dollars. They can have it. But, that isn't why the book was written."

As we parted ways, I jokingly suggested that Billy Bob Thornton, a confirmed Cardinals fan and the star of Bissinger's other famous book-turned movie, Friday Night Lights, would be an obvious choice to play La Russa in the film. In response, I just got a look.

Next month, I hope to ask Thornton the same question. Maybe if works out, I can get a finders fee or something. In the meantime, La Russa will keep signing books and paying off the bricks of ARF's new facility one by one.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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