Posted on September 23, 2012 at 6:49 PM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
I've had occasion to review a number of books (as you can see if you look through the "book review" tag on this site) but there have been few, if any, that I've been more excited about reading than this one. As its author might say, it's tied for first.
Oftentimes, when a book is generated less than a year after a momentous occasion, it can feel like a cheap, quick grab for the spotlight. That's far from the case in One Last Strike
, written by Tony La Russa (with much able assistance from the Commish, Rick Hummel). TLR might not get quite as indepth as we want, may not necessarily give us the complete inside scoop, but he does a pretty good job of helping us revisit the remarkable 2011 from his perspective. There's no doubt, he had a good view for it.
While 2011 forms the core of the book, it's not the whole book. While the tagline of "Fifty Years In Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season" may be the most unwieldy phraseology since, well, ever, it does tend to tell you what the book is about. La Russa spends some time looking back on his time in Oakland and Chicago as well as his days in St. Louis. It's a similar style of writing as John Smoltz did with his Starting and Closing
, but Smoltz used the last season to move chronologically through his career. TLR doesn't do it like that, using themes of 2011 and what he was thinking at that time to inspire stories of the past.
You get to be inside the car trip he took from St. Louis to California at the end of the 2010 season and find out how close he was to retiring. There are other things in there, such as if the Cards had lost their last couple of games against Arizona before the '11 All-Star Break, there's a good chance that La Russa would have answered John Mozeliak less enthusiastically when Mo asked if they were still in it, which may have meant no Colby Rasmus deal.
I think that's one of the things that Cardinal fans would have liked to see out of this book, a real discussion about his relationship with Colby and how that all went south. He does talk about his concept of "co-signers" (basically veterans that get some say, like Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and others) and how he went to them before 2011 and said that if Rasmus could "get on board", he could take this team from good to great. He got the co-signers to commit to working on Colby, so to some degree maybe the entire Rasmus fiasco shouldn't be pinned on TLR. Of course, it is him writing this, so you take it for what it's worth, but La Russa does give a better argument against the "Tony hates young players" meme than some would give him credit for.
What was also intriguing to read early on was that it was this group of co-signers who came to La Russa before the cross-country trip he took at the end of 2010 to tell him that there were unity problems on the squad. To me (and, obviously, La Russa doesn't come right out and say this) that was the Brendan Ryan issue. A lot of grief was laid at TLR's door for shipping Ryan off during that offseason, but it sounds like it came more from those in the clubhouse than it did the management of the club. Whether that's "letting the inmates run the asylum" or it's more the case of recognizing a workplace issue and dealing with it, I'll leave to your judgement, though I think it's probably more of the latter.
Of course, there's a lot of good stuff in here and most people will be anxiously anticipating the chapter on Game 6. (I think the most shocking stuff comes in the chapter on the NLDS Game 5, where he claims Carp smiled before getting Ryan Howard to end the game. Carpenter smiling on the mound? Do we have video proof of this?) Those World Series chapters don't disappoint, helping you realize how they were preparing for a Series loss just in case and bringing you the sheer joy of everyone--players and families--being on the field after Allen Craig caught that fly ball.
Tony doesn't necessarily let bygones be bygones in this book either. He gets another subtle dig in at Ozzie Smith while explaining his side of that controversy and takes a shot at an unnamed Dusty Baker in the afterword in regards to the 2012 All-Star Game controversy. I mean, it's his book. You can't expect him to completely play nice.
All in all, Cardinal fans are likely to put this book well above those Series books that came out last winter and probably ahead of Rob Rains' book on him from a couple of years back
. It's a great look at the definitive personality of the last decade and a half of Cardinal baseball and, as long as you don't expect an expose, you'll enjoy just about every page.
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