La Russa swings and misses at Bonds' psychePosted: Thursday October 10, 2002 1:35 AM
By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated
ST. LOUIS -- The mind of Tony La Russa is a wonderful, mysterious place, chock full oí numbers and colors and equations and self-love. There are people in the game of baseball who fancy themselves as smart, and then there is La Russa.
Itís not that the Cardinals manager straight-up calls himself a wizard of the game. At least not to the credentialed media. Itís more his walk and talk. A strut, not a stroll. A stoutness, not a saying. La Russa considers himself a master of the Vulcan mind-meld. He can put thoughts in your head. He can twist things around. He can make you do crazy things.
On Tuesday, La Russa was at it again. To a room filled with cameras and tape recorders, he questioned the hitting approach of Barry Bonds. Without a smile to be found, La Russa went on a riff about Bondsí production, suggesting that he would be better off taking fewer walks and swinging at more out-of-the-zone pitches. It was wonderful.
It was helpful.
It was b.s.
Bonds might be slightly more affable than a cigarette-burned pitbull, but heís no bobo. Like Spock to Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, La Russa was trying to sneak his way into Bondsí head. If Bonds chases more wild doves, the Cardinal pitchers are infinitely more happy. Thatís the thing about baseballís greatest living slugger -- his patience is his deadliest weapon.
In San Franciscoís 9-6 Game 1 victory, Bonds took La Russaís words and turned them into Cardinal pudding. How? By ignoring everything. He walked three times and, in the second inning, hit a two-run triple that broke open the game like a ceramic piggy bank slammed to the floor. Each time the Cards granted Bonds a free pass, they were forced to face the reincarnated 124-year-old Benito Santiago, whose sixth-inning homer (with Bonds on, via walk) was yet another rallying cry for the AARP.
In the San Francisco clubhouse, Bondsí teammates found La Russaís efforts to be, at best, laughable. (And at worst, umm, laughable.) "You canít change Barry Bondsí approach," said right fielder Reggie Sanders. "Itís just not gonna happen. No way."
"Why would you let someoneís words disrupt your approach?" added shortstop Rich Aurilia. "Barry has put up incredible numbers for years. Heís maybe the best hitter ever to play the game. Heís gonna let someoneís opinion move him to alter things. Uh-uh. Not Barry."
Luckily for La Russa, thereís still time.
Tomorrow, he can mock Bonds for liking Honey Nut Cheerios. If that doesnít work, thereís always his choice in leather recliners. Or his wardrobe. Or ...
"Barry doesnít change for anyone," said Aurilia. "He is what he is -- the best."