Or perhaps just a boozy guy having a late-life crisis while watching his defending champs slide down the toilet — last night’s defeat of Colorado aside. Sports Illustrated’s SL Price considers the dark days of Cards skipper Tony La Russa.

He has seen the shattering of his enlightened image — already cracked by a 2005 admission that he had suspected Canseco was using steroids with the A’s — and heard his leadership doubted. Just months removed from reveling in the Cardinals’ 10th championship, won on the field of their new, $365 million ballpark, La Russa has found himself the public focus of what team president Mark Lamping calls “the most embarrassing period” of their 12 years together in St. Louis.

No one could take so bruising a fall without howling, and indeed, La Russa’s response ranges from bitterness to regret to rage to resignation — occasionally all at once. But he won’t say what seems obvious: Sometimes life comes at you like a landslide, and you dodge one boulder only to get leveled by another. “I’ve now read this word three or four times, and it’s a perception that some people have that I don’t feel at all: embattled,” he says, before a May 9 home stand finale against the Colorado Rockies. “I don’t feel embattled. As long as this doesn’t sound disrespectful, this is so routine for what a manager goes through during a season. Now … you don’t have guys die. But the adversity? The ups and downs? You’re always trying to keep your wagons going — or you’re circling them trying to stay alive.”

La Russa says he still “absolutely” believes that McGwire never used steroids and attributes the slugger’s muscle mass to a combination of diet and work ethic. “To this day, five or six days a week, you call him in the morning, he’s just finished his workout,” La Russa says. “He looks like he could play today. That’s why I keep asking him to.”