Day 21: 30 baseball books in 30 days of April, ’09: Another LaRussa LeLegacy LaMakeover

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The book: “Tony LaRussa: Man on a Mission”

The author: Bob Rains, forward by Joe Buck

How to find it: Triumph Books, 295 pages, $24.95

Where we’d go looking for it: Amazon has it (linked here)

The scoop: From Buck’s forward: “You don’t know Tony LaRussa. You think you do, but you don’t. I guarantee you that what you think you know about this man is not accurate. I have never met a man in sports, or life, who is more misunderstood.”

OK, we’ll give you that. Now change our mind.


That’s where Rains, a writer who has done books on Jack Buck, Red Schoendienst, Albert Pujols and Whitey Herzog, comes in, interviewing more than 50 relatives, friends, players and execs. He draws from the books “Three Nights in August” by Buzz Bissinger (2005) and George Will’s “Men At Work” (1991), as well as Canseco’s “Juiced” (2005). But no dogs were interviewed.

The reason this book has some significance: By the end of this season, LaRussa will have managed more games in major-league history than everyone but Connie Mack. In more than 29 years he’s managed, there have been 156 others who have come and gone in the majors. There’s also some discussion this could be LaRussa’s final year, since his contract is up and he hits 65 in October.

An excerpt: From page 121:

On Sept. 28 (1988), with only a few days left in the regular season, the first public accusation was levied that (Jose) Canseco had used steroids. Appearing as a guest on a CBS program, Thomas Boswell, the columnist from the Washington Post, said Canseco was “the most conspicuous example of a player who has made himself great with steroids.” Boswell said that he was basing his accusations on conversations he had earlier in the season with LaRussa, who said Canseco had made “some mistakes” earlier in his career.
Boswell implied that LaRussa was talking about Canseco using steroids, which LaRussa denied.
“That’s a very irritating inference that he took,” La Russa told reporters at the time. “It wasn’t anywhere near what I meant … It bothers me that he put me in there as a source. It’s bull.”
Boswell later told the Miami Herald that he asked La Russa if he was worried about Canseco’s long-term future because of his use of steroids, to which La Russa made the mark about Canseco having made “some mistakes” in the past. La Russa said Boswell never asked a specific question linking Canseco to steroids and said, “Whatever my response was, it wasn’t to that question. Somebody made a mistake, and it’s not me.”
Canseco denied the charges and Major League Baseball officials said they had no plans to investigate the allegations.

So, how is LaRussa misunderstood now? In this New York Daily News story (linked here), LaRussa says there should be “zero tolerance” for those who’ve used steroids, yet he still seems to be in denial about Mark McGwire.

This is the same guy — a vegetarian from California who likes wine over beer, was never comfortable with the “baseball genius” tag given him by George Will, and calls Bob Knight and Bill Parcells his friends — who actually had high aspirations of being a top-notch major league player. Maybe that helps explain his approach.

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Rains recounts how LaRussa was a bonus-baby shortstop from Tampa, Fla., drafted out of high school with the Kansas City A’s in 1962. He went to work out with the A’s in June in Los Angeles as a 17 year old. On Aug. 25, 1962, he was the first 18 year old to ever start a major league game at shorstop (later repeated by Robin Yount and Alex Rodriguez). So there’s a good trivia question.

But there was one incident that changed his career — he played with some friends in a slo-pitch softball game in Tampa and tore a tendon in his right arm that haunted him throughout his career.

Does it help us know why he pitches the batter eighth in the lineup? Or why others refer to him as well prepared, loyal, intense and respected?

In the end, we do get to know LaRussa better. We’re just not sure we like him any more.

How it goes down in the scorebook: Reread “Three Nights in August,” and get back to us.

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