Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
St. Louis Cardinals legend Bob Gibson at his Hall of Fame induction
B/R: If you had to summarize your career in a single game, which one do you go with?
Tony La Russa: I’ve been around for too long to pick one. I’ll give you a few highlights. One was my very first year, in 1979, when I was given a chance to manage a team that was struggling. I was a lousy player with virtually no managing experience, and we went 27-27. When I first took over, we got off to a pretty good start, but then we started to struggle. And some of the guys who’d first responded to me, guys with guaranteed money, started to fall back into what got the guy before me fired.
I made a decision to bench those guys, and instead to play the guys who would play it like it was the seventh game of the World Series. These were some of our younger guys, bench guys, and it was three or four money guys who sat and watched. It was something that came to me because I’d played, and I’d player-coached, and I had a core principle, which was, if you watched a game and you saw a team that wasn’t playing hard, you took it personally.
I knew if I played those four guys instead of the money guys, you might be able to say that we weren’t any good, but you couldn’t say we weren’t trying. I did that, we won some games, the guys got into it and I survived. I may not have survived if we hadn’t won those games.
Another was my first World Series win in St. Louis. People don’t understand that when you’re managing in St. Louis, these legendary figures like Musial and Gibson come around and ask, ‘When are you going to join the club? When are you going to get one of these?’ and they’d point to their rings.
By 2006, I’d been in St. Louis for 10 years, and the day we finally won, Bob Gibson comes by and says, ‘You’re in the club.’ And then to win the series last year, how can you pick one? You can’t pick one. They’re all tied for first.
One Last Strike is available in bookstores everywhere. To keep up with Tony La Russa, follow him on Twitter @TonyLaRussa.