Tony La Russa Unplugged

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa spoke to the press from Nashville's Winter Meetings. His question and answer session is included in its entirety.

Q. To what extent have you been looped in the discussions on this stuff with Scott?

TONY LA RUSSA: I think totally hooked in. Totally. And I mentioned to someone, on the record, when we have our discussions, nobody in that room has more often said, some guys have said it or changed their mind or whatever, but nobody has more often said that I don't think Scott should be traded than me.

I think he should be with our club. I think we need him. We need him to reassert himself as an impact player. I don't care what anybody wants in a trade. We need him and we expect him to be productive.

Q. If the situation is serious enough that he would like you to explore it, what can you or do you do to remedy that?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, you know, I've had a long career, and I can't remember ever being the combination of mystified and concerned that as I am about this situation. Because speaking for any level of the organization, he has received first-class consideration, respect, gratuities, I mean, you know it's like you try to explain what you play together, you have your core guys. "Core guy" means that pretty much anything that you can do for those guys, an organization does, because the better the player plays, the better we are.

How is that different, well, if you're not a core guy you may want to go out every five days as starting pitcher or hit in the middle of the lineup, but if you're not a core guy, you complement what the core is.

So there haven't been -- the only thing that he can point to and he does point to is this problem with his shoulder the first time. And I have listened, I think I've evaluated all that's been said. We have outstanding medical and training staff. So he got the best of that. So is it 100%, or is there a mistake? I don't know. But he got the best of what everybody had.

You know, I know he had that first surgery by the Cincinnati doctor. I think now, supposedly if our guy done it and had to go back for a second surgery, Scott has not been critical of the Cincinnati doctor, just went in and did it again. If our guy had to go back for a second surgery, based on his history of comments about the way it's handled, he'd have been crucified.

With all that said, I didn't have any part of that. That's what mystifies me, and I've told him this. I mean, what is the problem? There can be no problem.

So I think in the end, I just simplified it. I think he has put some things together in his mind, and I think he needs to understand that our Cardinals have given him a lot since he's gotten there. He's been given a contract; he's been given a couple World Series Championships; he's been given a World Championship, been a part of it, and he's given back some, but he needs to give back more. And so, we need him.

Q. Do you think to any extent y'all are being held hostage by the situation?

TONY LA RUSSA: Are we being held hostage? By him or baseball or who?

Q. Your team in terms of moving ahead, putting your team together, planning for what's going to happen.

TONY LA RUSSA: You know what, I think I said it when you were here, I said every time we get our group together, don't trade him.

Q. I understand that part --

TONY LA RUSSA: So how is that hostage?

Q. But if he's here or not here, you're paralyzed in terms of what you can deal or what you can do.

TONY LA RUSSA: How are we paralyzed? He asked to be traded. So I think under normal circumstances, if a guy doesn't want to be part of your situation, then you consider that. So inquiries have been made. There hasn't been anything happen so far that makes the guys that are in charge, which is ownership and front office, pull the trigger.

I'm just saying from the manager's point of view, I consistently said don't trade him. And the reason I say it is one of our important needs for next year is somebody to hit behind Albert. You know, when I look at our club, it's either Jim or Scott. I just think, you know, Chris there or Rick there, that's asking those guys to do something that they shouldn't do in 2008.

So, you know, they can make their inquiries, but the whole idea isn't to please Scott; it's to take care of the St. Louis Cardinals and I keep saying it. I don't understand, I told him this, and he's never given me an explanation. I don't understand why he can be down on the Cardinals. I don't understand why he can be down on me to be honest.

Q. Do you get the impress that y'all are basically being offered 50 cents on the dollar?

TONY LA RUSSA: You'd have to ask John Mozeliak that. I mean, I don't want to speak to conversations he's had with other clubs about who is interested and who is not.

Q. Based on what you're saying, why would the club just not say, you're under contract, we have an obligation to you, you have an obligation to us; this is the way it's going to be. If that's how y'all feel, that you're a better team with him, why accommodate him? Why push it?

TONY LA RUSSA: You said it perfectly. Speaking for me, and I think that I haven't heard anybody say this differently, there's absolutely no intention to accommodate Scott. I mean, that's not how you run an organization. The idea is to accommodate the St. Louis Cardinals, our team, our responsibility to our players and to the competition. So no, I don't want to accommodate Scott. But somebody doesn't want to be part of the situation, you investigate it, and if a club needs a third baseman; but if that deal isn't one that helps us, should not be made.

Q. Do you think barring a trade, do you think your next conversation with him is in Spring Training?

TONY LA RUSSA: You know, I think I've tried to converse. Everything that I've ever said to him I could substantiate. You know, I think the difference is that it's really out in the open. It's very clear that he's unhappy. And I'm making it clear I don't understand why he's unhappy.

I told somebody the other day. I can make a list of 50 respect points that this man has been given by our organization. It's time for him to give back. So, you said it, and that's exactly what I believe. He's got a contract to play, and we need him to play. And he's going to be treated very honestly. If he plays hard and plays as well as he can, he plays. And if he doesn't, he can sit. If he doesn't like it, he can quit.

Q. So for you, he's the issue here?

TONY LA RUSSA: I know he's talked to you and others. What other issue is there? Where has he been disrespected? What has ever been done to him other than this issue with his shoulder? I mean, is there anything else that he points to? I haven't heard it.

Q. Have you asked him that question?

TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, several times. I mean, I would love to know because it's driving me nuts. What else is there?

Q. Wasn't there a question, also, that if he is back under these circumstances, is there risks of what that does to the mix?

TONY LA RUSSA: At the end of the year, you know, when I was checking out the pulse of the players, and I think he admitted this to me; it was unanimous that everyone was for me except him. I think what will happen, not just with Scott, it happens with other players. You build a team feeling. If somebody decides not to be part of what the team is doing, he isolates himself.

I say this and hope I'm right, Scott's got a lot of goodness to him. There's some guys that can live with setting themselves apart. I think he has been a team man. He plays a team sport. I don't think he's going to want to be the one guy and the 24 guys on the other side of the room. I just don't believe -- and I think the other thing is, I think he's worked hard to establish his reputation for a number of years, he's like one of the most, if not the most popular player. He's lost some of those points and I think he's going to be really concerned with reestablishing his stature.

Q. Well, I know you're trying to be blunt, honest --

TONY LA RUSSA: I'm being honest, Joe.

Q. Do you think this is a sensitive issue or is that a bad word to describe this?

TONY LA RUSSA: I forget exactly how I said it. I said I was mystified, which I am. Been managing a long time. I mean, I can't remember ever being this bothered by a situation, bothered this much by any situation with any player.

If there was ever an issue, sometimes you knew maybe the guy wasn't pitching enough, weren't playing enough. Maybe the guy just wasn't buying the program and you had to confront it. But this one just bothers the heck out of me. So, you know, it's very personal.

Q. You never had anything in Oakland that compared to this with Jose (Canseco) or anything like that?

TONY LA RUSSA: No. No. That was -- no, every case that's been different. This one is -- like I said, I just don't know what we have as an organization, or everybody in the organization measured up as far as providing a great situation for our players, including Scott.

Q. You've had problems -- problems may be too strong, but you've had disagreements with other players; you've had the issues, and then however it's happened, you've gotten back to being okay. Do you think this could be a personality situation where somebody could have an issue with you and they are not of the personality type to get back to being okay with it? Some people have a hard time wiping the slate or forgetting than maybe other people do.

TONY LA RUSSA: I tell you what I thought, the thought that I've relied on, and I'm still around years later, and I've only been in three situations and I think part of it is because of this. I think you have to establish that you're to be trusted. That means if you have something to say and it's negative, you say it because you mean it. If you have a compliment, you say it as well.

Jim and I, that subject comes up a lot. I think I'm probably as close with Jim as anybody on our club, and we've had our disagreements. He says it's going like to the principal's office when I call him in, because he knows, if I think there's a problem, I'm going to honestly say, Jim, this is what I think or this, and what it perceives, or whatever it is. And he's got a good heart, and you know he tells me no, you're wrong or yeah, I stubbed my toe and I'll get back on.

You know, in this case, it hasn't happened. We don't connect personally. Thought we did early, the first couple years, but evidently; I think suspicion by some of the guys that have observed this, guy doesn't like authority. Doesn't like somebody telling him what to do.

I know he one time mentioned to me that, well, you know, your style, you get involved with the playing of the game and the players. I said, really. So I asked him a question. He said, well, when you put it that way; as opposed to just letting guys play, yeah.

I said, well, if you have a guy that doesn't care about playing defense and plays in the same spot all the time, do you just let him play without moving him and letting balls fall? If the guy runs the bases just to steal and doesn't run with any idea, do you give him the green light all the time? The guys that know how to play like him over time like him, Edgar, Eckstein they get the green light all the time; Albert.

But if a guy has trouble playing the game right, I think managers and coaches step in. That's an example of maybe he likes a different style manager. But I don't think it makes sense to have a different style.

Q. Well, all that said, are you beyond the point of thinking that the personal situation between you two can get better or are just trying to seek a situation where he goes out and plays and you'll acknowledge that it's never going to be comfortable between y'all two? Are you able to deal with that if that's the way it is?

TONY LA RUSSA: I believe based on what I've seen somewhere, I think he's strong-minded enough that I don't see his opinion changing on a personal basis. And it's gotten to the point where I don't care.

What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a Major League productive star. And that's one of the points I've tried to make him. You know, we've had issues from guys, and what's going on with Scott, and he needs to understand that he's slipped. Not in his play, but just in the way he's perceived in being the Scott they knew for years. It's in his best interests, and I think that means a lot to him so I think -- he can play mad every day if he wants to, that's okay.

Q. Do you see at any point his frustrations or concerns or anything having an effect on his play or anything like that?

TONY LA RUSSA: You've heard me say many times, there's no doubt if a guy is bothered, whatever, disenchanted, you can fight through it day-in and day-out and play at the same level as you do if you come to the ballpark excited about being in uniform, that doesn't have an effect.

Q. Where are you with the rest of the team? We've kind of been fixated on Scott since you got here, and that's hardly the only issue you've got right now. There's a lead-off situation, starting pitching situation. How far are y'all from being good?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, here's my -- I'll give you the short explanation, and it's never this neat but I think there's a lot of truth to it.

If we did nothing but we got Scott and Jim back to playing at their productive levels, and mark and Chris pitching in our rotation to their abilities, at whatever point in the season they come back, then we would be a really good team again.

But our attitude, and this is what came out of our meetings and this is something that we've been pursuing, is to build some depth, so the whole thing about it, let's add a pitcher and hitter and fill in the complements; we added Jason LaRue, we had to make a decision.

But if you can add an impact hitter and an impact pitcher, then you've got the depth to go with the four guys that have to really regain themselves for us, right. And so far, we haven't made that move yet. But we've just got to grind it out and see what we can do.

Q. Would you agree that most people, when you say impact, think 15 wins for a pitcher, 25 home runs, 90 RBIs for a hitter. When you say impact, is that how you define it?

TONY LA RUSSA: That would be impactful enough.

Q. Is that what you mean when you say it, or are you talking some lesser type of guy?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, if you have a good team, same guy that won 15 would win 11 or 12 with a not-so-good team. So the pitcher, the starting pitcher has a lot to do with the type of team you have. The guy that takes his at-bats, that's different. A guy that 15 home runs, 25 home runs, that has more to do with your ability one-on-one.

Q. So if Scott's back, where do you put your impact bat?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, one of the reasons why I don't even hesitate, every time we have a meeting, saying don't trade Scott Rolen is that one of our needs is to get Albert's bat into the game.

Well, you try to be fair. You know, you've seen at times you can't be fair. It would be unfair to have to put Ankiel or Chris in the four spot. It's not to their best interests which is ours. It would have to be Jimmy or Scott.

And to me, the guy that's -- I mean, he's right, that competes and rises to the occasion is Scott. So right now, he's our fourth place hitter, so why would you trade your fourth-place hitter unless you went out and traded for Cabrera or something, you know what I mean, so you can't trade him. He's the guy. He's going to hit fourth.

Or, you know, if Jimmy really gets going, get Scott to fifth, flip them on lefty/righty.

Q. You would never hit Albert four?

TONY LA RUSSA: Then somebody has to be fifth. Whoever is hitting behind him has to be a force. I think that's a bad lineup to write to get him out of the lineup in the first inning. You know, there's a good chance that the pitching rotation next year, so he hits fourth every time we turn the lineup around.

Q. So who hits lead-off for you?

TONY LA RUSSA: Roland Hemond said when you write a lineup, whoever is sitting first that day is your lead-off guy. You know guys get into who is your lead-off guy; whoever is hitting first is the lead-off guy. We'll see. I think unless you have Rickey Henderson, the burner type, the more times he gets on base, if he couldn't run a lick, the more it would help you score runs.

So we will see as we get into the camp who shakes down there.

Q. Is that to say what Eckstein did for you was coincidental or what?

TONY LA RUSSA: No. He gave us a great at-bat every game. But he's not with us you know what I mean, and even that one I'm not sure I understand. There was real lack of communication there. A lot of it was not inspired by the Cardinals. I remember reading a piece when I was there that -- I don't know if I mentioned it to you or not but I mentioned to somebody, where his agent said that he they never approached him. They gave him an offer in Spring Training. He turned it down. It's not accurate to say that he wasn't -- they offered him a three-year contract in Spring Training. He said no.

Q. But then you come with basically a lesser proposal after the season and that makes it a little bit more difficult, does it not?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, that's the business side, Joe, I don't know. I don't know. I mean, what's his market now? That's one of those things I'm glad -- that's why I'm not in the front office. I don't get into that.

Q. Do you have any read on any of your various rehabbing guys?

TONY LA RUSSA: Talked to Kennedy a couple years ago, he's feeling good. Yadier is feeling great. Talked to Albert about his elbow. Talked to Mark the other day. I think we are progressing.

Q. Albert?

TONY LA RUSSA: He's had it checked and checked and had a treatment thing but I think he's not going to have a procedure.

Q. Do you expect Kennedy to be ready, healthy and if he plays in Spring Training, your second baseman?

TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah. I talked to him the other day, this weekend or something. Again, it was a strange year for me. This guy built a career of being a solid, winning player. He knows more than anybody, so we talked about a couple things, and I fully expect that he'll come to camp and he'll be what he's been most of his career.

Q. Do you think he had something physical even before the knee thing?

TONY LA RUSSA: That's what it seemed like, but he said no, so I don't know that if he didn't want to make excuses or what.

Q. How do you think Percival looked last year and how he'll do in a closing role?

TONY LA RUSSA: He pitched for us in a closing role because his attitude when he came out there, get the first hit, you are out no matter what the situation and a couple more and we sent him out a couple of times. He gave us -- we ended up surviving for several reasons, and he was one of them. He gave us a real look when he came there. There's a classic pro, winner, spiritual kind of motivational guy on a team. He's afraid of no situation, no hitter. So love to have had him back, but it would have had to have been a similar role. And he's a guy that likes pitching in the ninth inning, so I think it the Devil Rays have got something very special.

Q. How is his stuff?

TONY LA RUSSA: Stuff is good. I mean, I think there's a good chance that coming off of what he did this year, you know, he'll pick up another couple miles an hour. So he had good stuff. Was it the lights-out stuff that he had prior to the injury? He was down a little bit, but he's got this delivery that's hard to pick up. He's intimidating. It's always numbers, so those are legitimate numbers. Guys have trouble centering the ball on him, and his stuff picked up as he went along.

Q. Talk to Juan as all?

TONY LA RUSSA: I have not. Left him a message.

Q. Heard anything about how he's doing?

TONY LA RUSSA: Last I heard there's still some issues.

Q. You guys had interest in a pitcher at the trading deadline you didn't get and I thought you might have; is there no longer interest in that pitcher any more?

TONY LA RUSSA: Who's that?

Q. San Francisco.

TONY LA RUSSA: Oh, Mattie Mo? Well, the problem is, the problem now, just the size of the contract.

Q. One year, whatever is left?

TONY LA RUSSA: Here again, it's not a cop-out because it's the truth. It's not my -- my area is not -- I thought Larry did a great job of answering questions today. You know, there's the owner, and he's in charge of baseball operations, and that's what he does. He's given this set of criteria that he operates within. You know, my criteria is even more restricted. Put them in uniform and I try to do the best I can. You've got to ask front office ownership whether that is a smart move for us, but then you have to give up prospects for him, too, so it not like just take him.

Q. But the question arises, though, all this stuff we're talking about, impact pitcher, impact bat; there's salary involved, too. And to what extent are we talking about you being constrained by salary, as opposed to being creative?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, and I know I said it publically, because Bill said it to me and he said it in the office, he said in that meeting room after the season was over, he said to me separately, we have the right resources if the move makes sense.

Q. Can you talk about Pineiro, the confidence you have in him and Dave has in him and what you expect from him?

TONY LA RUSSA: We had a good experience watching him. We got him and we were really impressed. I think there's a very strong possibility that a lot of his struggles were because he was tipping his pitches. First game he pitched, Dave and a couple guys reading everything he threw. He just can't give up that edge. And he worked to correct it but very good pick up, very glad we got him back. He's a cat on the mound which I didn't know until I saw him. He defends the running game, he's got four good pitches.

Q. When you were deciding about coming back, were there days or long periods of time where you thought that you weren't? Did you go through a day or two thinking --

TONY LA RUSSA: Quit?

Q. Do something different.

TONY LA RUSSA: No. Because you know, we had a really difficult season, got to the end, I was tired, and I never in any of those games at any point thought, man, what an effort this is go to through it. Got energized as long as the game started, and as long as that's true, I don't know how to do anything else pretty. So I just hoped that there was a place that, you know, wanted me that I could get excited about managing.

Q. If you guys were to go to Spring Training healthy, with Carpenter, you know, still a question mark and Mulder could start the season at the end of April and be productive, what do you think is a fair projection for this club? I don't think anybody is going to project this as a 100-win club and not even a 90-win club, but what do you see this team's potential if all the parts work?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think one of the qualities that I was taught that I have is stubbornness, and I think a great majority of the time, that stubbornness has helped me do my job and helped our team produce. A couple of times that stubbornness, I've gone down with the ship, but I would be very stubborn about somebody putting limits on our club, right now, into the spring, without watching us play in the season, without watching who else we are playing against.

I believe if, like I said, you get Jim and Scott and they are productive with the kids we have, it's a nice offensive team. I think we are going to have a very hard-playing team which always has a chance. You know, if Mark is Mark, you've got Chris in midseason, I just don't think -- I mean, I would tell our club, we're not going to put any limits on us. We're going to go out and play and see what the numbers are.

Q. You had people waiting last year for Mulder, when he came back that he was going to be your trade deadline guy, and I know you got Pineiro, but he comes back and flames out and then people maybe get a little bit jaded to hearing that again this year and saying that again, they are selling us again on the same thing.

TONY LA RUSSA: Except that we clearly have said that our objective this winter is to have that, so that you can have some depth and not sit there and hope that Jimmy is back to his thing and Scotty is back to his thing. We also say that about the pitching, because we went through that whole scenario, Chris didn't miss that first start after his first start, said, well, we'll get him back, May, at least after the All-Star Game, and that was being -- all of the disappointments that hit our club.

If you remember right, I said I never put pressure on these guys, a day to come back, and it's really unfair. Mark put those pressures on himself saying hey, I've got to go out and help. But I understand that our doctors and trainers are excited about his progress. And there's a question mark there. So that's why we're trying to build some depth.

Q. But if you're Joe Fan and you read what you have to say last year that you overachieved to finish 78-84, and now a roster that's pretty much the same right now, somebody selling them, hey, not going to put limits on this club, the team can do whatever it wants to do or potentially could be much better, can you see how people might be skeptical about that?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, one thing I point out to that club, or to those fans is that was a final record with literally every position player hurt at one time or another. Now, you have some injuries, that was excessive for a club. We took a lot of hits to our pitching staff and one guy would go good and then Mulder gets hurt. I'm hoping that it will be more normal next year with those guys.

But yeah, you can -- hey, I think part of competing is being positive and optimistic. I could tell the fans were last year disappointed and we didn't forecast that Ankiel wasn't going to be taking at-bats and he proved that he could be a force. Chris is going to have another year of experience. You have Brendan Ryan. We have some extras now we didn't have last year at this time as far as the experience.

Q. How is Juan Encarnacion?

TONY LA RUSSA: I think he's still struggling.

Q. What about the Mitchell report, is that good to come out and just get it out of wait for baseball?

TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, as long as they have completed their study and it's well reasoned and there's good factual basis, absolutely. That thing lurking out there, everybody's curious. Yeah, looking forward to it, as long as it -- they didn't get a deadline and say it's got to be ready by then. If it's ready, yeah, let's get at it.

Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do you think it would have made a difference if you had called David after the season to try to sell him on coming back, or do you think your role when you're trying to keep a player -- or did you in the think it significant to bring him back, Eckstein?

TONY LA RUSSA: I mean, it seems to me that you're either inferring or you've been told that I didn't tell him that it's important for him to come back.

Q. No, I'm saying if my premise is wrong, tell me.

TONY LA RUSSA: The premise is wrong. He knows, there's no doubt, because I've expressed it to him, to his family, and to our fans, how I feel about him as a competitor and as a teammate. He knows we want him back. But how many times have we been through this? Now I've been around so many years, we've gone through this, Mike, Matt, Edgar, over and over and over again.

It comes down to, here is your free agent's year, out of respect to David, you go out there and assess your value, is your value and the best situation with the Cardinals or someplace else? If it's someplace else, go, and nothing will ever change the way I and the other people feel about you. But what I've refrained from doing is dropping guilt trips on those guys, you've got to stay with us even if it's not in your best interests, I would never do that. I didn't do that to any of these ties.

Q. The club didn't offer them arbitration?

TONY LA RUSSA: That's their choice, you'd have to ask them why they didn't do that.

Q. Afraid they might tell you?

TONY LA RUSSA: I tell you what's the most factual as far as I'm concerned. The most uncertain thing is what is David's market. I mean, I think that is a concern. And, yeah, when he was offered that contract in Spring Training, what he was offered later was less.

So they said no then and said no now, so they were assuming it was higher than what they said and is it higher now, I don't know, we'll see. We'll see what the market is. That's why I don't want to be a front office guy. Those are tough, tough calls. But there's no doubt that David knows how I feel about him and we feel about him. But it's up to -- you know, this is a chance for him to make his mark. I wish him the best. The problem is, we got caught in a bind because there was a lack of communication going back and forth and we got a real concern. So you need to sign somebody; we signed Cesar.

Q. Do you think Mo is in a tough spot?

TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah, absolutely in a tough spot. But I think Dave Dombrowski is in a tough spot. I think that job is the hardest in baseball. Now is it tough for Mo? Yeah, probably so. You know, there's some uncertainties in our organization about how things are going to fall into place. That's why I think it's -- my advice would be more confused it is, simpler you keep it. Just got a job to do, do the job to the best of his ability. Go to sleep at night, gave it my best, no regrets later on, wish I would have this or wish I would have; I know he's working it.

Q. Is there any way you can be as good of a team if you it don't have Rolen? Given the leverage or lack of leverage y'all have in trying to move him, y'all could somehow be as good if y'all do trade him?

TONY LA RUSSA: Well, if we traded him for value, then we would get something that we really needed. We would have to figure out a way to plug in third base. That would be the choice. Yeah, if there was real value there.

Q. Sounds like value would probably be defined as a pitcher.

TONY LA RUSSA: Or it could be a position player that plays a different position and it's available.


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