Posted Under: Baseball's Best Books
You may remember that back in early September, I went to see Tony LaRussa speak at a tiny bookshop in Connecticut. He was an engaging and relaxed speaker, and told a lot of very personal stories about his years in baseball. He was so open, and he quickly made the audience feel quite comfortable I think. Of course, I took home the book he was promoting, One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season
and quickly set about reading it. LaRussa had described the book as being about his management style, and his management lessons and of course, about the amazing run the Cardinals made from August of 2010 through the World Series, where they walked away as Champions.
LaRussa does spend a lot of time talking about his management lessons, and for the first part of the book, it gets a little bogged down with him telling you about his style and who he learned it from. In his attempt to give credit to his mentors, the book misses that personal feeling that came so clearly when he spoke in September. Luckily though, as the book moves into his memories of that Cardinals run, it takes on the quality which he talks about his signature as a manager: personalization. Personalization, as LaRussa describes it, really is as simple as building relationships with each of his players and colleagues on an individual basis. It isn’t about creating a hierarchy with himself at the top. It isn’t about treating one guy one way and another differently because of a paycheck or even a talent level. It is about getting to know each of your guys as an individual and learning what is important to him. While in the early parts of the book, he speaks about this in the abstract, it is when he is unraveling the narrative of the 2010 season that you see his ideas take shape. He stops telling you and starts showing you. And while the first part of the book seems so clinical, it is when LaRussa is sharing his story with his players that you see him put the personal in personalization.
LaRussa shares a few other great managerial concepts which help him manage the ever-changing roster that is a professional baseball team. First, he determines a few players who seem to exhibit some influence in the clubhouse, who he designates as co-signers. Co-signers are those folks on the same level as everyone else who he works to develop buy-in to any new concept or change. They are kind of the guys he goes to take the temperature of the clubhouse, but to also determine how some decision might go over. These often are guys that other players confide in as well. They become the Manager’s eyes and ears in the clubhouse. You often hear in the media that certain players will be approached about how they would feel about certain player moves. These often are the players who can be asked not only for their own opinion but also how others might feel. And generally, these players recognize their responsibility with that and can be trusted to accurately reflect the ideas of others. They become a Manager’s eyes and ears.
The second idea which LaRussa introduces effectively is a simple code of conduct issue. No one should speak negatively about another person in the organization if he hasn’t gone to the management to speak about the issue first. Though, as adults, we all want to believe that we would automatically follow this rule, in the throws of a long hot grueling summer, it would be easy to just complain. But once complaining starts, it is easy for it to catch and to become a habit. By being careful to determine if you are just complaining or if you really have a problem with how something was done or how someone behaved, the players have an opportunity to really care for each other and to stop the negativity before it starts. And since LaRussa feels so strongly about this, he gives each of his players the same respect, by addressing issues directly to them. It’s an idea that he demonstrates time and again in One Last Strike: .
But it is not LaRussa’s managerial tips that makes this book. It is the story of how on different nights these 25 guys come together like a team and march towards the World Series Championship following those classic baseball axioms like working a count. And while I have always thought that confidence is King at this level, LaRussa shows how these guys do such a good job of keeping each other believing in each other. One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season is a must read, and a great gift for that thinking fan on your list.