Recent memory might point to 2010, when Tony La Russa finally convinced Mark McGwire back into the game of baseball but it was actually 23 years earlier that the former manager first showed his faith in the then young slugger.
“He was the one who believed in me in 1987,” remembered McGwire in a sit-down conversation last week while the Los Angeles Dodgers were at Busch Stadium. “I was the last guy to make the ball club in 1987. I wasn’t supposed to be there, I was supposed to be in Triple-A all year. He believed in me. And then I thank him for bringing me back in the game in 2010, to do deal with all I had to deal with to get back into the game. He knew how much I loved the game of baseball. He knew how much I learned in the game of baseball. Like he always tells everybody ‘I don’t hire friends, I hire people that are qualified’. I had to learn how to coach though too. He was a great sounding board and I’ve taken so many points that he’s given to me about how to coach. He’s like my second father–what can I say? I learned so much from him. I’m very grateful for everything that he’s given me.”
McGwire has the distinction of not only playing for La Russa in both Oakland and St. Louis–but also coaching for the Hall of Famer. And it was during that time–in the dugout and talking strategy over many a post-game dinner that Mark gained a full appreciation for what La Russa brought as a skipper.
“I didn’t really realize and understand what he was like as a manager until I got to coach with him,” said McGwire. “When you’re a player, you’re all about playing. We understood how well-prepared he was. We all understood how he got the best out of everybody on the ball club, but it wasn’t until I got to be a coach and stand behind him–watch, listen, understand how well-prepared he was, how he didn’t let anything get by him. And if something did get by him, it wouldn’t get by him again. Just so intelligent. The strategy during a game–just to watch what he does, he’s always thinking ahead instead of thinking about in that moment. He already knew what that moment was all about, but he was thinking ahead two, three, four hitters ahead or innings.”
It was that passion and drive that McGwire knew wouldn’t allow La Russa to remain away from the game long after he retired as a manager in 2011–but he did understand Tony feeling the time was right for a change.
“You could tell he was at peace,” recalled McGwire. “He didn’t tell people he was going to retire but you just sort of assumed in just the way he was going about things. He was such at peace at things. It was so ironic how the year ended–we’re 9.5 games out with what, three weeks left and end up getting in as a Wild Card team and running the table. Down to our last strike twice in the World Series and end up winning the World Series. What a great way of going out for him as a manager.”
Tony La Russa will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this Sunday, July 27th in a ceremony beginning at 12:30pm CT.
photo credit: Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE