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One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season Hardcover – September 25, 2012
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From the Back Cover
The team that refused to give up
their manager in his final season
A comeback that changed baseball
After thirty-three seasons managing in Major League Baseball, Tony La Russa thought he had seen it all—that is, until the 2011 Cardinals. Down ten and a half games with little more than a month to play, the Cardinals had long been ruled out as serious postseason contenders. Yet in the face of those steep odds, this team mounted one of the most dramatic and impressive comebacks in baseball history, making the playoffs on the night of the final game of the season and going on to win the World Series despite being down to their last strike—twice.
Now La Russa gives the inside story behind this astonishing comeback and his remarkable career, explaining how a team with so much against it was able to succeed on baseball's biggest stage. Opening up about the devastating injuries, the bullpen struggles, the crucial games, and the players who made it all possible, he reveals how the team's character shaped its accomplishments, demonstrating how this group came together in good times and in bad to become that rarest of things: a team that actually enjoyed it when the odds were against them.
But this story is much more than that of a single season. As La Russa, the third-winningest manager in baseball history, explains, their season was the culmination of a lifetime spent studying the game. Laying bare his often scrutinized and frequently misunderstood approach to managing, he explains his counterintuitive belief in process over result, present moments over statistics, and team unity over individual talent. Along the way he shares the stories from throughout his career that shaped his outlook—from his first days managing the Chicago White Sox to his championship years with the Oakland A's, to his triumphant tenure as St. Louis's longest-serving manager. Setting the record straight on his famously intense style, he explores the vital yet overlooked role that his personal relationships with his players have contributed to his victories, ultimately showing how, in a sport often governed by cold, hard numbers, the secret to his success has been surprisingly human.
Speaking candidly about his decision to retire, La Russa discusses the changes that he'd observed both in the game and in himself that told him, despite his success, it was time to hang up his spikes. The end result is a passionate, insightful, and remarkable look at our national pastime that takes you behind the scenes of the comeback that no one thought possible and inside the mind of one of the game's greatest managers.
About the Author
Tony La Russa managed the St. Louis Cardinals from 1996 to 2011, as well as the Oakland A's and the Chicago White Sox. He has three World Series wins, six league championships, and five Manager of the Year awards, and is ranked third in all-time major league wins. He and his wife, Elaine, founded the Tony La Russa Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, California. They have two daughters, Bianca and Devon.
Rick Hummel has covered baseball for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for forty years. A former president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, he has received numerous awards for his writing and has been honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
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Baseball fans everywhere know what happened. La Russa tells us he ignored the sites as he "was more concerned with the basics of maintaining our hard-earned self-respect and respect from others...."
From most, this could sound like just one of many cliches. With superb writing from Hall of Fame sportswriter Rick Hummel, nothing in this wonderful book sounds trite. To the contrary, the stories are incredibly informative and inspiring--and timeless in nature.
La Russa opens with the end of a disappointing 2010. He almost retired. When player-leaders came up to him and said things had gotten too loose in clubhouse, La Russa felt he had lost his ability to instill constant "effort and execution"--the "Cardinal way." He had won World Series in both leagues and already was a certain Hall of Famer. But always, he was a fierce competitor. he couldn't depart after a season like 2010. He would leave after one more best shot.
He decides early on that it will be his final season and tells only his family and the owners. He even holds off telling his closest confidant, Dave Duncan, long-time chief aide, as he worries about Mrs. Duncan's illness.
His secret compartmentalized, from spring training through perhaps the most thrilling World Series ever, La Russa leads and motivates. Thanks to fresh writing, good memory (it helps that La Russa is so bright!) and insightful dialogue, the book reads smooth as silk. Throughout, the writers flash back to La Russa's trials and tribulations as a player and young manager. Experience truly matters. So does a thorough understanding of human nature; what motivates people.
One doesn't have to be a Cardinals or La Russa fan to enjoy this book immensely. The values, skills, acquired wisdom, travails and triumphs, transcend baseball and offer many life lessons. It doesn't pretend to be a great book on pure skills and training (see George Will's terrific "Men At Work"); it's not a prize-winning writer's enchanting take on a snapshot of great baseball (see David Halberstam's "Summer of '49" and "October 1964"); not as satisfying microscopically as Buzz Bissinger's "Three Nights in August" (highly recommend one read the latter for more on La Russa and "the Cardinal way"); or, as revelatory (for the times) as "Ball Four."
Instead, La Russa and Hummel show us an extraordinary life in baseball. On its own merits, this book deserves a spot among those other greats noted above.
...another big plus, at least in the hard-cover: lots of good color photos
Once upon a time, the manager was king. He made the decisions. He was the general. The team was his soldiers. His coaches were his trusted lieutenants.
The days of the authoritarian baseball manager are gone. Blame it on sabremetrics. Blame it on free agency and the big business of baseball. No longer do billionaires give complete control of their millionaires to a single manager. More than ever, baseball has become a team sport, from the general manager down to the bat boy.
Tony LaRussa was a game changer that brought baseball into a new age. He was the last of the influential captains but also the first of the highly intelligent diamond strategists. He was the link between the old school and the new school.
One Last Strike tells two amazing stories simultaneously. On the surface, LaRussa recalls the improbable season (and post season) of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. On a deeper level, LaRussa reflects back on his amazing journey through baseball from a mediocre player to a naïve skipper to a humble veteran manager.
This is an amazing book written by a true baseball man. Managing a team is not science, it is an art. Keeping 25 prized athletes focused for 162 games is no easy task, but Tony LaRussa did it with such ease and determination. If you are interested in the inner workings of a Hall of Fame manager’s brain, then this is the perfect book for you.