One Last Strike by Tony La Russa, with Rick Hummel
Borrowing from the popular phrase "you had me at hello", all it would have taken me to read One Last Strike, despite the fact I knew the content would be interesting, were the three names on the cover: Tony La Russa, Rick Hummel and John Grisham. I'll work backwards here:
John Grisham should be the most well-known of the gentlemen on the cover. As the author of 23 bestsellers, Mr. Grisham is as a writer of incredible legal thrillers, an attorney and a politician, but perhaps less well-known as a passionate baseball and St. Louis Cardinals fan. The author has penned the forward to the book, relaying his passion for the game and the team he grew up rooting for, as well as his relationship with La Russa, who also holds a degree in law.
Rick Hummel is a sports columnist for the St, Louis Post Dispatch. He has been covering the Cardinals for several years and is the paper's senior baseball writer. He received the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing in 2007.
Tony La Russa was manager of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team from 1996 - 2011. He won two world championships, three National League championships and only missed the playoffs seven times in his seventeen seasons with the team. He formerly managed the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics of the American League. He won one world championship with Oakland. He is the author of one previous book, Three Nights in August, written with Buzz Bissinger and published in 2005.
One Last Strike chronicles the 2011 season for La Russa and his final year as a baseball manager. He describes the entire experience in detail, from missing the postseason in 2010, to his off-season life, losing pitcher Adam Wainwright for the year while in spring training, to contracting shingles, and coming back from 10 1/2 games behind in late August, winning the wild card on the final day of the season, and advancing to and winning the 11th championship title for the St. Louis franchise.
For someone who lived through the experience in 2011, I found myself remembering and re-living the highlights of the regular and post-season as La Russa re-hashed them. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes activities that he describes and that the normal fan does not get the chance to experience. Also quite enjoyable about the book are the anecdotes and historical footnotes that the longtime manager includes to relate to the 2011 season. For example, he might interrupt his description of a tough 9th inning save from that year by describing a similar incident from the mid-90'2 with his closer from the A's. Again, this is very interesting and entertaining for the fan who is not normally exposed to everything that occurs during a game or season.
La Russa describes how he made the decision early in 2011 to retire from managing at the end of the season. Only he, his wife and the owner and General Manager of the club were made aware of this. This fact makes the events of the season, especially from early September to the final game of the World Series, seem more like storybook fiction than reality. The baseball gods could not have scripted it any better.
I am grateful for the opportunity to delve into the mind of one of the greatest baseball managers of all time, especially as he led my favorite team for seventeen memorable seasons, the final of which will never be forgotten. Whether a fan of the game or not, One Last Strike is an entertaining and educational book that gives the readers, the fans and the passionate lovers of all historical accounts quite a read.