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Monday, May 11, 2009

La Russa is must-see TV

La Russa is must-see TV

By Bernie Miklasz

After the Cardinals lost to the Reds on Friday night, it was time for another episode of Tony TV.

If you were watching the game on Fox Sports Midwest, and you're a fan who cares about strategy, then you probably were wondering why Joe Thurston tried to steal second base in the ninth inning.

The Cardinals were down by two runs. The tying run was at the plate. Thurston was thrown out, and a potential rally was doused. The Reds held on for a 6-4 victory.

Did Thurston run on his own, or did manager Tony La Russa order the steal attempt?

Natural questions. Joe Strauss, covering the contest for the Post-Dispatch, asked the question. And as always, the reporter-manager exchange was carried by Fox Sports Midwest.

La Russa clearly didn't like the question. He was curt and irritated, but he did provide an answer. And Strauss used it in his game story. And from that, readers were able to determine what had happened on the Thurston play.

All in all, no big deal.

But I knew what was coming.

There is always a strong reaction to Tony TV.

Sure enough, the e-mails came flying in.

Here's one: "When are you cowards going to stand up to La Russa?"

And here's another: "Why don't you guys leave La Russa alone after he loses a tough game? Nobody cares about your dumb questions."

A similar point, counterpoint took place among posters at Bernie's Press Box on

It probably will come up on the sports-talk radio shows, too.

For some reason, the La Russa vs. Media sessions are a source of considerable fascination among Cardinals fans.

On one side, there are the fans and observers who think the reporters are wimps because we sit there quietly when La Russa is being pushy or ornery. I call these folks the Jerry Springer crowd. They conclude that a reporter is a wimp unless he's yelling at La Russa or asking questions in an insulting, confrontational manner. These are the people who want to see us — metaphorically speaking — throwing chairs, the way it's done on the Springer show. This mind-set is apparently the byproduct of a dumbed-down culture.

On the other side, there are folks who don't think we should address La Russa at all. They don't know why we're allowed to speak to him, and they assume that we have sinister motives. If we ask a question about a failed move, then we're accused of trying to incite him. Of course, these dunderheads are usually the first to complain when they read a game story that doesn't include a direct explanation of La Russa's strategy. The hypocrites want to have it both ways.

I hate to break it to you, but these postgame Q&A gatherings are standard stuff and I've been in hundreds of them during my career. Managers make themselves available after games. Sometimes they're in a good mood; sometimes they're in a crabby mood. It depends on whether they've won or lost. But it's part of their routine, 162 times a season. La Russa makes $4 million a year. I think he can handle it.

Other readers or viewers want to know why we don't ask more "tough" questions or press La Russa with follow-up inquiries. Here's my answer: I save it for later, so I can use the quotes for the piece that I am writing. I realize that the post-game news conference is being televised, so why provide material for other media? I'd rather have it for my column or blog.

Every now and then, there's an old-fashioned argument. I got into one silly confrontation with Tony after a game in 2007, and the TV cameras were rolling. But that's rare. And after our blowup on TV, we went to his office and discussed it. Everything was fine. But the TV cameras weren't there for that.

And some readers — bless them — think La Russa is too hard on the scribes and they believe he's being a bully without just cause. I'll have to stick up for La Russa on this count. TLR is the most intense competitor I've ever covered. He hates to lose. It ruins his evening. I wouldn't expect him to be amiable after a defeat. If I ever saw La Russa being Smiley Face after dropping a game, I'd think that something was wrong with the man.

It's Tony being Tony.

It isn't pleasant, but I don't take it personally. Besides, he hangs around Bob Knight and Bill Parcells, so what do you expect — Mister Rogers?

The next day, La Russa is fine. He'll even joke about it. La Russa has acknowledged that his wife, Elaine, has advised him to lighten up because his crankiness doesn't play well on TV.

Whitey Herzog was friendly to the scribes, but could be rude after games. But fans never saw Herzog barking at the media because the sessions weren't carried on live television.

So I blame this on the power of TV, and the normal business between La Russa and reporters is blown way out of proportion.

We've become part of some weird reality television show on Fox Sports Midwest.

Tony TV.

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