Monday, June 10, 2013

ONE LAST STRIKE by Tony La Russa

One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season is a 2012 baseball memoir by former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa with Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here, La Russa chronicles the Cardinals’ improbable run to victory in the 2011 World Series.

Crucial to the book’s readability, Tony uses a good tone: he’s self-analytical without being self-aggrandizing, quick to give credit to others and to bear the burden of mistakes himself. If you’re familiar with the man at all, you won’t feel like he’s ever really blowing his own horn. However, he’s extremely verbose in this book, and he never meets a tangent he doesn’t like. As a result, the book is at least fifty pages too long, and it doesn’t always flow well.

Several other factors keep the book from feeling well written, which is unexpected given Hummel’s name on the cover. There are a number of verbal tics repeated throughout the book – the most annoying being sentences ending in “…or whatever.” And while a lot of Tony’s insights are quite good (of course), he’s also given to citing something that happened once in a game as “proving” such-and-such baseball principle.

Yet the accounts of the games are frequently dramatic, and there are a lot of fascinating tidbits – for example, the thought process behind Tony’s handling of the Kenny Rogers pine tar incident in the 2006 Series and some of his learning experiences as manager of the White Sox and A’s. Disappointingly, though, there’s nothing new or further on the 2011 World Series Game 5 bullpen fiasco.

Tony always stuck up for his guys, and he earned a lot of respect for it. And whether you’re familiar with Tony’s history or not, it’s pretty clear who he likes and dislikes (he never comes out and says it). His disdain for the likes of Ozzie Smith and Colby Rasmus is fairly obvious, and it’s borderline embarrassing how he covers for folks like Mark McGwire (for cheating) and Ryan Franklin (for sucking). His faithfulness sometimes feels disingenuous, and there’s also the shameless mendacity of calling the 2011 club “better than average” defensively. But really, all of that is just Tony being Tony.

Though bloated and in dire need of an editor, One Last Strike is an interesting look at an important figure in Cardinals (and baseball) history and at one of the most exciting and improbable turnarounds of all time. It should appeal to both hardcore baseball fans and Cardinals fans of the more general type.