Tony La Russa, who managed Mark McGwire in Oakland and St. Louis, defends the ginger-haired giant from Jose Canseco’s steroid claims, in an interview with the NY Times’ Tyler Kepner.

“I am absolutely certain that Mark earned his size and strength from hard work and a disciplined lifestyle,” La Russa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals since 1996, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “When he was a kid in 1987, he hit 49 home runs. It’s a real shame. For some people, this is going to put a stain.”

La Russa said Canseco and McGwire were “not really close,” and he strongly disputed the idea that McGwire used steroids, let alone allowed Canseco to administer them.

“We detailed Mark’s workout routine – six days a week, 12 months a year – and you could see his size and weight gain come through really hard work, a disciplined regimen and the proteins he took – all legal,” La Russa said.

“As opposed to the other guy, Jose, who would play around in the gym for 10 minutes, and all of a sudden he’s bigger than anybody.”

Dave McKay, who coached McGwire in Oakland and in St. Louis and monitored his workouts, defended him yesterday.

“I swear on a stack of Bibles, I never saw him ever go anywhere near anything that would have a chance of hurting his body like a steroid,” McKay said in a telephone interview. “He’s a guy who’s always preaching about health. I can’t ever dream of Mark using steroids.”

La Russa and McKay said that Canseco would speak openly about steroids and ignored advice to stop using them. “He’d say, ‘Come on, man, what are you talking about? I got the world by the tail,’ ” La Russa said. “Sometimes you suspected, and then guys would deny it. Jose would make a joke of it.”

La Russa said he believed Canseco had several motives for writing the book.

“He’s hurting for money and he needs to make a score,” La Russa said. “What’s a more sensational thing to say, and who’s a more sensational target to pick than Mark?

“Secondly, I think he’s very envious and jealous that Mark had the career he had. If you line them up side by side, which we did in ’86, ’87, ’88, Jose was the more talented player and, in fact, more intelligent about the game.

“Mark wanted an uncomplicated swing and a ‘see it, hit it’ approach. He didn’t have a lot of information on the other pitchers. Jose was really cerebral at the start, and look at where their careers have gone.”