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Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 4

Mar 10, 2010, 11:15 AM EDT

La Russa closeup.jpgSeeing as though I spent some time in the Twins’ clubhouse that morning, I figured I’d spend the postgame with St. Louis.  Helping me make this decision was the fact that’s Matthew Leach and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold are two of my favorite writers going, and I wanted to tag along and them do what they do.  Finally, given how much ink I’ve spilled over Tony La Russa in the past, I figured he might be fun to watch do the little postgame thing, so it was off to the visitors clubhouse.

La Russa was showering, so we were kept out of his office for a few minutes, and instead waited in the main area of the clubhouse. Same basic scene as the Nats the other day: boxes of pizza and lots of dudes in their underwear. A little less morose than the Nats’ clubhouse, probably because the Cardinals are a generally successful team and, unlike the Nats, realize that they will, in fact, win a game at some point soon.  Biggest takeaway while we waited: Colby Rasmus has the same laptop bag I have.

After a few minutes we were ushered into LaRussaLand. La Russa was asked what he thought about Adam Wainwright’s tough outing. He wasn’t worried, he said, stuff happens.  On a followup, one of the reporters informed La Russa that Wainwright had said earlier that his problems weren’t physical. Rather, he just wasn’t mentally prepared for the game. This got La Russa a bit pissed. He said that was “not acceptable,” and that “Adam knows better than that.”  I think he was really mad. And poor old Wainwright was gonna skate on it until the sporting press ratted him out.  Tough break.

More interesting than anything La Russa said, however, was how he said it. He’s a lawyer by training, and it shows.  He parses every word of every question to make narrow distinctions between what is being asked and what he wants to answer. If someone premises or qualifies a question, he pounces on the premise or qualification to, again, answer what he wants to answer instead of what was asked or, in some cases, to deflect the question entirely.

And it doesn’t matter if everyone knows what the reporter is truly wanting to know, which I’m sure a man as smart as La Russa can tell. It’s not some Socratic exercise in which he’s trying to get the reporter to ask the right question in as specific terms as possible. It’s a word game, not unlike the kind of stuff I used to see — and do — in depositions where the defending attorney will try anything he can to thwart the purpose of the exercise — the extraction of information — and instead just try to vamp until it’s over.

It’s not so clumsy and transparent in La Russa’s case as it is in some normal lawyer’s case. He’s a much more seasoned pro with much more experience in his particular arena — postgame interviews — than any lawyer has experience defending depositions. Indeed, his tactics are quite subtle and maybe even invisible to La Russa himself. After all, law school changes the way a person thinks, more so than he realizes, and I’m sure La Russa’s interview m.o. is so ingrained in him that, to the extent there was ever any calculation involved, it’s long been replaced by reflexes alone.

But this lawyer recognizes it. And though La Russa’s particular brand of circumlocution may ultimately have the same deflecting effect of “we just gotta take ’em one game at a time”-style cliches, it’s decidedly more hostile and, in my personal opinion, distasteful.  Though he’s probably the best manager in my lifetime, I’ve never thought that highly of Tony La Russa the man, and after observing what I observed today, I am less impressed with him than I ever was before.

The gang bang broke up and I left the clubhouse and sat by the dancing waters outside of Hammond Stadium for a spell. As I watched the traffic dissipate, I wondered about the whole process of reporters collecting ballplayer and manager quotes, whether they matter and whether there isn’t a better way to present the game of baseball to readers who thirst for information about their favorite sport, their favorite players and their favorite teams.

I have a few ideas along those lines, but they’re only half-baked at the moment.  It’s something I’m going to think about a lot in the near future, however.  By midseason the ideas will have either ceased to interest me or will have coalesced into a scathing manifesto.  I don’t think there will be any middle ground.

  1. Old Gator - Mar 10, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    Here’s an idea that may help. Let’s script a super-hit-man movie about a furtive organization of sports journalists who, realizing that despite all their efforts they’re not nearly smart enough to elicit a straight answer from the greatest manager of their lifetimes, arrange to hire an obscure blogger and agile wordsmith with a legal background whose name they don’t know and in whose presence they’ve only been a few times and didn’t notice anyway, and arrange to have him confront this manager with a question so precise that his mind would short out like Robby the Robot when Morbius ordered him to kill his Id-monster.
    As always, casting is the most difficult part. Can we get Howard Cosell to do the Edward Fox role, you think?

  2. Ron - Mar 10, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    Has your opinion of LaRussa changed for the worse, or the better, or do you even care?
    Also, if you see him again, would you ask him what part of his body he would sell in order to be able to carry 8 position players and 17 pitchers?

  3. Jonny5 - Mar 10, 2010 at 11:55 AM

    Tony La Russa is the kind of guy even his mother doesn’t like. Funny he’s compared to Lawyers for this very reason. AHEM!!! Well at least you saw the error of your ways Craig. You get a big high five for leaving the dark side.

  4. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    I don’t know that it’s any worse or better. I don’t much care for his style of play, but there’s no denying his success. I don’t much care for the lawyerly word games I observed in him and saw for years as a lawyer, but it’s just part of who he is and it obviously works for him. He’s never been my cup of tea, but I don’t hate him or anything. I guess the most I can say is that he’s a very hard man to like for a number of reasons, even if I wouldn’t have minded a bit if he managed my favorite team for years.
    And really, it’s not like the guy who has managed my team for years is all that likable himself.

  5. Kanonen80 - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    “circumlocution” – Is that when the Rabbi hooks up a car battery to his scalpel?

  6. Old Gator - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    I suspect that the “greatest manager” versus “tightest sphincter” dichotomy one may deconstruct out of Craig’s report suggests that he was up late last night reading the Tony LaRussa chapter of George Will’s Men at Work instead of a couple of unrelated books that he should have been reading. I suppose that’s OK – he still has a horrible plane ride home ahead of him in one of those little Regional Jets whose seats an anorexic needs to spray himself with WD-.40 to cram into, so he’ll get his assigned reading done eventually.
    Meanwhile, I suspect LaRussa’s lingering romance with the dark side has something to do with an infection of HeLa midichlorians he picked up in the locker room shower. Even so, it beats contracting a prion.

  7. sjp - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    You regularly use one of my favorite words, (manifest) and do so properly, which is more rare than you may think.
    Now you have cleared the second hurdle with “circumlocution”.
    For you next assignment, begin to incorporate “multifarious” into your writing….once you start to use it, you’ll be surprised how useful it is when discussion complex topics.

  8. Jonny5 - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Well Omar Minaya obviously picked up a couple of Prions, yet he seems happy, and almost likable. It must be all the fellow hispanics he eats on a daily basis since he’s not known to hang in the showers with his fellow mets. Were you aware that Africans who cannibalize the brains of their “prey” have been found to have the same condition as Omar? Oh, back on topic here… Tony Larussa is one of the most intelligent managers in the game, this is why he is so good at the smoke and mirrors type of response. And I’d agree his midochlorian levels must be high, Word has it he was seen with a small green man on his back while working out in his younger days.

  9. tjw - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    So, in summation, your “Day with the Twins” resulted in 800 words about the Twins and 1,500 words about the Cardinals. Awesome.

  10. Old Gator - Mar 10, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    That was no little green man, that was his Kuru….er, Guru. I heard he sounded exactly like Casey Stengel at the Kefauver Committee hearings.

  11. Jamie - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    Tony LaRussa was showering after the game? Did he work up a sweat skulking around the dugout, or do those uniforms just not breathe very well?

  12. Jonny5 - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    Ahh K.C. the old “Perfesser” it’s funny how being left handed shaped him into being a baseball legend, instead of a dentist as he planned. They didn’t make too many lefthanded dental tools, so he opted for the universal tool made of Ash. It was quite the twist of fate i’d say. BTW, “comes fungal” This spam blocker is just twisted!!!!

  13. Jonny5 - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    “And really, it’s not like the guy who has managed my team for years is all that likable himself.”
    Craig. Bobby is my second favorite manager right behing Charlie of course. It must be the old man thing.

  14. Old Gator - Mar 10, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    It’s funny that Casey wanted to be a dentist, because those first years of the Mutts were as close to Little Shop of Horrors as you can get in baseball, with the possible exception of the last three years of the Mutts.

  15. JRB - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    Shouldn’t this be “Day with LaRussa, Part 1”?

  16. Dan in Katonah - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    So Craig, were you tempted to blurt out: “Objection to form – you can answer,” or “only if you know”?

  17. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:33 PM

    That was totally the vibe, Dan. I thought La Russa was going to pull an “asked and answered.”

  18. michael standish - Mar 10, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    If Old Gator’s Super Hit Man movie is set in Fla., I’d like to nominate John Holmes to play the part of the python.

  19. Old Gator - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:27 PM

    It’d be set in Fort Meyers, obviously, where the pythons aren’t much of an issue yet. Anyway, John Holmes died of AIDS in 1988; see, tupping all those silicone augmented bubbelehs wasn’t all…pardon the expression…upside. Since the problem on the Gulf Coast of the…ahem…peninsula (and sometimes a sunny peninsula is just a sunny peninsula, you know?) is monitor lizards, not pythons, I had already cast John Turturro as the Nile monitor lizard and Fred Ward as the Savannah monitor lizard. That leaves casting wide open for the Salvador monitor lizard (see my guide to the monitor lizards of Fort Myers under Craig’s “Welcome to Fort Myers” blog below, before it subducts under the North American plate).
    I was thinking maybe James Cavaziel as the Salvador, especially after his epic performance in The Life of Brian.

  20. michael standish - Mar 11, 2010 at 11:09 AM

    Casting ground rules might be in order, as John Holmes isn’t much deader than Howard Cosell; depending on who directs, this may be kinda moot, though. (Harry Reems, is still around, if warm bodies are somehow required.)
    As I see it, the major casting question is who’d play George Will? But for the — ahem — sticking point mentioned above, Wally Cox would have been perfect.

  21. Old Gator - Mar 11, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    As a matter of fact, I think the bat who body doubled for Leslie Nielson in Dead and Loving It is still available to play Will’s bow tie. I think he’d do anything to get out of that horrible gig under the Congress Street Bridge in Austin.

  22. michael standish - Mar 11, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    I was thinking about some bizarro wordplay stretch involving bats, Martin Landau and chicken lollipops, but that would just drag the whole enterprise down.
    Instead, I’ll merely offer up Wallace Shawn as The Shyster.

  23. Old Gator - Mar 11, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    I hate to say this, but…Wallace Shawn, that little homunculus himself, could play Craig. Put a Braves spring training cap on him and let’s see what we’ve got.

  24. michael standish - Mar 11, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    We’d have to set the thing a few years back, but what would you say to “My Dinner With Dayton?”
    Although it would, strictly speaking, violate the Actors’ Pulse Proviso, I’d prefer Dayton Allen as Dayton Moore.
    I mean, Why not? So to speak.

  25. Dustin - Mar 11, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    I thought this was a day with the Twins – Not a day with the Cardinals playing the twins. Really disappointed, that was a crap post.

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