Tony La Russa, the manager who led the St. Louis Cardinals to one of baseball’s more unlikely championships, retired after 50 years in baseball. La Russa collaborated with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Rick Hummel to write, One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season.

“I had the opportunity to look back,” La Russa told Bill Littlefield on this week’s Only A Game. “With that reflection I really appreciated more and more just how special that team was as far as all the things that made up that championship.”

La Russa’s book details his years in the sport, his experience with championship teams, and the special philosophy he adopted for managing a team.

“You have to really personalize your relationship with each and every player to make sure their on board with the team concept. This personalizing is hard work, but the benefits are how you win a championship.”

La Russa said he didn’t miss managing until October, the heart of playoff season.

“It’s when you can literally go to the ballpark and have only one thought in mind when you make your decisions: what’s best for the team, right now, today.”

Author John Grisham, who spoke with Only A Game about his baseball novel in April, wrote the forward for One Last Strike.  In it, Grisham noted his friendship with La Russa and their mutual respect for each other’s vocation.

“We’ve developed this friendship and when we get together he wants to talk about baseball, I want to talk about books. He loves the game, he loves the Cardinals,” La Russa said.

Bill’s thoughts on One Last Strike.

The first thing you’re bound to notice about Tony La Russa’s book is that the subtitle was written by committee. Under the title, One Last Strike, you’ll find this collection of words:

Fifty Years In Baseball,
Ten And A Half Games Back, And
One Final Championship
Season

I guess the committee member who insisted on the inclusion of “Ten And A Half Games Back” must have had some clout.

Anyway, there are some good stories in the book. My favorite concerns Tony La Russa’s strategy for disciplining his players after they’ve lost a game in Detroit. He forbids them from eating the food set up for them in the clubhouse after the game, and speaks to them as follows: “This is unacceptable. Since you don’t compete during the game, I want you to have to compete to get a reservation in a really nice restaurant, because you’re not going to eat this food. You didn’t compete today, but you will compete for food tonight.”

This constitutes a look behind the curtain, doesn’t it? One wonders how much “competing” the players had to do in order to get into “a really nice restaurant,” and how many of them shrugged and ordered a perfectly acceptable meal from room service back at the excellent hotel accommodating them. Still, apparently La Russa’s strategy worked. The 2011 Cardinals went on to win the World Series.

Readers inclined to enjoy lots of play-by-play will especially like this book, and it’s certainly fair to say that if you’re going to read a hitter-by-hitter, pitch-by-pitch account of a run to a championship, the unlikely achievement of last season’s Cardinals provided some good material.