I’m a little confused about this. When Jose Canseco spills the beans on the indiscretions of his former teammates, he’s violating clubhouse code and reveals himself to be Sleazebag No. 1 ’cause he’s just doing it for the money. But when Tony La Russa indictes former players and does it to raise money for an animal shelter, then everything is A-OK.
The last thing Tony La Russa wanted or needed to do was bear his soul in another book and evoke more “genius” chidings from critics who have accused him of trying to reinvent the game.
But this was different, La Russa insists. There were extenuating circumstances apart from baseball that brought him to collaborate with “Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger on what is already being talked about as the most “inside” baseball book ever, “Three Nights in August” (Houghton-Mifflin). Though centered on a three-game series for first place in the National League Central between La Russa’s Cardinals and the Cubs in 2003, the book is really a microscopic study of what makes the highly intense and driven La Russa tick.
Throughout the book, La Russa pulls no punches about which players he really likes and which ones he could do without. In the latter group there is J.D. Drew, the oft-injured right fielder of whom La Russa says: “A lot of young players fall into the trap where it’s uncomfortable to push yourself on a daily basis. They settle for some percent under their max. In the case of J.D., if you have the chance to be a $12-15 million per year player, you settle for 75% of that.” And of current NY Met Kerry Robinson – a backup outfielder who thought he was a lot better than he was and sulked when La Russa kept him on the bench – he says the ultimate confrontation came in spring training when the manager challenged the player to get himself traded. “Go find somebody who’s going to give you 400-500 at-bats and I hope they’re in our division so we can play against you.”
“I told my players in my first meeting this spring there were two things involving me they were maybe going to have to deal with that might be a distraction – my defense of the Oakland A’s teams I managed in the fallout from all these steroids charges, and this book,” La Russa said.
As for why he decided to do the book – especially after his previous collaboration with political columnist George Will on “Men at Work” had embarrassed him because it portrayed him as some kind of baseball know-it-all, – La Russa says frankly that he did it for the money. But it’s not what you think. The money is all going to the other passion in his life, which is as strong as baseball: ARF, his animal rescue foundation in California, a 38,000-square-foot shelter for animals for which he still owes $4 million on the loan he took out to build it.
“I never wanted to do another book, other than something on the strategy of the game after I retired,” La Russa said. “But I’ve got to find a way to pay this loan down. I want a lot of people to read this book, so I had to do what I could to make it interesting. If I didn’t owe $4 million, I wouldn’t have done it.
“I know there’s the risk of somebody taking a shot at me, but compared to the loan drawing interest, I’ll take that risk. The fact is, in the 14 years I’ve had this program, 17 million animals have been saved and 13 million people have gotten animals as companions. Last year, we rescued 3,000 animals and directly touched 23,000 people with our ‘at-risk’ program with teenagers and victims of violence.”