(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Before he gave his appearance, La Russa briefly fielded questions from local media. He was asked by the Southeast Missourian if he knew during his tenure as Cardinals manager that baseball fans in Southeast Missouri bleed Cardinal red.
"Absolutely," La Russa replied. "I was able to see the reach of the franchise all over the state. But make no mistake, Southeast Missouri has great fans who were always with us -- they're with you win or lose, not win or tie. I don't mean to take anything away from the fans I experienced when I managed in Chicago and Oakland, but Cardinal fans are a breed unto themselves."
La Russa received a standing ovation when he took the stage of the Show Me Center. The former Cardinals skipper of 16 years brought three National League pennants to St. Louis along with two World Series titles.
It wasn't long before La Russa mentioned his inspiring 2011 Cardinals team.
"I get asked about that team all the time," he said. "People always ask, 'How did you guys do it? How did you come from ten-and-a-half back to win the Series?' One reason we did it was because we stressed competition with the Cardinals. It was all about crossing the finish line first, to play nine innings or more."
La Russa, with a smile, said players who came to St. Louis and didn't grasp that concept "were quickly sent to the Chicago Cubs."
"What you saw in 2011 was a team," La Russa added. "We tried to establish a family feeling on that squad based on three principles: trust, respect and character."
La Russa said standing by those principles sometimes created tension on the team, mentioning a game in which he had to relieve starting pitcher Chris Carpenter.
"I went out to the mound to relieve Chris," La Russa explained. "He wasn't happy with seeing me coming out, and he told me that he wasn't tired. I said, 'I know, Chris, but our outfielders are.' I was able to say that to Carpenter because he knew I trusted him enough to tell him the truth."
La Russa said that another component of his success was personalizing the way he approached players.
"I looked at each player as if he were the pressure, go-to guy in any situation. We made pressure our friend on my teams. We prepared for situations over and over, which reduces the pressure the players perform under. I also taught players to think of the process, not the result. When David Freese went to the plate in Game 6, I can tell you he was only looking to have a good at-bat, not hitting a home run. He was able to totally tune out the pressure."
La Russa said he also personalized himself during his 33-year managing career.
"Before every game, I would look in the mirror and say, 'I don't want to be ashamed of the face I see after the game.' That was such a powerful weapon for me to perform to the best of my abilities for my players."
La Russa said that managing baseball teams was a wonderful way to make a living, "especially when managing the St. Louis Cardinals."
Those who attended La Russa's speech were glad he came to Cape Girardeau.
"I am so happy to be able to see him," said Charles Johnson of Sikeston, Mo. "I've followed him for a long time, and seeing the man who brought such success back to St. Louis is a pleasure."
The Southeast Missourian was a sponsor of the event.
LaRussa's speech marked the second installment of the 2012-2013 University Speakers Series at Southeast. Other series events are the Second City Communications comedy troupe Monday; John Legend on Jan. 23; Michelle Kwan on March 6; and Jeff Corwin on April 10.
1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO