Nothing — and I mean, NOTHING — comes before the game at hand for Tony La Russa. The man is absolutely obsessive about winning today’s (or tonight’s game). He’s relaxed, relieved and wiped out after a win, and bordering on unbearable to be around after a loss.
It is, I’m convinced, part of his success. Friends don’t want to be around him after even a regular-season loss, and I’ve heard plenty of stories of TLR breaking/skipping dinner engagements with old friends after a loss to the Pirates in May.
But on Friday, something else won out. Something was actually bigger.
We reporters walked in his office after the game just as the 100M butterfly final was about to start. Literally, we step in the office as they’re showing the lane assignments. And there’s not even a conversation. None is needed.
He’s faced away from us, looking at the TV, and he doesn’t even make a pretense of looking up at us. And none of us even thinks about asking a question. We watch the race. We watch the amazing race, the dazzling display of truly historic sports brilliance. A cheer goes up in all parts of the clubhouse — they’re clearly watching it in the main clubhouse, and in the lounge, and anywhere else where there’s a TV.
We all watch a couple of replays. We look at each other. We marvel. We all grin.
And then the interview starts.
(PS: About halfway through the interview, someone asks him what he thinks of Phelps, and here’s the response:
“I was nervous throughout our game. The first game of the series is very important. But I was more nervous during that almost a minute of that race than I was at any point in our game. and that’s saying something, because I almost vomited a couple of times during our game.
Phenomenal, to be able to close like that.”