Perspectives on Tony La Russa's Arrest

Our St. Louis-based Cubs fan writer offers his thoughts on the aftermath of Tony La Russa's arrest.

I must admit that when I heard the newsbreak about Tony La Russa's DUI arrest, I got a jolt of energy. As a sports writer, I might come across ten stories each year that gather attention like this one and kick those salivary glands into override. Add in the Cub factor, and well, I had all the motivation I needed to set my keyboard on fire.

As much as I am a Cubbie homer, Cards fans I've come across the past few days have fully expected me to take this opportunity to go Mortal Kombat on the Cardinal Nation. But I'm not about to reach my hand into Fredbird's chest, rip out his heart, and show it to him just before he dies from the embarrassment this fiasco has caused. Nope, I'm not going to do that. Not even after the endless ribbing the Cub Nation has endured about the goat, Steve Bartman, and Sammy Sosa's cork.

But I do have some comments to voice - some serious and some lighthearted. If there is one good thing that can come of this incident, people will discuss these issues in an open forum. So here are some talking points:

Midwestern Values
The Midwest is the family-oriented region of the country, no doubt. St. Louis, of all major metropolitan areas in the Midwest, typifies Midwestern values. La Russa isn't a native Midwesterner, and he doesn't make his regular home in St. Louis. But he understands how people think in St. Louis. He knows that while this won't go over well, Midwesterners tend to be forgiving, especially when mistakes like this are rare.

La Russa has already apologized and handled himself about as one would have expected. He didn't try to hide his mistake. He took accountability for his actions. And he appeared mortified at the embarrassment he caused his friends, family, team, and fans by his poor judgment. I imagine most fans will support their skipper, while those passionate about the issue of drinking and driving might actually choose to move on until there's a new skipper in town.

Something to Think About
Adult beverages are a big part of the foundation of the St. Louis economy. Anheuser-Busch is headquartered just south of Busch Stadium. Their name, products, and sponsorship are ingrained in the St. Louis culture and the history of the Cardinals. St. Louisans have a great time watching Cardinals games while enjoying A-B products, as well as those frosty beverages of other manufacturers. The harsh reality of their products is that when abused, they can cause a lot of harm, and not just to the abusers. Luckily it does not appear that anyone was harmed in this incident. That we can be thankful for.

Drinking and Driving
It's a major problem in our society. And it really blows our minds when people who can clearly afford a cab, choose not to, or when those we typically think are responsible act so irresponsibly. I've heard the arguments, "Ah, who hasn't driven home when they maybe shouldn't have?" Well, there are plenty of folks who haven't. And if anyone does so and gets caught, it's no better than if they get home safe and don't get caught.

Hopefully La Russa will learn his lesson from this incident and never make this mistake again. Hopefully others will learn from it too. St. Louis Rams Pro Bowl defensive lineman Leonard Little was convicted of vehicular manslaughter after a similar lapse in judgment that cost another person's life. And he didn't learn his lesson after that conviction, for he was subsequently arrested and charged with a DWI years later. I'm confident La Russa has better judgment than Little, and I pray he doesn't make me eat crow.

Forgive but Not Forget
As well as La Russa handled himself following the incident, this isn't something that is going to disappear anytime soon. He will be forgiven, but you can guarantee this won't be forgotten. Every time the Cardinals leave the safe haven of Busch Stadium, La Russa will be reminded of this mistake. And it won't be gone even after this year. This will travel with La Russa for the rest of his life, and he knows that. And for all those who have sported "Corked" t-shirts and "Bartman" costumes, you can bet there are several unscrupulous and entrepreneurial vendors in Wrigleyville already printing t-shirts with La Russa's mug shot and some nifty saying. They'll be a hot commodity that first weekend series in Chicago, and they're sure to make their way to St. Louis that last weekend in April.

The Off-Field vs. On-Field Debate
Sammy Sosa, the Chicago Cubs, and their fans received a lot of grief for the infamous corked bat incident. That was obviously an on-field lapse in judgment and well deserved. Clearly though, Sosa's lapse in judgment was far less harmful than La Russa's. It was generally perceived ok for opposing fans, even Cubs fans, to boo Sosa and express their displeasure - even to this day.

Off-field mistakes are quite different. You have to ask the question: Where do you draw the line when it comes to someone's personal life? A person's character is a person's character, but is it ever acceptable to bring those mistakes made off-field and make them part of the on-field discussion?

Absolutely, I argue. A person's judgment and decision-making off-field can translate into how they behave on-field. Ron Artest of the Sacramento Kings is a prime example. As for La Russa, this is clearly an isolated incident, and those who use fair judgment will recognize that and treat him accordingly. Unfortunately, there are those who will not.

Kudos to the Jupiter Police
Too often celebrity types commit crimes and get away with it because they are celebrities. And that just irks those of us who expect everyone to be treated the same in the eyes of the law. Whatever happened to that "justice is blind" concept, right? Well, the Jupiter Police could have chosen to escort La Russa home and sweep this whole ugly incident under the carpet. But what good would that have served?

La Russa's blood alcohol concentration level was reported at 0.093. The legal limit in Florida is 0.08. That limit for a long time was 0.10, and it just changed for most states within the last decade, not to mention after much debate and contention from companies like A-B. Still, with the fairly recent changes in mind, if we had a time machine back to those 0.10 days, La Russa would have been under the legal limit. Would this incident been perceived any differently had he not been over the legal limit? Clearly the law was changed for a reason, and anything above 0.08 is all that matters now. But that gives you something to think about.

Sleep Deprivation
Alcohol can definitely contribute to tiredness, but with a blood alcohol concentration of only 0.093, a little too much to drink might not have been the only factor in this incident. Especially considering that La Russa reportedly passed out at the wheel with the vehicle still in gear at a stoplight. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can inhibit motor skills, such as driving an automobile, as much as alcohol can. Combining the two can be a recipe for major disaster. It's not clear how tired La Russa might have been, but it's something to be mindful of as we all learn from this incident.

On the Lighter Side
La Russa's mug shot wasn't all that bad. He looked like a sad 62-year old man, who knew he had screwed up royally by passing out at the wheel after having too much to drink. But the photo itself was nothing like those we've come to know and love of Nick Nolte and Yasmine Bleeth.

A Humbling Moment?
I don't know exactly what it is, but Tony La Russa exudes this natural feeling that he is above most things, most people. He is calculating, intelligent, and disciplined. He even runs that Animal Rescue Foundation with his wife, protecting creatures that aren't even human. As such, his demeanor is almost elitist or uppity - which would arguably seem natural since he is in an elite class of individuals.

But unlike some in his class, La Russa seems to make sure people know it, and he typically does this when people test his patience. Others who fall into that elite class, like Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, seem to make others feel like they're on the same level, at least most of the time. They don't have that swagger like they're above something common. And I think that's what makes this moment so interesting.

This very human, very common mistake is with La Russa forever. He can't take it back. I'll be curious to see if his demeanor changes with how he deals with the media, players, and fans going forward. This incident has brought him down to the level of everyone else who makes mistakes. He's human like the rest of us. And he might argue that he's never placed himself above anyone or anything – that others have put him on that pedestal.

In either case, will this humble La Russa, or will he continue being his old self? And for those who have put him on that pedestal, will they now have a change of heart?

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