La Russa enjoys his encore

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One more lineup card for Tony La Russa to fill out. One more chance to put on the uniform.

One more time is enough, too.

The man who went out on top last fall after leading the St. Louis Cardinals to an improbable World Series championship and now is getting a rare encore swears he doesn't miss managing. He insists it's a lot more fun watching the game from the stands or on TV, where he can do all the second-guessing instead of answering questions about why he yanked his starter in the sixth inning for a pinch hitter who grounded into a double play.

"I don't miss it at all," La Russa said. "Now I'm never wrong."

That doesn't mean the 67-year-old La Russa isn't taking his job as NL manager in the All-Star game seriously.

La Russa always plays to win, no matter the stakes.

"I don't know if there are any people more competitive than Tony," Cardinals All-Star Matt Holliday said. "He's right at the top of the list."

La Russa unveiled perhaps his biggest All-Star decision Monday. He chose Giants ace Matt Cain to start for the NL ahead of Mets 12-game winner R.A. Dickey. The move pairs Cain with teammate Buster Posey, the NL's starting catcher. Detroit's Justin Verlander will start for the American League.

The plan calls for Dickey to go in the first part of the game with the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz, who can get a handle on his knuckleball during warmups.

"R.A., he got picked. He's going to pitch," La Russa said. "The fact he's not the starting pitcher doesn't, in my opinion, detract at all."

La Russa had Cardinals leadoff man Rafael Furcal batting ninth in his first All-Star start. He referred to Furcal as his second leadoff man. La Russa often batted his pitcher eighth if he had another speedy, singles-hitting type of player to put at the bottom of the order to jump-start the second time through.

Noting the National League team has four third basemen, the Cardinals' David Freese knew he'd better come prepared.

"Who knows where I'll end up?" Freese said. "I might need some catching gear. Who knows?"

Whatever moves La Russa makes, it won't be for the novelty. The Cardinals certainly benefited from home-field advantage last fall when they beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 in St. Louis, but no stakes are required.

It's always been that way.

Indians closer Chris Perez began his career with the Cardinals and recalled La Russa being demanding on everyone, but particularly tough on young players. He joked that when you played for La Russa, "You're a rookie until you get to free agency."

He couldn't recall ever being at the ballpark, early or late, when La Russa wasn't on hand supervising the scene.

"He's there from 7 a.m. to midnight," Perez said. "Sometimes he sleeps there, I think. That tells you why he was so successful."

The bottom line always was clear with La Russa, who always answered the innocent game-day greeting of "How are you doing?" with "I'll let you know in a few hours."

"He doesn't care about feelings," Perez said. "He doesn't care about what happened at home. You're here to win. No excuses, no nonsense."

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