This is an interesting time of year, in a remarkably interesting year for Major League Baseball. Since the MLB training camps are all open, and nobody has started playing actual games or releasing players yet, there is literally nothing else to talk about besides steroids. I mean, you can talk about position battles, how good each team's starters/lineup/bullpen/batboys compare to those of other teams, how well new managers are fitting in...but really, none of that much matters. That's all stuff the sportswriters usually use to pad their columns until Something Important happens.
Burwell: When you were deciding on bringing in Juan Gonzalez, were you at all concerned about his name being linked to the Mitchell Report? This isn't even a moral issue. Just from a pure baseball standpoint of not knowing what kind of guy you're getting now?That initial response makes it sound like LaRussa's saying, "Heck with the cheating rumors...look a that swing!" but really he's saying that Gonzo has enough talent still that he might be worth the risk, and really, for the Cards, the risk is minimal, since he's only got a minor league contract. That makes him something of a bad example. Now, if they had Barry Bonds (whom LaRussa wanted but upper management nixed) and were paying him millions of dollars in guaranteed money, that would be a different story.
La Russa: "There are a lot of players who have done something to enhance their performance who don't have that swing. It's one of the best swings of our time. [...] The issue of that stuff from the Mitchell Report doesn't cloud my mind because we're going to evaluate him only on what he does now."
Burwell: You have more than your fair share of Mitchell Report guys on this team. Does it bother you that there's a perception that you give safe harbor to steroid guys?
La Russa: "No, and I'll tell you why not. One way I was taught to survive is my No. 1 accountability factor is myself. This is my 30th year doing this at the major league level. There isn't anybody — the commissioner, our owner, the fans, you — there isn't any person, man or woman, who can make me any more accountable than I am now right now because of myself. And I know there isn't anything we've done in all those years that was — with one small exception where we stole signs, a little hiccup — there isn't anything else that has happened on our ballclubs in Oakland or St. Louis that there's a hint of illegality. There isn't anything that we didn't actively and proactively attempt to do it right."
Burwell: But that's not what most of us think.
La Russa: "You're missing my point. If I'm going to base the way I survive on everything that others think, I have no chance."
Burwell: Does it bother you that rightly or wrongly, you and (assistant coach) Dave McKay have gained the unflattering label as the so-called godfathers of baseball's steroid era with your connections to Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire?
La Russa: "That's one of the crosses you have to bear, but let me tell you something about Dave McKay (the strength and conditioning guru of those Oakland and Cardinal teams). Dave McKay has as much or more integrity as any man I've ever met. He's so pure in his integrity, and that's why I fight so hard to defend what we've done. There's no chance that what happened officially at Oakland was tainted. Does it mean that we were policemen or that when our guys are not in our facilities, are not in our weight rooms that guys didn't experiment? No, you can't make that claim.
Burwell: Would you have cared if you did know they were "experimenting"?
La Russa: "Yeah, I would care because when I saw a guy who got stronger quickly without working hard, oh yeah, that implies a lot of other things about what he's willing to do."
More from Burwell. LaRussa's assertion that both McGwire and Roger Clemens' success was due solely to their fanatical work ethics:
"There's a certain amount of credit that should be given to a guy who's worked hours and hours to get stronger and bigger," he [LaRussa] said.
I [Burwell] reminded him that the whole point of using many performance-enhancing drugs is to increase the ability to work and train harder. "So working hard doesn't give you an alibi that you didn't use drugs," I told him.
"Well, that's what you believe and you're probably right according to testimony, but that's not what I believe," La Russa said. "I watched Mark McGwire work."