All-star emotions run high for La Russa

National League manager Tony La Russa in the dugout prior to the MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman...

National League manager Tony La Russa in the dugout prior to the MLB All-Star Game at Kauffman STadium in Kansas City, Miss., July 10, 2012. (JEFF HAYNES/Reuters)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:49 PM ET

KANSAS CITY - There were plenty of chills before, during and after the American League was whomped 8-0 at the 83rd all-star game Tuesday night at Royals Stadium.

Chipper Jones, playing in his final season, gave an emotional pre-game speech to his National League teammates, hometown K.C. Royal Billy Butler was welcomed with an extended ovation and Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout was on the listening end of a conversation with NL manager Tony La Russa.

La Russa recently had lunch with his former first baseman, Albert Pujols, now of the Angels.

“Albert told me Trout was the best young player he’s ever seen,” said La Russa, who always called Pujols the best he’d ever managed.

So, La Russa’s best-ever was calling someone else the best young player ever.

A baseball lifer, La Russa, 67, who retired after his St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series, had to pass on the compliment to the 20-year-old Trout.

“I told him he had a big fan in the first baseman,” said La Russa.

Trout later told reporters he had chills hearing the praise, calling it the highlight of his career.

“It must have meant a lot to the kid ... coming from you,” said one of the four scribes in La Russa’s office long after the final pitch.

“Ah, he probably doesn’t even know who I am,” said La Russa. “He knows who Albert is.”

La Russa sat back in his office chair, reminiscing how he enjoyed the final six outs of the all-star win.

The only players in the clubhouse were Chipper Jones, who looked like he didn’t want to leave, and MVP Melky Cabrera, still in uniform after making the interview rounds.

As the manager’s cell phone beeped at a post-season pace of incoming messages, a ball sat on La Russa’s desk. Jay Bruce caught the final out of the game and had given it to La Russa.

“That was touching. I didn’t ask for it. It’s a keepsake,” La Russa said. “The most under-publicized part of 30 years of managing is the relationships on our teams. Chicago, Oakland or St. Louis, I have a wonderful relationship with over 95% of the guys I’ve managed. Now, it’s over. I’m out of it. I can talk about it.

”The best part of managing are memories and friendships, moreso than wins.”

With the third most career wins by a manager (2,728), La Russa is headed to Cooperstown in a few years.

Not bad for a guy Chicago White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray used to say was a bad player and was hired in 1979 only because team management couldn’t “afford a real manager.”

“Harry used to say that — on the air,” said La Russa, who took over for Don Kessinger for the final 54 games of the season. “Harry was right, I was a bad player.”

La Russa, who played 132 games in the majors over six seasons with Kansas City, Oakland, Atlanta and the Cubs, asked Jones, a 19-year veteran, to speak to the team and he did for almost three minutes, closing with: “I am not going out losing my last one.”

The NL scored five times in the first.

“Like we scored five in the first the final night of the season last year against Houston,” La Russa said. “We knew with Chris Carpenter we would win. We didn’t know Atlanta would lose and we’d win the wild card.”

There was some NL bravado, as in 1987 when Tim Raines said after his game-winning triple in extras: “No way we’re losing to a bunch of minor-leaguers.”

Ryan Braun rounded the bases and yelled something like: “Try to throw me out, if you can” to Derek Jeter on a triple.

As Cabrera rounded second on his two-run homer, he extended his hand to former teammate and pal Robinson Cano. Cano declined.

All of which meant for an enjoyable, relaxing finish for La Russa.

“With six outs to go, I was able to talk to (pitching coach) Dave Duncan, my coaches, look around, savour the moment,” said La Russa, who brought in Craig Kimbrel for the eighth. “After that first pitch, I knew they weren’t scoring in the eighth.”

And the AL didn’t score all night.

“Very rarely are you not holding on to something with six outs to go,” La Russa said. “I’ve managed some all-star games, coached others. This was the best.”

Trout would say the same.


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