Few managers get the opportunity to retire on top of the baseball world, and even fewer get the chance to go out with the ultimate W: "weightlessness."
That's how Tony La Russa described the feeling when David Freese hit the walk-off home run in Game 6 of the classic 2011 World Series, leading to the Cardinals' clincher a night later. La Russa would announce his retirement after the team's parade.
"In situations like that, it's almost as if the ball has some gravitational pull on you," La Russa said. "As it climbs, it lifts you up, body and spirit. The guys at the rail rose up on their feet, craned their necks and raised their arms above their heads. They were uplifted and exultant, as was I, experiencing what I imagine weightlessness must be like."
Those are among 400 words La Russa reads from Chapter 22 at the MLB.com studios in the third and final video excerpt of his new book "One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season." That chapter sets the stage for the Cards' 11th World Series championship and shows the mind of a manager as La Russa was planning to have Yadier Molina try to execute a hit-and-run should Freese have walked in the 11th against Mark Lowe.
The book, penned with veteran St. Louis baseball writer Rick Hummel, will be released Tuesday by HarperCollins and available in the MLB.com Shop. It represents the first memoir by Major League Baseball's third-winningest skipper, chronicling last season but also spanning his entire managerial career.
In the first excerpt, La Russa read what had been on his mind when Freese forced extra innings with a triple off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz as the Cardinals were down to their last strike. In the second excerpt, La Russa read what went through his head as Lance Berkman kept hope alive against Scott Feldman with an RBI single in the 10th inning as the Cards were again down to their last strike.
"I sensed in the ninth when we'd tied it that people were going to talk about this game for a long time," La Russa reads. "When we did it again in the 10th, I knew that people were going to talk about this game forever."
La Russa raves about Rangers catcher Mike Napoli, who likely would have been the World Series MVP had neither Freese nor Berkman have pulled out their big hits.
"After retiring Nelson Cruz, Jake [Westbrook] gave up a single to Mike Napoli," La Russa reads. "That guy just impressed me. He'd tweaked his ankle, and there was some doubt about whether he could play, but he was on base five out of six times, with three of those coming on walks. Jake retired the next two, and for the first time since the ninth, we entered an inning not having to score in order to stay in the World Series."
Freese led off the 11th against Lowe, who opened with three straight balls.
"I was already 'what-ifing' the straight bunt or the show-and-bring-back bunt, then switch to the hit-and-run with Yadi," La Russa reads. "I watched Lowe intently, looking to see if he was around the plate, trying to figure out if the hit-and-run would be a good option. [Daniel] Descalso was in the hole, and he was our best chance to drive in a run if we got the man to second. Yadi liked the hit-and-run, and so that worked in the favor of hit-and-run. After Descalso was [Jon] Jay and Westbrook. If it came down to it.
"Three pitches later, David Freese did a solo version of the hit-and-run. He was soon joined by every one of his teammates in doing that. He hit a fastball on the inner half and crushed it to straightaway center field onto the grass of the hitters' backdrop."
"One Last Strike" will offer amazing insight into the journey that led to the Redbirds' title, as La Russa opens up about the devastating injuries, bullpen woes, crucial games and the guys who made it all possible. He also looks broadly with introspection at his entire body of work, and he explains his counterintuitive belief in process over result, present moments over statistics and team unity over individual talent. He writes candidly about his decision to retire.
"I wanted to write this book because there's a story that answers the question I got asked at the end of last season: How did your club win the world championship, especially when you had to come from so far behind?" La Russa said. "This is the first time I went back and realized everything the club went through and overcame to be the champion -- big, big difference looking back instead of looking forward."
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks and a bestselling author, said La Russa's book will transcend baseball-book readers and become a leadership staple.
"His values and his steadfast belief in the potential power of his team -- and his unsurpassed ability to tap that potential, especially through adversity -- hold lessons for any leader who wants to win with dignity and humanity," Schultz said. "To get inside Tony's head and heart is to have a front-row seat for Game 7 of the World Series."