Book Review: One Last Strike by Tony La Russa
Many reports, stories, and books have been written about the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals’ magical run to their franchise’s 11th World Series title. Even looking back now, I find it hard to believe how that club got through everything that it did. In the face of unbelievable adversity, this team continued to outdo themselves on their way to making baseball history.
Trailblazing that path was legendary manager Tony La Russa. Renowned for being one of the most intense and cerebral managers in the modern era, La Russa made an unbelievably high amount of crucial decisions that helped the Cardinals make that thrilling ride.
One Last Strike chronicles the time period from the disappointing end of the Cardinals’ 2010 season, all the way through the 2011 World Series celebration parade. La Russa goes in-depth on all of the important games and decisions during that ride, and it really gives the reader important insights as to how La Russa thought and managed his team.
Personalization and Relationships
In everything that the Cardinals coaching staff did, they tried to do it by personalization. They focused in on each and every player’s individual needs. His stories on personalization spanned from how they helped certain players buy into the “Cardinal Way” during Spring Training to how they assisted each player in dealing with the death of pitcher Darryl Kile in 2002. Furthermore, towards the end of the book, he takes a shot at defining his own legacy. He defines his legacy in two ways: 1. How we competed, 2. Developing close relationships along the way. He is very proud of the fact that he developed and maintained relationships with almost every coach and player that ever worked for him.
La Russa went into great detail in describing the situations and scenarios before, during, and after games where he and his staff had to make important decisions. He also talked about the scrutiny that managers face in the media and the public eye when it comes to their decisions. He said that baseball pundits and fans are bolder with their criticisms because they think baseball is easier to define what is going on as opposed to other popular team sports. He has a great quote here when he states, “As a decision maker, I always viewed questioning as an opportunity to explain what my process was.” La Russa’s in-depth descriptions of his decision-making was incredibly interesting to read.
The 2011 Cardinals’ plight is well chronicled at this point. Pretty much all of their important players, including La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, spent time away from the ballclub due to injuries, sickness, or family concerns. The book discusses how this team came together to overcome all of the injuries and erased a 10.5 game deficit in a little over one month. Amongst other things, La Russa discusses the importance of the “win this series” and the “happy flight” themes that defined this club down the stretch.
“Our side. Their side. Keep score.”
With overcoming adversity, there is an important need to maintain focus and keep things as simple as possible. LaRussa said that the modern game has so many distractions with contracts, agents, the media, etc. He and his staff did all that they could to keep the players focused on the task at hand and the only scenario that they needed to be worried about: Our side. Their side. Keep score.
Favorite Chapter: 22 – You Had to See It for Yourself
This chapter describes every unbelievable facet to what many believe is one of if not the single greatest World Series game ever: Game 6. Many people, including Cardinals fans, default to the dramatics that David Freese provided in the 9th and 11th innings, but they forget about everything that led to that point. From Berkman’s early blast to Allen Craig’s seemingly meaningless solo homerun in the 8th, La Russa delves into every tantalizing moment that led to Freese’s and Berkman’s clutch, late/extra-inning performances.
Favorite Quote: “The Miracle on Ice was an inspirational victory, but it wasn’t for the gold medal.”
People will be talking about Game 6 forever, but what if the Rangers came back to win Game 7? That would have surely tainted the Cardinals’ Game 6 performance because they would not have sealed the deal. La Russa was keenly aware of that, and he made a point to deliver that message to the players before Game 7. He did not want the club to be “hung over” from the previous night’s game. He used the “Miracle on Ice” example because many people forget that when the USA team beat the Soviets in that game that it was only the semi-final. After winning that game, if they had dropped the gold medal game to Finland, it would have made “the miracle” less miraculous, overall. Luckily for La Russa and Cardinal Nation, the team put Game 6 in their rearview and played their way to an improbable World Series title.
Who Should Read This Book
Yes, this book has a great deal to do with baseball and the strategy therein, but it will become a bestseller because it spans several genres. One Last Strike will be palatable to those that are fans of leadership, management, decision-making, strategy, motivation, organization, and teambuilding literature. If your interests fall into any of those categories, go buy this book right now.
All bias aside, this is one of the greatest books that I have ever read. Of all of the categories that I listed above, I happen to have interest in all of those genres. Very few times have I been unable to put a book down, and this one was the perfect mixture of storytelling and analysis.
For Cardinals fans, tthere is no better book that can help you relive the amazing 2011 season than One Last Strike.
For baseball fans in general, take this opportunity to rummage through the mind of one of the greatest baseball thinkers and managers of all time.