09/06/12 9:50 PM ET
New La Russa book reveals World Series strategy
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
It includes a classy but challenging directive by Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, communicated via general manager John Mozeliak, to have the manager prepare and repeatedly remind his players and coaches to step out for immediate on-field recognition of Busch Stadium fans upon any Rangers clinching moment. It elaborates on what La Russa now considers the Rangers' underestimation of David Freese's opposite-field power and the batter's simple ability to quickly set his front foot, two executions that resulted in a hit for the ages.
The book, penned with veteran St. Louis baseball writer Rick Hummel, will be released Sept. 25 by HarperCollins, and it will be available in the MLB.com Shop. It represents the first memoir by La Russa, who ranks third all-time in managerial wins. He retired after the Cardinals' 11th World Series title. This is the first of three exclusive video excerpts being posted by MLB.com between now and that release.
"That afternoon, before the game had started, Mo had come to my office," La Russa writes. "He'd told me that our owner, Mr. DeWitt, wanted to be sure that if we lost the game, the players took a few minutes to go out on the field, even while the other team was celebrating, to thank the fans. The official presentation of the trophy would take about ten minutes to set up, so we wouldn't be doing anything to detract from a Rangers celebration. Of course, that was the right thing to do, both the salute to the fans and Mo's coming to mention it to me. I appreciated the reminder, and went back to my business.
"As their closer, Neftali Feliz, took his warm-up tosses, I got on the phone to remind [then-bullpen coach Derek] Lilliquist to give the guys left in the bullpen the heads-up about thanking the fans. I told him not to say anything until there were two outs and it looked like we were going to get beat, and then tell the relievers who were left to come down to the dugout to join their teammates. I went around to tell the guys in the dugout who either had played in the game or were not eligible to play in the Series. I said, 'We've got a real shot here, but we need to corral the guys and step out for a minute to salute the fans.'"
The whole matter of crowd contingency would become a theme during Chapter 22, as La Russa would do a balancing act of living in the moment as a manager while having to remind his crew to be prepared to give a loser's salute. One of the biggest reasons reminders were needed was what happened when Feliz got two outs in the bottom of the ninth and then put the Rangers within one strike of their first title, getting a 1-2 count on Freese.
"I hoped that David would get his front foot set sooner," La Russa writes. "On the swinging strike (two) he hadn't. David Freese then did what many people don't think is possible. He made me smile. ...
"When Freese extended his hands and stepped slightly toward the outside corner, setting that front foot, he hit Feliz's fastball on a line drive. The sound of the contact was so pure, but as the ball reached its peak and then started into its downward flight, like everyone else in Busch Stadium I would assume, I wondered if what I'd thought at first might be a walk-off home run was going to turn into an out. [Right fielder Nelson] Cruz went back on it hard, but the ball went back even more quickly. If he gloved it, he was a World Series hero for the ages. If he didn't, we were still in this thing.
"Hitting hard off the wall, the ball caromed back far enough that if Cruz hadn't had the presence of mind to get back after it hard, we might have seen another first: an inside-the-park walk-off home run. I stood there clapping my hands, smiling and marveling at the determination in this whole scene. Here again, I felt a bit of an advantage. I didn't think the Rangers had a good read on Freese's opposite field power and how his ball would carry that way. If they had, Cruz might have been positioned deeper. If Cruz had recognized it, he might have broken back more quickly. Whether human nature factored into this at all, them being one strike away, I can't say."
"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. La Russa 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 you 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."