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December 7, 2005

Tony La Russa


Q. So, was it worth it to miss the Stones concert as it turns out?
TONY LA RUSSA: No, no, it wasn't -- you know, it was a nice dinner. It was interesting. But I'll tell you what was worth it about it. In this game if you feel like you took your best shot, you have no regrets.
We took our best shot and it wasn't good enough. From that angle, missing the Stones was part of it.

Q. You guys have been down this path before where you haven't had your first choice during the off-season and things have worked out pretty well. Can you talk about the process that obviously you guys have a template for having a plan B. How do you line that up and set that up?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I mean there's places on our ball club where you have opportunities, it is clear for everybody. What's clear are the priorities we're going to place on it. We talked about it some, pitching first for us, but, you know, you have second baseman, free agent, left fielder, right fielder. Backup catcher situation changed to Bennett. You know, it's all about priorities.
Pitching was a priority and still is and then, you know, it gets frustrating for some of the position players who are waiting around getting upset, whoever the guys are every year, where is the money? Well, the money you allocate for pitching first, then you see what you got left. So, I mean that's our formula. Mostly common sense, we'll see.

Q. Do you have any sense of where things stand for the second baseman?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think, where they stand is, Mark, people are talking to him. He's earned a good payday. Can we afford that payday? Maybe. Two weeks from now, a month from now, but it's dangerous to make a decision like that and take money out of the pot and find out that we don't have enough for the pitching and unfortunately it's just a reality. If we don't pitch, Mark could have an MVP season, we may not be good enough. So we try to take care of pitching first. So other guys have to wait.

Q. At that particular spot, combine it with a special case, how tied in were they with the success y'all had with year?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I don't know. Doesn't sound a lot like last year. We missed it by one out of leading the league. Had a good regular season and we were losing our second shortstop. How are you going to do that? And my sense is it was very special relationship and coordination between Mark and David so we'd like to have Mark back. He's got opportunities and decisions to make. If he can't wait for us or we can't compete, I feel like what we do at second, we'll make it work. David is a kind of guy that we'll make adjustments.

Q. With what you saw of Anthony Reyes in the one start, do you go into the season with him as your number 5 starter? Are you comfortable with that or would you like to have -- obviously your competition guy. Would you like to have a veteran to compete with that spot with him in Spring Training?
TONY LA RUSSA: No, I don't even put a label of veteran or whatever. If it's healthy, for a ball club to go in and have competition in as many places as you can without faking it. You know, we're not going to have a competition at first base. You need protection at first. You're not going to have a competition at third or short.
Center field. So, in that situation, it will be nice to go to Spring Training and have more than five guys. That's the reality of what happens on a baseball team.

Q. But is your comfort level with him such that if you did go in, would you be real concerned about it? Where is he in your eyes?
TONY LA RUSSA: In my eyes he's got an excellent chance to be one of the five and then what's smart for him and us is here are your opportunities in Spring Training, now be one of the five best that we're looking at.

Q. You sound pretty pessimistic about Morris. If that doesn't happen, if he's elsewhere, how tough is that to start to do that? I realize you'll go on at a personal level.
TONY LA RUSSA: This is what this game is about. When you start having good year after good year after good year, guys make money and you know we've increased the payroll but you can't increase it compared to how much the guys are earning, more so if you have a decision or a situation like that.
You know, I think Matt has been offered, you know, good money probably better money than we can afford to pay him and still fill the rest of our needs. So it's just that's the reality of the game, you know. All we can do is you peg the value that we can afford to pay Matt Morris. It doesn't mean it's what he's worth. Any of those guys, it's what you give them. It's painful because it probably is not good enough.

Q. Were you happy for Jerry Reinsdorf?
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah. Not just Jerry; the White Sox. A lot of that family is still there, you know, whether it's guy's working at the ballpark, around the ballpark, in the organization, so very happy for them.

Q. Did he come to you -- come right when it ended, or was he on your mind the whole time?
TONY LA RUSSA: I talked to a lot of White Sox people throughout the playoffs and, you know, we thought we'd be playing them and it didn't work out for us.
Getting to the World Series, that was a big -- that's a first for that organization since '59. First time for Jerry. So, all that, like I say it's a big family there and I'm really happy for them.

Q. Were you surprised in how good a job Ozzie (Guillen) did as a manager last year, how quickly he developed into that sort of manager to lead the team to the world title?
TONY LA RUSSA: Not really if you watch him. Baseball America, Albert got the award. Ozzie was the manager. He walked in there as a rookie and really took charge.
I was kidding, Carlton, he would tell Carlton this, tell Baines this and (inaudible) that. I mean he really was a guy that was willing to step up and say the right things, do the right things. He had a whole career like that. I watched him coach with Montreal and Florida. He was very smart coach, really into the game.
So, I just think he's one of those guys that's gifted. He's got a feel for the game. Not afraid to make decisions and take charge.

Q. Y'all throw money at Burnett and don't get him. Is it fair to say the biggest need you face right now is you bullpen or do you think that's not accurate from where you stand?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I mean there's a couple comments which I think is important so that other free agents like a Matt Morris understands. I thought we had a really good chance because when I saw what was being reported that we offered them, him, I knew we were well below that.
I think I heard somebody we were 48 million. We never got to 48 million. So when I saw Toronto with a 55, they're probably not 55, either. I think we had a shot. It turns out they were 55. The reports were half right and they were wrong on us.
We made a real good offer at him. But it wasn't -- I think it only got to 40. So now that he's not in the picture, all along we were looking at our pitching, starters and relief, and there was a combination of moves.
You sign a Burnett, that triggers another couple of other things. You don't sign Burnett -- you know, we talked about Anthony Reyes. We have five starters going to camp. The bullpen is someplace where Tavares is out as a free agent. We don't have actually Reyes. We need to do something early.

Q. Is it accurate that you would have pretty much had to do something to make a run if you hadn't signed him?
TONY LA RUSSA: If it didn't happen, why speculate? I just know that that would have triggered a move or two.

Q. You say Tavarez is out on the market?
TONY LA RUSSA: He's out on the market. Hopefully, you know, we'll talk and have a chance to bring him back because he's very good for us for two years.

Q. There seemed to be some question in Izzy's mind even two weeks ago whether he was going to follow through and play in this Baseball Classic. We come here and we hear he's committed. I haven't had a chance to talk to him in the last couple of days but for a guy who typically doesn't throw a whole lot early in the spring, do you have any concerns about this as it relates to him specifically?
TONY LA RUSSA: Absolutely. We talked about it yesterday. We have huge concerns that -- I mean I think it's going to be -- there's a lot of excitement, lots of positive stuff.
There's also some big concerns about how the competition will go because guys are going to get serious about trying to win it, whether you're a guy trying to steal a base or take a serious at-bat or pitcher. In Izzy's case, he has a way, a timing for how he gets ready and unless he does some dramatic stuff earlier, he will not be ready to max out when that tournament starts. That's what he's going to be asked to do and what he's going to want to do. It's definitely scary.

Q. Is there a conversation you had with him or Dunk, I assume?
TONY LA RUSSA: I heard he wasn't going to do it, now he's going to do it. If he commits to doing it, he's going to have to commit to doing a lot more earlier so that he gets instead of being ready a month later, he's got to move up a month. A lot of that is unsupervised. So it's scary.

Q. You already think about Rolen --
TONY LA RUSSA: I talked to him a couple, three times. Everything is on time. Feeling good, working hard.

Q. Tony, how sad were you to see [] Walker retire? I'm sure you got to know him so well on and off the field. Of course, he did have that problem last year, that health problem. Just for what he gives you and when he goes out there and the type of individual he is, is it always tough to see guys like that leave?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, selfishly, we've had a real good competitive feeling in that club. He was an important part. I mean he was one of our leaders that we looked to keep our club going but just from his point of view, he's had -- his career ended really well. He got back on the field, pitching.
He stayed healthy. He ended up getting into the World Series but he has other priorities. His kids are getting older and they need him around the house. I think it's just time. We didn't push him. He made this decision on his own.

Q. It did finish nicely for him overall, didn't it?

Q. The health thing?
TONY LA RUSSA: Around January he's going to play catch with his boys and say, "Gee, whiz, I can still sneak one more." That wouldn't surprise me.

Q. Would your preference to be with Reyes, perhaps Tavarez, do you like having some guys that have some experience in the bullpen in there? Last year you bring in Thompson, you're kind of able to nurse him along. Can you deal with having two or three of those guys?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, do we have two or three of those guys? I don't know that we have those guys in our system. You know, I think there's a couple answers. One is younger players are competing better than they used to.
I mean just because they get ready quicker, they got better challenges in training. I don't know, but you see a lot of young pitchers, players compete at the big league level. If they're a young, talented guy, I'd love to have him because that means you've got a lot of future. In the meantime that's an area where normally you need to go for more experience.

Q. Wouldn't be big on seeing Wayne right then in a role like that?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think that would be a step in the wrong direction. I think he's going to be a starter. His work ethic, the number of pitches. I think that would be really a dramatic thing to do most of us would do under protest only.

Q. Would you expect him to compete for a rotation spot?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, the numbers they are now, you've got seven, eight guys, can take two, three weeks and I don't even know how it's going to affect them, whether we got -- I guess Carpenter is not pitching. I saw Mulder's name, still a possibility. So, if everything is in camp, you can get seven, eight guys working a lot through the first two, three weeks of games. Wainwright is definitely one of them.

Q. As we sit here in early December, obviously I say that because there's a long way to go, but do you think (Rick) Ankiel would have a chance to crack your roster, your 25-man roster?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I don't think he would have been part of the roster because he's out of options. So if he doesn't make our club we're going to have to put him on waivers. We'll see.

Q. Tony, can you talk about Reggie Sanders as a free agent and Walker is retired and started 90 games. You said you consider him one of the starters. You want to keep him a player out of the bench or you want to use him as a starter?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I think the way it looks now, I don't think a lot is going to change, he has his best opportunity to play even more in 2006. I mean that's how he should be getting ready this winter. That's how he should go into Spring Training.
There will be guys, there's three outfield spots, lot of games. They'll be guys like Rodriguez, Gall, Schumaker, they're going to be fighting hard for at-bats, but in the past we had guys in place and the best we could do would be an extra outfielder. He has an ability to start.

Q. Play left field?
TONY LA RUSSA: Center or right or whatever.

Q. Is your expectation even if y'all do everything you want to do that you're probably going to have a platoon situation in one of the outfield spots?
TONY LA RUSSA: I mean I think the only place that normally you consider that is if you have a left-hander like Schumaker or Rodriguez and a left-hand starter. Maybe if you've got a legitimate right-hand bat.
Jimmy, he plays against everybody. Once in a while if you've got to rest him, rest him that day. But, you know, like with a left arm, there's no reason to have a left-handed hitter that matches up with So Taguchi because of the left-handers.

Q. You think your division is emerging, Milwaukee gets to .500 last year, Pittsburgh seems to be a pretty young nucleus. Is this becoming a more formidable division?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think it's true. Two years ago there were three clubs who won 90. Last year we had the wild card team from our division again, they ended up winning the championship.
I think clubs like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, are definitely going to get better and better because they got the right kind of mix. I think Cincinnati, they're dangerous. They have a couple of things happen on the pitching side and they're more competitive. So, I think -- I'm expecting a very tough, well-balanced division.

Q. Do you anticipate the club making a push for any of these "premium" remaining starting free-agent pitchers or you think Burnet is the one shot deal if you're looking for a big guy?
TONY LA RUSSA: I don't know that we have the money that we would allocate. We stretched for Burnett because I think his ceiling is out there where he could be really special.
But what these other guys are going to bring, I don't know that we can compete. Like I said a hundred times, it's not what the guys are worth; it's what we can afford to pay. I don't know that we can afford to pay for these other guys to the market.

Q. You read what's going on, you hear what's said. When a team moves into a new ballpark, when a team has had the success y'all have had the last few years, draws three and a half million people last year, can you relate at all to a fan base or even the media saying we're not understanding why a payroll needs to remain static as opposed to going up with anticipation of additional revenues. I hear what you're saying. I know what the structure is going to be this year. People who hear that and have a reaction to it, can you see where those people are coming from or do you think they don't understand the situation?
TONY LA RUSSA: No. If I'm a fan, I'm thinking new ballpark, new revenue. But I think we are -- I understand we've increased -- we have been increasing dramatically, only a couple -- three million is what I was told. If I'm a fan, I'm thinking more about 10, 13 million.
I'm not on the business side. I would guess that one explanation is that this ballpark has been built with our ownership incurring a lot of the debt so some of those extra revenues go to paying off the ballpark. It's not like we're getting the sweetheart deal from the city or county or state and we can take that extra revenue and start putting it into our ball club. I think we've got to help pay for that building.
But we're raising a little bit. Here again, you know, I looked around at other clubs. We spend 90 million. As a manager, I mean there's 29 other managers. That's more money than most of those guys on the teams are spending. I'm going to say, gee, whiz, I think our ownership is doing what it can.

Q. I don't know whether you've addressed this but looking at that poster, reminds me that you're going to be missing your MVP first baseman for a couple of weeks along with other players. Any concerns about that?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, yeah, I'm concerned except we all have the same concerns. We're all involved with it so it's going to affect all of us.
I can see the excitement of the tournament. I'm sure MLB like all the clubs are going to be crossing their fingers, especially on the injury side. I think that's probably where you're going to hold your breath. The biggest issue is a serious competition that early in March. That's against how these guys get ready, so they're going to be competing seriously a month sooner than they usually do, so somehow they got to get themselves ready a month earlier. My guess is that that's not going to happen across the board.

Q. Is doing without Jose in spring potentially something of an issue?
TONY LA RUSSA: You know, I think we got enough backup between [] Pettini and guys in the minor leagues. It's just such a great opportunity for Jose, we're excited for him.

Q. It could be we're just not having guys in camp. You're so used to seeing the same faces?
TONY LA RUSSA: Somebody told me Baltimore's got nine guys that may not be in their camp. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Q. Aren't the Japanese players not coming to the camp?
TONY LA RUSSA: Because he's in the States?

Q. Didn't want to have to traipse, go from Florida to Japan?
TONY LA RUSSA: Is Ichiro on the team?
Q. Ichiro, Matsui and So Taguchi. Aren't they saying the Japanese players won't come to the start of camp in the United States, right, because otherwise they will come in for ten days and go all the way back to? Taguchi said because of that he doesn't want to miss all that camp and come in before the start of the season.
TONY LA RUSSA: In this case, like I said, this is his best chance to win a lot of playing time. He had a lot of playing time last year. He can increase it this year.

Q. He sees what's at risk for his career instead of his country; 36 years old?
TONY LA RUSSA: It's his chance.

Q. Tony, how do you think about his age?
TONY LA RUSSA: I've seen guys 26 that are not in his shape so I mean you look around now. Guys that are willing to work smart, keep their skills in their 40s.

Q. He catches balls that a lot of guys don't catch.
TONY LA RUSSA: His bat is just as quick. His legs got life. He's not a 36-year-old.

Q. Looking back on it three years ago, do you think it's a fair statement for somebody to say if you had had Isringhausen that whole run in '03 even though y'all had a lot of problems that year, you would have probably found a way to win?
TONY LA RUSSA: I don't think about it. Because in the end you either do or don't. We didn't. I don't want -- who won, the Cubs -- I'm not going to say we would have won it. If we would have had Prior and Wood taking the ball every day, that they would have won '04 and '05. The season was played. We didn't. We had our chance and we didn't win.

Q. Point being, though, if you compensate, if you lose a middle reliever for a month or two, sometimes your closer got screwed.
TONY LA RUSSA: Yeah. He's one of the core guys. You can't replace those guys. It's like last year I thought it was really a great year. We kept compensating for key misses. We compensated. That's part of how we hung in there. All I know, we got to the end, Izzie came back and we had a chance to win and we didn't win it.

Q. Have you talked to (Ray) King since the end of the season?

Q. Where does that stand?
TONY LA RUSSA: Good. I mean we're fine. Frankly I think there's been a time or two at one of the stations or a couple of stations have -- you know, when I get asked the question I answer the same way every time. There wasn't anything there that should have upset him. I told him the truth. He got upset and he's got to deal with it. He's got to believe and he says, "Hey, we're fine" and some of the stations keep -- I guess they've called him and stirred it up and, you know, we've talked. I have no problem with him being on our team next year.

Q. If you don't mind my asking, did he seek out you or did you seek out him?
TONY LA RUSSA: We both decided -- I've talked to all of our players at one time or another.

Q. The last time I talked to him about six weeks ago he said he hadn't.
TONY LA RUSSA: I've talked to him since then.

Q. He was hot when he had his thing to say and I've heard a couple interviews on the radio. He's not as hot but there's some things he hasn't backed off from certainly and I know you read it or heard about it, you got hot. I guess what I'm saying, "Where's the midpoint?"
TONY LA RUSSA: I told him that everything he heard from me was the truth. The truth is that he said his father situation was impacting his mind and his performance. He said that. So I was cognizant of that and was careful, especially in the San Diego series. There was one chance to use and I used Randy especially when -- now the next series we played Houston. We played Houston every day, the left-handed reliever unless you match up Lamb or Palmeiro you don't need a left-hand reliever. You get Berkman, you go the other way.
That's exactly what I told him. He didn't buy it. Since then I think according to what he tells me he understands it's just between his father and Houston, that's how it played out that way. All we're trying to do now, look at every place you're spending money and --

Q. He's a bargain guy now. Was there an element with him though --
TONY LA RUSSA: I'll flat tell you there is -- nothing about what happened in the season has any effect on him being a Cardinal next year, nothing.

Q. Was part of the issue with him at the end of the season about the desire to have him either get or remain in a little bit better shape than he did this year?
TONY LA RUSSA: I think we talked about -- he got to where he was struggling and one of the things was that he had gotten away from some of the stuff he had done before. So...

Q. I assume that's a point you may have made to him?
TONY LA RUSSA: I made that before. Those are issues that were okay.

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