Tony La Russa speaks candidly during speech at MU on Wednesday night

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 11:34 p.m. CDT; updated 12:08 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 15, 2012
Former St. Louis Cardinals' Manager Tony La Russa signs memorabilia Wednesday afternoon at the MU Bookstore. Fans were allowed to have two items signed, and the first 70 people in line at 1 p.m. got VIP passes to come back for the signing that began at 4 p.m.

COLUMBIA — When Tony La Russa reflected on the success of the St. Louis Cardinals' 2011 season, he didn't talk about the team's improbable September run to capture a Wild Card playoff berth or David Freese's 10th-inning home run to cap a comeback in Game 6 of the World Series. 

Instead, he remembered a conversation around the All-Star break when he told the team's front office that the Cardinals should be buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline.

"We put our reputation on the line because we believed in the guts of the St. Louis Cardinals," La Russa said. "Because we had watched them for a whole half take these hits, and nothing bothered this team."

La Russa's assessment of the eventual world champions was one of many anecdotes he shared with the crowd Wednesday at Jesse Hall. He spoke and took questions about his career in baseball and philosophy on coaching for nearly two hours.

In his speech, La Russa emphasized that his coaching philosophy was based on catering to the individual needs of each player.

La Russa noted that, while he feels sabermetrics have some value, he did not think the statistical-based evidence was the magic fix that many believe them to be. Instead, he emphasized that chemistry was the key to success in baseball and preached respect, trust and character to his players. 

"That is not sexy," he said. "That's nothing computer-like. That's just basic human relations." 

In his lengthy question and answer session with the crowd, La Russa spoke candidly about his time with the Cardinals and the players he had managed. At his first mention of Albert Pujols, La Russa paused and tipped his ear to the crowd, waiting until they cheered for the former Cardinal to continue his speech.

La Russa praised Pujols for his work ethic, his enthusiasm for the team and his willingness to mentor teammates. He also said he felt the Cardinals should have been more honest and admitted that they could not afford to re-sign the superstar. 

"Albert is perfect," he said. "Albert plays the game to win. It was never about his stats. It was never about the money."

Although the Cardinals lost Pujols, La Russa said he thought the team is poised for another successful season. He praised new manager Mike Matheny as well as veteran catcher Yadier Molina.

"I think if they stay healthy, they'll have it won by Sept. 1," he said.

La Russa also spoke about the issue of steroid use in baseball and the Hall of Fame's reluctance to admit Mark McGwire, who is currently a hitting coach with the Cardinals. 

He said the Hall of Fame voters need to keep a consistent stance when voting on players who have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs. 

"Either put them all in or don't put them in, but don't pick and choose a few guys because it's convenient," he said. 

Before the speech, some fans got to meet La Russa at a meet and greet at the university bookstore, where he chatted with fans and signed copies of his biography, baseballs, rally towels, jerseys and other items for 70 fans.

For the college-aged members of the crowd, La Russa was the only manager of the Cardinals they had even known.

"Especially for me only being 19, for 15 years of my life, Tony La Russa's been manager," Gage Caszatt, the first fan in the signing line, said. "There is no other manager than Tony La Russa."

Amy Anderson, an MU senior who met La Russa at the signing, was nearly in tears after the manager thanked her for her lifelong support of the Cardinals.

After the encounter, Anderson said she had low standards for Wednesday evening's speech.

"He could just get up there and mumble and nod and laugh, for all I care, and I'd be really excited," she said. "Just being in his presence is really exciting for me."

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