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September 4, 1998

Tony La Russa


Q. Would you talk with the streak he's been on recently?
TONY La RUSSA: It's very similar to others that he's had this season, almost started from Spring Training, and he's worked so hard to get his stroke right, and he's like any good hitter, you know, if he sees the ball well, and you see a guy hitting the ball hard, it's dramatic in his case, the last road trip we took to Chicago and New York, Pittsburg, he's had streaks like this before, where he just hit the ball hard.

Q. What was wrong before that, when he hit 2 in 18 games?
TONY La RUSSA: Nothing. I think a combination of good pitching. He was off ‑‑ I've always enjoyed his explanation, if you look at where the ball is missing he said he's a millimeter off at times. And ‑‑ I don't know, I'll go back and check it, two or three weeks where it wasn't real competitive. Guys were taking the bat out of his hands. It's a combination of all of that.

Q. As the manager this weekend, do you approach the series differently, knowing his streak is on the line, knowing history is on the line?
TONY La RUSSA: Well, I think you try to do it all. You try to appreciate the moment. That's part of the fun, but you take your cue from Mark, the way he started getting 1 in 59, he's got a routine that he gets into. We're not doing anything special for him or his ball club. That's the beauty of establishing a routine, but that's really the best comfort factor for a guy that's doing something individual. There are certain times the line‑up is posted, the hitting groups will be up there, there's not much different.

Q. Would you do anything different, have him hit to the right side, move the runner over, rather than taking his swing?
TONY La RUSSA: That's a good question. Maybe a couple of answers there, No. 1, when he first started in Oakland, we had no better fundamental hitter than Mark McGwire. He would get the ball over to second, but he'd get a base hit doing it. Hit and run, as good or better than anybody on our club, but as he's gotten more and more dangerous. It's just not real good strategy, because when you ask him to hit the ball to the right side, that may be the time to hit the pitcher with two runs on board.
I tell you what I believe, what I've learned, what I was taught, and it was repeated, I don't think it could be more eloquent, there's an article in Bernie's column where Philipe Alou was quoted: And that's the Bible that we all grow up, it's the integrity of the game, and you don't do anything to violate it. The answer to your question, is, I'm going to follow that religiously. And we want to win this game, we're going to try to finish 0 and 500, it would mean a lot of Mark McGwire. If it's the 9th inning and the guy got on second base, nobody on base ahead of him, Scott Sullivan or Graves is pitching, and I felt comfortable that they would let Ray ‑‑ I would ‑‑ at the bottom of my gut he might bet a base hit or a two‑run homer to right field. But the integrity is important, not just to Mark, but that's the way we play. I couldn't applaud Philipe more for what he said today, it was perfect.

Q. Will the Reds pitch to him?
TONY La RUSSA: I really believe based on what they did in Wrigley field, I think I saw where Sammy had four bats, I think they would approach Mark the same way. I'm anticipating they will compete against him.

Q. With Mark so close to history, how do you as a baseball fan feel, do you anticipate something special happening?
TONY La RUSSA: Well, I think we felt all along that this guy crusade's been on, he's responded to every challenge, but what he did during the last games where he's really just ‑‑ he always talked about getting 50 September 1st, and September 4 you've got 59, I think we all ‑‑ it's similar to going to the ballpark for the first time, which is not ‑‑ although technically he could hit three, but when you're in tight play, and your magic number gets to one or two, and you go to park that day, and that is different. It's similar for our club. The history is ‑‑ it's just out there. But I do believe, just like that magic number ‑‑ you should never underestimate the difficulty of what he's doing, and it's still possible that he couldn't do it. If they challenge him he will do it.

Q. Talking about the Reds walking him, how do you feel in the previous two series when that's basically all they did?
TONY La RUSSA: Pretty much what I feel ‑‑ I don't mind if the media second guesses my strategy, but I don't like the other club ‑‑ I think most managers say you take care of your club, I'll take care of mine. You can't pretend to get into their heads. I believe that late in the game, and he's dangerous and they want to take the bat out of his hand, that's legitimate. There's a couple games he got intentional walks. I think there's times against teams that it was done early and often and I didn't think that was very competitive. But the late game walk, to win the game, that's part of the integrity of the game.

Q. What do you think about all the attention this baseball event is getting?
TONY La RUSSA: Well, I can totally understand it. I totally agree with it, any of us who have been with the Cardinals who have been able to watch it every day I think appreciate that everybody, wherever they are that's interested, they're right on time, this is something phenomenal in our lifetime, and I think I speak, for being in the game for a while, it would be like if Rose had gone beyond 44, you threaten Joe DiMaggio 66 and, you get 53, you have at least this going for you, maybe more. I think this is real legitimate and the interest is well deserved and I hope to he can they both take their best shot and whatever happens, happens. But they both deserve to be very special.

Q. Are you amazed that one guy can do such a difficult feat under so much pressure?
TONY La RUSSA: Yeah, there's a word for what I think, and I can't figure out what it is, but it goes way beyond amazed. This guy came into ‑‑ he hit 52. Last year's he's a part of a big trade. He comes in the National League set up to fail, changing leagues, new pitchers, hits 24. What does it that do to the expectations? We had our winter warm‑up in January, and the fans were camping out at 5:00 in the morning for his autograph because of Spring Training, and this is what I don't think everybody appreciates about what he's gone through. I think Sammy Sosa is among the greatest, but Mark, every day since Spring Training started has been facing this. And he had a great spring. He had a great first week at home. He's had a great April, May, June, July. The way he keeps coming through. It's beyond description except you see him stand there in the dugout getting ready to go on deck, and you check him out, I try to steal a glance, and you see the power that's emanating from his mind. I can see it rippling, in fact. I don't look at his biceps; I look at his mind. It's just going. So he goes to bat like he did in Florida. I mean, there's a word for it, I can't come up with it.

Q. As a footnote to that point, what can you tell Mark going into this series as I manager?
TONY La RUSSA: We're 500, 500, that tells you about my managerial skills. Well, I said here recently a little bit, because I think it's ‑‑ I don't want anybody jumping on his band wagon and claiming to do more than anybody's done. I know our organization ‑‑ by the way, it's been dedicated to all our players. We're trying to finish with 500, and Brian Jordan finishes a great year. But for Mark, owners, training staff, doctors, coaching staff, we're all really trying to help give him his bet shot. You know what that all equals when you put it all today? It's that millimeter he's talking about. This guy is doing it almost by himself. He's got tremendous support, but he doesn't need it. He's a self‑contained phenomenon.

Q. How does this experience compare to some of the World Series and playoff runs you've had?
TONY La RUSSA: It's totally different. When you run into the post‑season, as a team you have the great vibes, clubhouse, manager, coaches, that's a team thing, and that's definitely apples and oranges. What I compare this to is like Mark and I were talking about on that road trip, the good fortune I've had over the years to see individuals. I've been so lucky it's ridiculous. This is what this is. But with no disrespect, this is bigger by far, because of what I tried to describe before. This man came to Spring Training with everybody saying, "You can do this. Can you do this," and he just goes out there and does it. This is the biggest thing, I think any of us have been associated with on an individual basis, and it's really thrilling. But we said the other day, he hit one that was so important, and the first thing we said in the dugout, I just hope we can enjoy it, because at the time he hit the big one, we lose, you can't come in the clubhouse as a losing team and celebrate. It's just not right. It's integrity. It's a shame we haven't had a better season, but nothing can take away what this man is doing.

Q. With these last few series with Sammy Sosa, did you see both of them start relaxing and enjoying it a little bit more?
TONY La RUSSA: Well, I think that ‑‑ here again the guy that would answer that better is Sammy and Mark, just from observing, I think Sammy has enjoyed himself prior to, during and after. He's having a great year; he's enjoying it. I think Mark, contrary to what comes out once in a while, he's really ‑‑ you see him in the clubhouse. He's had a real solid year as far as feeling good about what's happening.
I think the biggest thing that's happened with Mark McGwire is getting No. 50 in New York. I think that's the single thing I've seen him be different about in a recognizable way. After he hit that one, I believe he could stand up to anybody and say I've had a good year. Before that somebody said you had a great start but failed, but I think that was, to me ‑‑ I think when you talk about Sammy, I will give you one little quick thing. I was standing next to him in the dugout in one of those Wrigley games when Sammy ran out and he looked at me and commented ‑‑ he paid homage to the fans, he totally liked that. I think you have to admire Sammy, and it's a mutual admiration society.

Q. Is it near coincidence that Mark has homer'd often on the same day, Sammy has after he has, or is there a real competition going on?
TONY La RUSSA: Well, I've learned that this guy is wonderfully honest, and he says he's just going out there ‑‑ what does he say, get a good picture of the drive, and put a good swing on it. I think it's coincidental. I also think it's a real healthy competition, and maybe he has picked up a spark somewhere. It would be much better for Player A if there's B and C having big years, because I think it adds to what you can do. But as far as inspiration, I mentioned the other day, I'm going to take every opportunity to say it, because he's so shy about it. I thought Doug Rader coming to Florida before the Tuesday game was some of the best inspiration that Mark has had here in the last half of the season.

Q. Considering how long you've been with Mark, how much more special is this for you?
TONY La RUSSA: I mostly don't consider me. I don't look at it and say this is special for me. I feel like any of us with the Cardinals have really been privileged because we've seen it, day one in Spring Training, like right now he was supposed to be out first. He's in the gym, working out. That's why I'm here first. I figure the fans, we've just been luckier than others, because we get to see it every day. I think personally I would admit to ‑‑ I get some goose pimples and quite a few rushes because I've seen where he started. I've seen some of the bumps in the road and I've seen the strength of the man, and I said when he first came here, when I was asked, I said he's a better person than a player. And I stand by that. So I'm really, really pleased that a really good person has got a chance to do something that no one will ever forget.

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