Former Major League Baseball Manager Tony La Russa signs copies of his book "One Last Strike" at Anderson's book store in downtown Naperville on Monday, October 1st, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 4, 2012 6:09AM
The 2012 Chicago White Sox have broken hearts; the team, which led the American League Central Division throughout most of the summer and up to the last week of the regular season, appears to have fallen apart in the final days. But a former White Sox manager faced far more serious odds of winning a title last season and turned adversity into a legendary comeback that will be talked about for years.
Anderson’s Bookshop welcomed former St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa Monday night, who appeared in downtown Naperville to promote his new book, “One Last Strike.” The book looks not only at La Russa’s improbable World Series victory in 2011 but also his 33 years of managing in baseball and some of the secrets to his success.
La Russa spoke before the autograph session and said that building relationships with each of his players has been one of the keys to his success.
“A lot of coaches and managers that know a great deal about the game go up and approach a young player and say, ‘We’re going to hit or pitch like this and that,’ and the player just looks and thinks, ‘Oh, it’s just the manager talking’ and they tune it out,” La Russa said. “Our approach was to try to get to know each player. We try to establish a relationship with each guy.”
La Russa was greeted by a crowd of about 250 people who first sang happy birthday to the baseball legend in light of his 68th birthday this Thursday. Fans queued up to the usual autograph table, which included the World Series rings La Russa has collected over the years.
“I grew up in central Illinois and have been a Cardinals’ fan since I was a little kid,” said Christy Eyre of Clarendon Hills. “I’ve always liked Tony and his analytical approach. He won the World Series in 2006 on my birthday, which was the greatest present ever.”
Cardinal Red was indeed the color of the night as fans streamed in with jerseys, hats, T-shirts and more all sporting the St. Louis logos. One fan, Will LaChine, 44, of Joliet, wore an Oakland A’s jersey with letters proclaiming “La Russa” on the back.
“I had a buddy in the apparel business, and he got me a great deal on this jersey and offered to put some letters on it for me,” LaChine said. “I was thinking about getting a player, but I’ve always been a big fan of Tony’s and have followed his career. Tony is my man. I love the way he manages because he’s old school and he knows how to handle the players.”
Brian Damery, 34, of Bolingbrook said he has been at Cardinal openers the last six or seven years and that for him, “La Russa is a baseball guy who knows the game.”
“Tony knows the game and he has always worked hard,” Damery said. “He does what it takes.”
Some fans admitted they became fans of the Cardinals and La Russa by default. Aurora’s Corey Worden said his father lived in Oklahoma and that the only two stations available back then were KMOX out of St. Louis and WGN from Chicago.
“My dad listened to the Cardinals back in the 1950s and ’60s, and he passed his love for them onto me, just as I’m doing now for my son,” Worden said. “I’m surprised things worked out so well, because some of us thought the moves La Russa made were crazy.”
Fred Straub, 68, of Naperville said he has been a Cardinal fan “since the Harry Caray days” and was on hand to witness the seventh and final game of the World Series last year when the Cardinals won it all. La Russa, he said, “has a fantastic baseball mind.”
“Tony thinks way ahead in the game and is very professional at what he does,” Straub said. “Fans may have second guessed him, which of course happens to a lot of managers, but in the end he has proven he was right. I hope he manages somewhere else someday. There are rumors he might replace Jim Leyland eventually in Detroit.”