La Russa opens spring with final say

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Associated Press

JUPITER, Fla. -- On the day that pitchers and catchers reported for his defending National League champion Cardinals, manager Tony La Russa answered questions about steroids for what he said will be the last time.

"Tomorrow we start to talk baseball and the 2005 season," La Russa told a large media contingent at the Cardinals' spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla.

La Russa has been under criticism since revealing in a "60 Minutes" interview earlier this week that he suspected Jose Canseco was using steroids while playing for La Russa on the Oakland A's.

Canseco, in his book released this week, discussed his steroid use and accused other players of using the illegal substance. Among those he accused was Mark McGwire, who played under La Russa in Oakland and St. Louis. His 70 homers for the Cardinals in 1998 set a single-season record.

"In the late '80s, I didn't see anything unusual with Jose," La Russa said. "But in the '90s I could see the change in the way he went about his business. I could see he was not working as hard and I confronted him. I had my suspicions but I couldn't prove anything."

Asked if he had spoken with McGwire about the issue, La Russa said he had but declined to discuss their conversation. "McGwire is a big boy and can speak for himself," La Russa said.

As for Canseco's claims about McGwire, "I don't believe what he writes," La Russa said.

General Manager Walt Jocketty would not comment on the steroids issue.

La Russa doesn't believe the new league policy is strong enough. He said the sport should have a zero-tolerance policy.

He doesn't believe the issue will hurt the sport. "Baseball is an amazing game" La Russa said. "It has taken its knocks before and it has always bounced back."

Eighteen pitchers on the roster and 10 non-roster pitchers were expected to report Friday, along with eight catchers, four on the roster and four non-roster invitees.

One pitcher who wasn't there was right-handed reliever Cal Eldred, due to the death of his mother-in-law. Eldred, 37, was 4-2 with a 3.76 earned run average last season. He is scheduled to report Tuesday when position players arrive in camp.

Outfielder Jim Edmonds was among the position players who were already on hand.

The Cardinals are among the favorites again in the NL Central despite several changes. Gone are shortstop Edgar Renteria, second baseman Tony Womack, catcher Mike Matheny and pitchers Woody Williams and Steve Kline. New to the team are left-hander Mark Mulder, acquired from Oakland, shortstop David Eckstein and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek.

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