La Russa goes out on top

Tony La Russa reacts after the Cardinals defeated the Rangers to win the World Series at Busch...

Tony La Russa reacts after the Cardinals defeated the Rangers to win the World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Miss., Oct. 28, 2011. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:43 PM ET

TORONTO - First time I met Tony La Russa was in 1985 when he was managing the Chicago White Sox.

He didn’t like the term “winning ugly” Anaheim Angels manager Doug Rader hung on his 1983 White Sox, winners of 99 games.

There were a lot of things La Russa didn’t like over the years.

Three days after guiding the St. Louis Cardinals to an amazing World Series comeback win over the Texas Rangers, La Russa walked away from managing on Monday morning.

The first time we spend an extended period with La Russa was the day before the 1987 all-star game in Oakland.

La Russa recalled managing winter ball in San Pedro de Macrois in the Dominican Republic.

This youngster would show up early and stay late while La Russa to hit him ground balls endlessly.

“More, more, one more,” the kid would beg.

La Russa said the kid told him some day he would come to North America and play shortstop for him in the majors.

The tiny infielder who lived behind the right field fence had one leg longer than the other and walked with a limp.

Well, the little infielder had a couple of surgeries and came to North America. He was named amongst the American League all-stars behind Cal Ripken.

His name was Tony Fernandez.

Boston Red Sox manager John McNamara would manage the AL in the game, with La Russa as one of his coaches.

“So, you could say, when we play tomorrow night, that little kid from San Pedro was right about his prediction to play for me,” La Russa told us in his office.

During 1991 when the Blue Jays were playing the La Russa’s Oakland A’s regularly during the AL Championship Series, there was bad blood between the teams.

La Russa didn’t blame the Jays. No, the culprits were the Toronto media, who couldn’t write a story without making a hockey reference, who were frustrated puck writers and for all La Russa knew, skated to the SkyDome.

The legendary Montreal Gazette scribe Michael Farber once explained his relationship with manager Dick Williams as having a “nodding agreement.” “I say nodding to him, he says nodding to me.”

La Russa and I were the same from about 1991 until about 2005.

Years ago a player came to the Jays who disliked La Russa so much he asked if I wanted could join his club.

Things cooled when Larry Walker joined the Cards and they made a visit to the SkyDome in 2005.

“Someone wrote that YOU were the best position player from Canada?” La Russa said to Walker “I can name three better, Terry Puhl, Kevin Reimer and Rob Ducey.”

Puhl played 15 seasons, was an all-star in 1978 and hit 62 homers and drove in 435 runs, Reimer played six seasons, hit 52 career homers and finished with 204 RBIs, while Ducey played 14 seasons, hitting 31 homers and driving in 146 runs.

Later in his office, La Russa said that “Walker is not only the greatest Canadian, he ranks with the best position players of his era from Latin America and North America.”

This post-season I watched the Cards upset the Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers.

Only once did I see La Russa make a mistake ... going too long with starter Jaime Garcia in Game 2 against the Brewers.

Everything else? He was about perfect when it came to making pitching changes and getting results.

He was relaxed and was not condescending as he often can be.

He took all the blame for the bullpen phone foul up in Game 5 of the World Series.

After Game 6, I saw a P.R. guy from another team, friends with the player who allowed me into anti-La Russa club.

Next time you see him, tell him I’m out of the club, I said.

And now La Russa’s gone.

Like John Wayne.

Wearing his boots.


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