A Conversation with La Russa

A conversation with Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa.

Q. Have you decided on your pitching rotation?

TONY LA RUSSA: After the first four, we're going to start tomorrow with Anthony Reyes, Weaver Sunday, Carpenter, Suppan, 3 and 4.

Q. You guys anticipate doing anything to your roster?

TONY LA RUSSA: I don't think so. We went through two of them. I think the position players are healthy, so no switches.

Q. Why did you go with the rookie over Jason Marquis?

TONY LA RUSSA: It's not an easy call. We wrestled with this. Jason was on the first roster. Just a couple of edges we thought Anthony has, and there's not really anything clearly against Jason Marquis, he's really helped get us here. But the way he ended the season, it was a tough assignment to give. He hadn't pitched for a while. Anthony took assignment in the NLCS, I think he handled himself well. The experience will be helpful tomorrow.

Q. A lot of questions about one team being rested, another team not being rested, your thoughts on going against the team that's had a bunch of days off. You guys have had virtually no time off?

TONY LA RUSSA: Over the years, you know, if you go through the playoffs, if the team that's rested plays well, they're rested. If the team plays until the end plays well, then they kept their edge. I think the game is so mental. If you sit around and you're mentally strong, you're ready. In our case, I think we have a little advantage compared to '04 because we clinched on the road, so we celebrated last night. We flew in this morning. '04 we didn't get to Boston until late, everything was hurry up. I think we're in better shape to get our minds right for tomorrow.

Q. Do you think a team like the Tigers being here gives the rest of baseball hope in that even if you have a losing atmosphere for a number of years, if you draft well enough, if you maybe have to overpay for a couple of guys, but pick the right guys to get here, that any team can do what they did?

TONY LA RUSSA: Oh, absolutely. You left out one thing: It's not just the drafting, it's the developing. They've done a terrific job developing their homegrown guys. You can get talent, but if you don't get ready to play in the Big Leagues... The beauty of today's baseball is that if you make a right trade or two, and you have some money available and you spend it smartly, you can make a drastic improvement. So, absolutely.

Q. Tony, the Cardinals have made a significant turnover in recent years, each year, yet you continue to win. Can you talk about that, please.

TONY LA RUSSA: Just the reality of today's game. We spend a lot of money. We don't spend the most, but we certainly can never complain that our owners don't give us a healthy check. But you have a certain amount to spend and you have core guys that take a lot of it, and you have some guys leaving, and the market sets their value. You just can't keep everybody you want. So I think the reality of today's baseball is that you have turnover. The other part, I know this is part of Walt's philosophy, going back to even I remember in the White Sox in '84, we kind of felt that maybe we could learn a little bit from that. Sometimes it's good to freshen up your roster some, maybe not as extensively as we've had to do it. But bring in some new guys. There's some pluses to that. But I think -- we take the money that's available and you do the best you can, and it means changes. We've lost some guys that we wish were still with us, who went on to better deals than we couldn't afford.

Q. How does that affect your ability to manage?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, every manager and coaching staff, you go to Spring Training and look at what you've got and get them ready. Our advantage has been that we have kept a real strong core here. If you look at the group of position players and pitchers, we've had a nice group of 6, 8, 10, 12 guys. So even though you may have half the roster change, you bring those guys into the core and the core guys are going to tell them, this is how we play in St. Louis and we have a lot of continuity.

Q. Over the years how has your appreciation of being in the playoffs and the World Series changed and does that change your approach at all?

TONY LA RUSSA: I think there's a couple of answers, one is the more you get involved with it, the more I think you enjoy it. I think as you get older, and I've talked to coaches and same thing, as you've gotten some experience and you know you're not going to coach or manage forever, you enjoy it even more. But to me the season is a real challenge and there's enjoyable pieces to it because you're watching a team compete over six months, but by far the most fun time is the postseason, when all you're doing as a coaching staff, you're making decisions to win today, you're not worrying about too far down the road. I think players, that same urgency. It's the most fun you can have. It never changes. It gets better.

Q. This has been a postseason that has pretty much defied logic and form, and your team is probably most symbolic of that, you won 83 games in the regular season, heavy underdogs to the Padres in the first round, even heavier underdogs to the Mets, other than great managing how can you explain why your team is here?

TONY LA RUSSA: It's hard to understand you with that thing in your mouth. Well, 83 is what we had, but you subtract 23 from our losses, which is what -- in three stretches we lost 23 stinking games. And you take our 83 wins over the rest of them, now there's -- we were a real good team a lot and we were not good way too often, but this is what we felt. I said it last night, I'll repeat it, because it's exactly what we thought going in, the postseason is 3 out of 5, 4 out of 7, 4 out of 7, if you look at our ballclub, when we're playing the game that we're capable, we're a tough club to play against. I think we're a dangerous club to compete. And I don't think, even though I'm sure San Diego felt they had the edge and the Mets and I'm sure the Tigers, I don't think they're laughing at us or disrespect us. We have a core of position players that play the whole game. We've got some starting pitching. We've got a bullpen. So we felt like we could compete and we're here. against. I think we're a dangerous club to compete. And I don't think, even though I'm sure San Diego felt they had the edge and the Mets and I'm sure the Tigers, I don't think they're laughing at us or disrespect us. We have a core of position players that play the whole game. We've got some starting pitching. We've got a bullpen. So we felt like we could compete and we're here.

Q. When you gave Jim Leyland a big break in his career hiring him as a coach years ago, how well did you know him, what qualities did you see in him, and do you feel vindicated that you could spot talent at that stage?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, you're going too far. The credit for Jim Leyland belongs to Roland Hemond. I just met him in Triple-A managing, and he became available and we had two or three people we were going to select to coach third to replace Bobby Winkles, who moved into player development. And Roland is the guy who did the research and felt like Jim was a real talent that would benefit the Chicago White Sox. So we just -- and then being around him I realized what a talent he is, was, will be, and I've enjoyed it ever since. I think Roland is the guy who made the decision over the other third base candidates, he's the guy that deserves the credit.

Q. Can you give us an update on where Edmonds is, particularly after whatever it was, the collision or step-on, what happened in the outfield last night?

TONY LA RUSSA: I think very similar to -- he started the San Diego series. Some aches and pains, but better than he's been. And ready to go tomorrow. He's got some notches, but I think he's okay.

Q. Tony, when you say one of your core players can say to a new player, this is how we play in St. Louis, what does that mean? Are there general characteristics of how your team plays?

TONY LA RUSSA: Yes, it's one of my favorite things. We get up in Spring Training and we talk about not searching for a philosophy of playing. In fact in our camp the easiest thing to do is Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, they're in uniform walking around. It's Cardinal baseball since the '30s and '40s. It's so straight forward. There isn't any imaginary tricks. We use some video and our guys have a workout room, but it's the same baseball that we try to max out the effort and the execution. And that's -- Cardinal baseball is known for playing hard and avoiding mistakes. And when guys come over, you say, if you're not going to play hard here, you're not going to be welcome. So the effort is there. So pay attention to how the game is played or you won't survive here. The same thing they were preaching back in the '40s, '50s.

Q. Is it fair to characterize an RBI bunt in a Game 7 as part of that, what you're talking about?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, it would be consistent with Cardinal baseball. But in that case, that was a play Ronnie pulled himself. He's not raised with the Cardinals. It shows you that baseball like that is taught other places. That's just part of his understanding of the game and it was there and he took it. Down deep I was kind of hoping he'd swing, because I watched that first swing he took. We took the run, but I guess it's a consistent way to play, but there are a lot of clubs have learned that baseball is effort and execution.

Q. What is it about Jim that's allowed your friendship to endure and did he call you after the game last night, late last night, even with him coming up on the schedule?

TONY LA RUSSA: One of the most important parts of our friendship is I'm not going to do anything to disappointment him and take away from the friendship. I know you've heard his quote and we had agreed on it. I answered the one about how he got his break, but it's difficult. It's uncomfortable to dodge that one, but I definitely agree that Tigers, Cardinals and -- we've been talking often. I'll guarantee you, starting tomorrow we won't talk very much over the next ten days.

Q. You said Anthony Reyes has a couple of edges, what would those be?

TONY LA RUSSA: A recent assignment would be the one and I'd probably stop with that one. One of the things that you find yourself doing sometimes is you make a comment about one and it implies a criticism about Jason and I don't want to do that because Jason doesn't deserve it. The way the season ended it was rough and Anthony got the assignment in the NLCS, we think he's got a better chance tomorrow.

Q. Tony, have you decided on your DH for Game 1, and what are your options at DH?

TONY LA RUSSA: I have not decided partly because the Tiger manager was so secretive about his rotation that I just found out that it's Verlander, so I really haven't thought about it very much. I think you know who's going to play in the infield. You know who's going to play two of the spots in outfield. Left field is a question, so is the DH. And the candidates would be Wilson, Spiezio, Duncan, Taguchi. Like I told So in the outfield, I had a call from the Emperor, he's very -- I promised the emperor he would get a starting assignment sooner rather than later.

Q. You talked about Jason Marquis not being on the roster. There's another Jason, Jason Isringhausen, and Mark Mulder, these guys gave you tons of innings, big saves, all sorts of stuff over the course of the summer. It must be sort of difficult watching those guys not be part of this party?

TONY LA RUSSA: The toughest part is them missing it. I mean problems like that, injuries, we just played the Mets and they didn't have Pedro and El Duque and we all go through that. And in the end I think it's more difficult for the guys that are missing it than the club that has to make up for the closer or the starter or the player, and you feel for them. To their credit and over the years I've seen guys get hurt, just almost embarrassed to be around, and if they're around they're sitting there like zombies. Jason and Mark have been very vocal, very encouraging. They've earned more respect points than they had before. They've been helping, but it's difficult to miss it. They were part of this. They should be a part of it.

Q. When you make decisions in postseason games, how much of it is calculation, how much of it is intuition, especially having Duncan hitting against Feliciano the other night and seeing how it worked out?

TONY LA RUSSA: It's an a combination of everything. That's one of the beauties of the game is the games change. You can't simulate what's going to happen out there. Some people think you do, you know. That group of people that think you can (indicating) and there it is. You can't do that. You watch the game is being played, the smell of it, you know, and then you're supposed to evaluate what you have and what they're throwing against you. A guy like Chris Duncan is absolutely fearless against left-handers. He's got a very live bat. I thought it was a good choice, a process of elimination. What you end up doing is you try to match your guy's strength against a place they can be successful. They're doing the same thing against us. Sometimes they have the edge, sometimes you have the edge. And then you let the games go. And in the end, and this is one thing that -- it really doesn't matter if you're a rookie manager or a manager that's been around a while, if the move works, people think it made sense. If it doesn't work, you're going to hear you should have done something different. That's the reality of the job.

Q. Without getting into Jim, per se, is this a little bittersweet for both you guys? Could you at least talk about that? We're aware of the extraordinary relationship you have, and one of you guys will not win this thing. Can you talk about how tough that is?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, you know it would be a lot tougher for neither one of us to be involved. That, No. 1, is the toughest. The next toughest would be for one to be involved and the other not. So this is the best of all worlds. We've somehow survived 30 teams to get down to the final two and everybody knows -- I think he is the best. That means his club will be very ready to play. But rather than tough, it's actually the greatest situation that you can imagine, to be in a situation against somebody you respect as much as you do. But as I said before, if the guy's your friend and you don't want your friend to be unhappy, that's why it's difficult to compete against them, because at the end of the day one of you is going to be unhappy. I'd rather Jim be unhappy than the Cardinals.

Q. You've managed with the DH and without it, which do you prefer and why?

TONY LA RUSSA: You know, once in a while they ask you that question, and somebody will say, if you're commissioner for a day and do one thing, I'd say kick the DH out. I was in the American League for 16, 17 years and I think it's a really tough league to compete in. I mean those games, it's really tough, but Sparky always told me, "Before you quit you have to try the National League." And I did. I was there three weeks, a month and there's no doubt in my mind, because I've loved the game since I was a kid, there's no doubt in my mind that the game of baseball and in all its beauty and entirety is the National League game. There's too many pieces you don't see in the American League. That doesn't mean the American League is not exciting, because it is tough. But you see more of the beautiful parts of the game in the National League. I would kick the DH out so quick it would make your head spin.

Q. You say you play Cardinal baseball as it has been played for decades. Yet you were, as you just mentioned, an American League manager for many years. Have you changed since you began managing the Cardinals or do you do the same things you did with your previous teams?

TONY LA RUSSA: That's interesting. I haven't thought along those lines. I think one part of the answer is that we all, no matter what you believe about the style you'd like to play, you play with the talent that you have. If you like to run and the guys can't run, you don't run. If you like power, and you have guys that can't hit it out of the park, then you start moving guys around. I think, that's what I said, that Cardinal baseball, it's effort and execution, that's what you learn in a lot of places. Like I grew up in the '80s, Kansas City, the Oakland A's. They were successful. That's where I learned a lot of my lessons. Dick Williams preached execution as much as anybody I've been around. You see it's successful and you come to the Cardinals. Every once in a while you see a club that says we're really going to go for extra-base hits or go for power arms, on base percentage, all that stuff. And Cardinal baseball is a sound way to go about it. It's very similar to what Dick Williams preached with the Oakland A's that got them going in the right direction, a lot of effort, a lot of execution, eliminate mistakes. I came here and listened to Red and Bob and Lou and Mike Shannon telling me stories about those clubs in the '40s and '60s, they would go weeks without making a mistake. Now they haven't said that about our clubs very often, but we're trying.

Q. What would you say about any conclusions you drew about the Tigers when you played them this summer? In the same token how well do you think any conclusions were that they may have drawn about this team at that time? Things have changed. How different a team do you think you are now as opposed to when you were here the first time?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I was -- all of us with the Cardinals -- if you're a competitor and you get your butt beat like we did in those six days in Chicago and Detroit, that was not fun. And I have to believe that both those teams thought that we were not very good. And you had to live with it, because there's 0-6 and 0-6. Are we much different than them? I felt like we did not play well, but we were capable of playing well. I was disappointed we did not do better in those series. The series against the Tigers, we had one game get away from us late. It's in the book. We got swept by three and they had the year they had. I've watched the Tigers a lot. I saw Willie say -- Willie probably watched the Yankees when he was waiting to play. When I was waiting to play I watched the Tigers a lot because of Jim and Dave. They're very sound, and they are going to be a handful. But I think we can compete against them. I know we can compete against them. And we could have competed against them in June, we just didn't very well.

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