Tony La Russa has just written a book, and by all rights, it should be a fiction novel.
One year ago, his Cardinals were finishing the month of August a whopping 8 1/2 games out of the National League Central and NL Wild Card races. And that was after they had started a modest run. They had been 10 1/2 games out just a few days earlier.
No one comes back from a late hole like that to win a World Series. No one suddenly announces after the parade that his perfect ending is complete. No human writes a book the next year about what it was like inside a dream like that and puts it in the non-fiction aisle.
There is only one La Russa, though. His first memoir, titled "One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season," written with Hall of Fame Spinks Award-winning baseball scribe Rick Hummel, will be released on Sept. 25 by HarperCollins and available in the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will post three exclusive videos between now and then, based on his recent visit to the MLB.com studios for excerpt readings about the historic World Series Game 6.
"I wanted to write this book because there's a story that answers the question I got asked at the end of last season: How did your club win the World [Series] championship, especially when you had to come from so far behind?" La Russa said. "This is the first time I went back and realized everything the club went through and overcame to be the champion -- big, big difference looking back instead of looking forward."
"One Last Strike" will offer amazing insight into the journey that led to the Cardinals' 11th World Series championship. La Russa will open up about the devastating injuries, bullpen woes, crucial games and the guys who made it all possible. He will reveal how that club's character shaped its accomplishments, showing how it came together in good and bad times to become one unit that actually thrived on having the odds stacked high.
"Looking back and examining, I get a brand-new appreciation from the learning process -- all the mentors over the years," La Russa said. "And especially how the philosophy of leadership that we used -- the coaches and myself -- how that developed from its very beginning to what it became in the last 15, 16, 20 years. We treated our ballclub like a family. We didn't throw our players under the bus to make some spectacular public relations point. This is not the kind of book where I'm embarrassed when it's over to walk around and see anybody."
The third-winningest manager in Major League history, La Russa looks broadly with introspection at his entire body of work, and he explains his counterintuitive belief in process over result, present moments over statistics and team unity over individual talent. He writes candidly about his decision to retire.
Meanwhile, his replacement, Mike Matheny, is managing a Cardinals team on a mission to become MLB's first repeat champs since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000. These Cardinals are in much better shape entering September, still far out in the NL Central but in the thick of contention for one of the expanded allotment of two NL Wild Card berths.
The irony is that this book will come out and be widely read at a time when some NL club will be looking to benefit from one last night of work by La Russa. He managed the NL All-Star team to a victory on July 10 in Kansas City, meaning the league will have World Series home-field advantage -- just as his club did when it made good use of it in 2011.
"If you've ever sat at a game and wondered, 'What's La Russa thinking?' read 'One Last Strike and find out,'" said Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations and La Russa's longtime managerial contemporary, as well as his predecessor as Cardinals skipper.
Chapter 22 will be the worth the price of the book alone. It is everything you never knew about the day and night of Game 6 of the 2011 Fall Classic, as La Russa describes how he had to keep reminding the bullpen to have his players prepared -- per owner Bill DeWitt's request that day -- to come out and thank fans immediately upon any clinching Rangers moment. It is the mind of a manager revealed as he describes David Freese's home run that forced a Game 7.
"In situations like that, it's almost as if the ball has some gravitational pull on you," La Russa writes. "As it climbs, it lifts you up, body and spirit. The guys at the rail rose up on their feet, craned their necks, and raised their arms above their heads. They were uplifted and exultant, as was I, experiencing what I imagine weightlessness must be like."