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December 8, 2010

Tony La Russa


Q. From your perspective, as someone who has seen a lot of seasons, what are the pluses and minuses of a one-game tiebreaker in playoffs versus best of three and different formats being considered?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, I know that officially the best comments are going to come from the commissioner's office. So it's not official, but just -- just an opinion, I think any opinion a fan would have is what I would say. You just compare the excitement of one game versus two out of three, which is a different test of which team should go forward.
At the same time, you have one game is one and out, and the other three you start worrying about adding games to the postseason.
So that is the discussion now.

Q. Does the test in your mind depend on what type of team you have or is there a better test?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, you have a lot of tailor made -- if you think you've got a club that's better over seven games and you get to the Division Series, you don't say best of seven because I like that better. Whatever the rules say, you play it. If you're good enough, you can win whatever challenge it is.

Q. How would you characterize the discussions today here in the winter meetings in terms of getting something done?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, I think our front office and the resources and the aggressiveness that Bill DeWitt and our ownership expressed coming in meant that Mo's done a really good job of attacking early. We made some aggressive moves prior to coming here, and I think the way it's turning out, that was the very smart way to go.
So now we're fine tuning, and you know, busy at that. It's kept us out of -- we have our starting pitcher. We've got two position players, left-hand relievers. So we've done a lot of work early, and I think that was really smart. It's really helped our club.

Q. You guys have been -- you and Mo have both been very up front about the fact that you all are shopping (indiscernible) and listening to what's out there. Is there a potential downside there either as far as your bargaining position with other clubs in a deal or if he is back, where that kind of position that puts the player in or puts the team in with the player?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, I'd ask you first, how does that affect our bargaining with another club? I mean, he's available. You either see he fits your club and you offer value so it doesn't make any difference. We're not going to release him.
I always get a little bit concerned about the emphasis that fans or the media has about a player's opinion. I'll tell you, we're as concerned with each and every player, and we care for each and every player. But I heard this today there was one interview about some player and what his perception was going to be if he's this or that. First of all, this is a team sport. If you play one of the team sports, if you've got your head on straight, if your representatives are talking to you correctly, if your family is keeping their -- you know, they're caring about you doing the best they can for you, you're part of a team and an organization. The organization has an obligation to make the best team. You just can't cater to one guy.
I worry about that. You care about things like that, but you don't change your decision. I mean, it's up to the player to understand the organization or the team's responsibility to put together the best team.
In Brendan's case, I think he'd prefer to be an everyday player, but if he's with us next year, I think he loves the Cardinals and he'll make the adjustment. Just handle it.

Q. When you get a guy like Berkman and you bring back Freese and projecting both as starting players, I think everybody is familiar with their recent health issues. To what extent do you think it presents a risk, a gamble, a dice roll there to go all in on both of those guys in the same lineup?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, the attitude I think we have, you take a guy that's had a history of health and you recognize what happens in a six-month season, 162 games, you're going to try to put a roster together to protect the guy that's been healthy his whole career.
So because Lance has had a problem year or David had a couple years where his playing time was disrupted, it's the same principle. You try to get as deep as you can, because you're going to have issues, injuries, slumps, you're going to have issues. The deeper you are at the end, the more games you win.
We're really excited and optimistic about both of those guys. David, we're keeping track of him. We watch him work out. We see the progress he's making, and I think he'll be a really good player in the season. I think there may be times we need a break and we need to have protection for it. Same thing with Berkman. He's in shape.

Q. I think most people's opinion was that depth became a big issue for you all at times last year. What I'm getting at is do you feel you have that safety net this year where you can compensate for something that would go wrong with guys like those?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, one of the things and one reason we wanted Lance was it deepens our lineup. If somebody is missing a game or two you've got that extra depth. The other thing we have because of the way last year went, we have young players like Jay and Craig, Tyler Greene, these guys all got significant playing time. They're better suited to be insurance , if they don't win a regular job. We're in better shape than we were before.

Q. So you're in a position now where maybe you can trust guys like that as opposed to a Flip or a Miles or a Winn this year?
TONY LARUSSA: We'll see. I mean, I just talked to Allen Craig the other day. There's probably a lot to be said. We really believe this guy's going to be a major producer at the big league level as his career develops. So if he's a bench player like he was last year, you've got to gauge how much bench time he's got.
It's probably in our best interest, I shouldn't make a decision, but you want to at least keep an open mind as to whether he should be getting at-bats in Triple-A rather than sitting around. If that's the case, then you want a veteran for that. But the thing we're trying to do is create enough at-bats for a guy like Allen to where he's, you know, he's contributing, because he's ready to play in the big leagues as long as he plays.

Q. To what extent is third base a factor in getting him those at-bats?
TONY LARUSSA: That's an important factor. What we've discussed as an organization, what I've talked to Allen about, he proved last year he could play in the outfield. So last year he took very little work at third base, took a lot of work in the outfield. It's going to be the opposite this year. He's going to get enough outfield times where he keeps reading balls. He's going to get a lot of work at third base because I think even if -- we're assuming David's going to be fine. But probably David should not push it. There's playing time for Allen, so that's a good question. He's going to get more work at third base.

Q. You think Berkman's an everyday player against left-handers?
TONY LARUSSA: I think he's an everyday player against everybody. You know, there were a couple of years there where his numbers were down. Last year's -- you know, he can hit, he can just plain flat hit, so --

Q. Is there a parallel to be drawn to a full year? You all had Walker. As far as protecting a guy, I know the season plays out the way it plays out, but do you anticipate him being a guy that you have to be extra pro-active in getting him days?
TONY LARUSSA: I'd hate to go in -- I think it would be a mistake to go in assuming that every third game or every week he'll get a day off. I think what you do is you keep an open mind.
It's very consistent with the philosophy that I have, we have, some people like it, some people don't. You keep the guys fresh over the first four months, so the last two months they have some gas left and they can play more. So I just think you go in there with an open mind.
The better Lance feels, the more he plays. If he starts to get a little fatigued, you give him a break to stay ahead of it.

Q. How do you look at left field/right field? Do you think that will play out in spring training?
TONY LARUSSA: Basically, when we first got him, Matt being the great teammate that said during July if there was ever help in a left fielder, he would move to right in a minute. So I repeated that.
But since then, talked to Lance. Lance has played more right field than he's played anything. So I think our plan is to go into spring training with Matt playing left and Lance working in right.

Q. Tony, what do you expect from Mather if he stays healthy? Would it surprise you if he goes over and has success in Atlanta?
TONY LARUSSA: Absolutely not. I mean, two years ago when he was up and coming, he is a baseball player, which I know everybody appreciates the Braves understanding a real player. He runs the bases great, very versatile defensively. Not afraid to take a big at-bat. He just got beat up there with his wrist and his back, and he'll be a year farther along. That wouldn't surprise me at all. If he's healthy, he's a player.

Q. Is it important for you guys to get Albert's extension resolved before the season or is it okay to put it off until after?
TONY LARUSSA: You know there's only so much time before we start spring training. I mean, I know Albert well enough that once he gets into spring training, he doesn't like distractions. I just know where the heart and heads of both the team and the player, they want it to work out. They'll work at it, and we'll see what happens. Once we get ready officially for 2011, Albert's the strongest between the years that you can find and nothing's going to get in his way.

Q. So you think before spring training or after the season?
TONY LARUSSA: I just know once spring training starts, Albert doesn't get distracted by anything.

Q. Can you put into words what Albert Pujols means to your franchise?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, what I've tried to explain to our fans because they're very knowledgeable, but they may miss a day or two and there are some of us that don't, and I mean this literally, those of us that watch him on a daily basis, anybody that works with the big league club in our organization never, ever have a day where you don't appreciate the blessing of Albert.
What I've tried to explain to our fans so they can really appreciate him because you get to see it really up close, in this day and age there are so many distractions, Albert has kept it so old-fashionedly right. He goes out there, he plays the game for his team to win: Defense, base running, hitting. There isn't anything about his game where he chases stats.
At the end of the day he looks, oh, I was 2 for 4 with two RBIs. He doesn't go out there looking for this or that. The other thing that is amazing about him, and I say amazing because he's become as big a star as we have in the game, the type of teammate he is. I've literally many times -- well, not too many times because he doesn't have an 0 for 4, but at the time he's got an 0 for 4, close game, he's on the top step cheering for his teammates. He's not saying oh, I'm having a bad day.
You come to spring training throughout the season, if you're a young player and you want to associate with Albert and get his help, I come to the ballpark 7:30, I'm in the cage. We'll work together. He's so open and he's just perfect. That's my opinion. He's perfect. Off the field as well.

Q. Is there something that you have to do or the front office has to do so that -- you talk about distractions, so that the talk of the extension does not become pervasive or the gamesmanship doesn't become involved and what you try to accomplish?
TONY LARUSSA: I think each side is just going to keep it private. I was taken by Derek Jeter's comments. The publicity that surrounded it was uncomfortable for him, upset him. And Albert is a lot like that, almost exactly. They're private guys who negotiations are something to be had and they don't want that to be news. I mean, it is going to be news, Derek Jeter signing, Albert Pujols.
But there is a privacy between the parties that I'm sure is going to be respected. When you get to spring training, if he hasn't signed, all you've got to do is say I ain't going to talk about it. He says I'm not going to talk about it, I say ain't, he says not (laughing). It's America. Just don't talk about it.

Q. Has Albert reached the stage where he is to the Cardinals at this point what Stan Musial was in his day?
TONY LARUSSA: Almost. I tell you, I just thought about this recently, and I'm sure it's been probably mentioned by people around our club, but I hadn't seen it. There's been whatever year it was, two or three, whatever years ago, he became El Hombre, right. Like Stan the Man. And Albert's the one that said please don't call me that and he was saying that out of respect for Stan.

Q. Really? He specifically said that?
TONY LARUSSA: Oh, absolutely. He doesn't like you to call him El Hombre, because Stan is the man. And he's not Stan the Man. He's Albert. That to me is classic. Albert has got his priorities right. He's got the sense of perspective on history. He knows Stan. And Albert's had ten years; Stan had 22 or something, you know. So he's not Stan yet. He's on his way though. And he's in conversation with the great ones.

Q. Your stance on him and how much of that is a purely baseball decision, and how much of that for a lack of a better term is chemistry and make-up?
TONY LARUSSA: Well, I think on the chemistry side, there are two answers. One, is would he accept a utility job, which any guy who wants to play regularly has that issue. I don't know. I just wouldn't worry about it if he's with us, because just deal with it. The other one is he's come a long way since I can remember our first spring together. I mean, he was clueless. You know, he didn't know how to act. He didn't know what shoes to wear for groundballs. Didn't know how important time was. The manager stood up and said hey, the rules are be on time and break his heart. He wasn't sure that was literally true.
Since then he's grown up a lot. He's had a lot of our players mentor him. But he's still -- you know, he's still a very personable guy and he's got a lot of energy. He's still learning that there is a time to be expressive and animated, and there is a time to kind of make sure you breathe and back off a little bit. So I think he's made so much progress. I don't think the chemistry side is a reason.
The reason that Ryan Theriot was traded for is we have a chance to win, and Brendan because of his year opened the door. I think it's irresponsible as an organization to go into the group next year if you have a chance to improve at that position and hope that Brendan got back, so now we don't have to hope. We've got Ryan, and we'll see what happens with Brendan.

Q. I think you probably heard from, if nothing else, fans that you did win games with him as your shortstop the big part of '09. And I guess the census is the organization is throwing the towel in on him, however you want to characterize it. I just didn't know to what extent you were kind of going the other way with him was reflective of performance issues versus make-up issues.
TONY LARUSSA: No, I mean, who has been more complimentary about what he can do as a player? I mean, he defends as well as anybody. When he's got his game together -- I said it before, little bit tongue and cheek. You can take the third baseman and not play him, play him at short left or something, and let Brendan cover from third to second. He's a dynamic defensive player, but his consistency last year was an issue.
As an organization, which I agree with, going into 2011 with a chance that we have to win and rolling the dice that Brendan would get his game back together whether offensively or a combination is not smart. So we got Ryan Theriot. Ryan T. we've still got, so I know we have some depth there.
And Mo's been fielding calls, and I don't know if there's a deal or not.

Q. What is the benefit of you have your starting rotation and pitching coach in place probably for two years. You've talked about not wanting to be too rigid from year to year, having some flexibility in there. Is there a benefit to having the five guys that you're not only going into 2011 with, but likely 2012?
TONY LARUSSA: I think there is a huge plus. If you list all the things that a coaching staff should do to get wins out of a club, at the top of the list is recognize what guys can do and where they struggle so you can put guys in the right place to succeed, right? Well, one of the most troublesome things when you get a player for the first sometime is that learning process. When you've been around and been together and stay together you can do an even better job of focusing on their strengths and trying to improve where they have some problems or try to play away from them. So it's a big plus for us.

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