Blog Entry

Tony's team plays on, even without him here

Posted on: May 10, 2011 7:12 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2011 11:38 pm
CHICAGO -- Two decades ago, I moved to Michigan to cover the Tigers.

Or, as some people there would have told you, I moved there to cover Sparky Anderson.

In those years, people never asked, "How are the Tigers going to do this year?"

It was always, "How's Sparky going to do this year?"

In those days, the Tigers were Sparky. Sparky was the Tigers.

And that's pretty much how it is with the Cardinals and Tony La Russa.

No team is baseball is as defined by its manager as this one is. No manager in baseball is as synonymous with his team as this one.

The Cardinals are not Albert Pujols, any more than the Tigers of the 1980s were Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker or Jack Morris.

The Cardinals are Tony La Russa. And that's what made Tuesday such a strange night.

The Cardinals were at Wrigley Field. La Russa was in Arizona.

He'll be gone all week, the Cardinals announced late in Tuesday night's 6-4 win over the Cubs. The Cardinals hope he can return to the dugout when the team comes home next week, but even that isn't certain.

For now, La Russa is where he needs to be, finally dealing with a health condition diagnosed as shingles. For weeks, La Russa's players and coaches have watched him struggle with it. They've seen his swollen faces and his watery eyes.

"You could see on his face, he was struggling," said Chris Carpenter, Tuesday night's winning pitcher for the La Russa-less Cards.

When the Cardinals were in Los Angeles four weeks ago, the Cardinals players and coaches were telling La Russa to go to the hospital.

He refused.

"He doesn't want to let anyone down," said Dave McKay, La Russa's longtime first-base coach. "Ask him how he's doing, and he says, 'I'm OK.'

"And you know he's going through hell."

He doesn't want to be away. La Russa phoned in Tuesday night's lineup to acting manager Joe Pettini, and Pettini said he expects a phone call and a lineup every day this week.

"He's going to know everything that's going on," Pettini said, noting that he had voice mail from La Russa when Tuesday's game ended. "I was just hoping I didn't have to take my phone down to the dugout."

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who talked to La Russa during Tuesday's game, said the manager understands that rest and medication are what the doctors have prescribed.

But everyone around La Russa understands how tough it is for him to be away.

"He's never missed a game," said McKay, who joined La Russa with the A's in 1989 and moved with him to St. Louis in 1996. "I've never even seen him ill, although a lot of that is that he wouldn't want you to know it if he was."

He would never want you to think that he wasn't in control, and he always wants the Cardinals to play the game right and to conduct themselves right. Just as Anderson did, La Russa insists that his players treat clubhouse attendants and flight attendants with respect.

And he insists that his players care as much and compete as hard as he does.

"The way we play on the field, how hard we play, is a reflection of our manager," said reserve catcher Gerald Laird, who came to the Cardinals this year and found that La Russa was everything he expected him to be.

It doesn't work for every player. We all know about the guys who have had run-ins with La Russa, the guys the Cardinals have traded away because they didn't mesh with La Russa.

We also know that whatever happens with his health this week, La Russa's time in St. Louis could be coming to an end. He's 66 years old, and once again operating in the final year of his contract.

One of these years, he actually will walk away from the Cardinals, although the thinking in baseball has been that if Pujols stays, then La Russa will stay, too.

Meanwhile, the thinking on the South Side of Chicago has been that La Russa is the one manager that Jerry Reinsdorf would be happy to get back, the one guy he wouldn't mind replacing Ozzie Guillen with.

At this point, that would feel strange, even though La Russa did manage the White Sox for nine years. At this point, it's even strange to look back and see La Russa in an A's uniform, even though he managed that team for 10 years and won his first World Series there.

He is the Cardinals, and the Cardinals are him.

"He treats the organization like it's his," McKay said. "The guy's tireless. He treats it like he owns it."

That's why it was so hard for him to leave. That's why it was so strange to see the Cardinals without him.

"His influence is with this club," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.

There's no doubt about that. La Russa's coaches have been with him for years, and they'll run the game the way he would, as much as they can.

Pettini will be the acting manager, with Dave Duncan handling the pitching and McKay and Jose Oquendo running their part of the operation.

It's still La Russa's team. It still will be his team.

And even as you ask how Tony is doing, it's still right to ask how Tony's team is doing.


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Tony's team plays on, even without him here

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Since: Nov 19, 2011
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Since: Nov 19, 2011
Posted on: December 3, 2011 1:13 pm

Tony's team plays on, even without him here

Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 3, 2011 8:58 am

Tony's team plays on, even without him here

Since: Nov 27, 2011
Posted on: November 27, 2011 7:06 pm

Tony's team plays on, even without him here

Since: Oct 21, 2011
Posted on: October 22, 2011 1:47 am
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