La Russa, Pujols back McGwire
Cardinals manager looking to get past steroids controversy
ST. LOUIS -- The news conference that Mark McGwire didn't really get to have on Sunday, Tony La Russa held on Monday.
La Russa spent more than half an hour answering reporters' questions on Monday afternoon, many of them about McGwire's recent admission to having used steroids during his playing career. The manager continued his impassioned defense of his friend, and argued that further questioning of McGwire regarding his drug use is all but unnecessary. That followed a chaotic and ultimately aborted news conference on Sunday in which McGwire took questions for six minutes in a crowded hallway, where few substantive questions made their way to the slugger's ears.
"I don't know how much more," La Russa said. "He has been more forthcoming than anybody yet. And some people have been discounting, which makes me wonder about how fair they are and what the standards are. They really hit him on the one issue, that he didn't say that his numbers were enhanced, and discounted, I mean, how much more can he say? 'This is what I did then, this is what I did later. I'm sorry. I apologize. I made a mistake, should have never done it.' What more is left to say? I don't know what it is. It's definitely go-forward time."
Likewise, La Russa's current star slugger, Albert Pujols, also leapt to the defense of his new hitting coach and ex-teammate. Pujols was a rookie in 2001, McGwire's final Major League season.
"I'm going to tell you like I told Mark, and hopefully this stops," Pujols said. "Because I don't want this to concentrate about Mark McGwire. I told him I'm proud of him for coming up and admitting what he used. And I let him know that just because of that, I don't want to change the relationship that I have with him. Everybody makes mistakes. I've made mistakes in the past. And I'm pretty sure you've all made mistakes. There's millions of people probably that wish they had the opportunity for something wrong that they have done, and they never come up. I told him I was proud of him for coming out, and to look forward."
Both La Russa and Pujols touted McGwire's potential as a hitting coach. McGwire has limited coaching experience, having never served on a professional staff. However, he has worked extensively with hitters in recent winters near his California home.
"Whoever it is, there are four criteria," La Russa said. "Expertise. Willingness to work, and I'm talking about real work. Desire to live and die with the team's outcome -- I've seen coaches that have great expertise and work their butt off, but when the game is over, they get a quick shower and [leave]. You've got to bleed if you lose. Otherwise, you can't coach here. And last you have to have a true passion. The players will not buy into it if they don't think the coaching staff is right there with them. I give Mark a 10 on all four of those. I believe, I know that."
La Russa acknowledged that in some eyes, his legacy as a Major League manager may be marred by the steroid disclosures by both McGwire and Jose Canseco. But he argued that he suspects fewer than five players from his Oakland tenure, and a similar number from his 14 years in St. Louis, of steroid use.
"I think there are going to be a lot of people that may want to judge it," he said. "Whatever their opinions are, that's what it is. All I say is, my legacy is tied to teams. So I think much more about the players over those years that were instrumental in contending or winning.
"When you're part of a situation in Oakland for 10 years, and you have less than a handful of players, which I've now said is like three, and you're in St. Louis and you have a handful of players ... if that's a taint to some people, to a large extent, this is America. You're free to your opinion. I feel very good about the same things that we've encouraged starting with Chicago and right through now. Come to the park on time, play hard, concentrate on playing the game right, compete your butt off, tip your cap if you get beat and enjoy the wins."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.