Tony La Russa and I have the same literary agent. This might tell you all you need to know about the state of literature, but nonetheless, it's true. When Are We Winning? was in galleys, my agent sent La Russa a copy.
Here's how the conversation went, as relayed by my agent:
Unfortunate Agent Charged With Attempting To Sell My Swill: It's a good book. It's about Dads, and baseball, and the Cardinals. It takes place at one game between the Cubs and Cards a couple of years ago.
La Russa: Did we win?
UACWATSMS: You didn't, actually.
La Russa: Well, I'll try to take a look anyway.
UACWATSMS: Also, you should probably know that the kid who wrote it is the one who got yelled at by your buddy Buzz on Bob Costas' show.
La Russa: What?
UACWATSMS: You know, the Buzz thing. When he went crazy on HBO.
La Russa: I have no idea what you're talking about.
UACWATSMS: I thought you and Buzz were good friends. It was all over the news.
La Russa: When was the show on?
UACWATSMS: Couple of Aprils ago.
La Russa: Oh, that was during the season. I have no idea what's going on in the world during the season. I'm just thinking about my team.
That sums up everything you need to know about Tony La Russa. For all the talk of his vegetarianism, his law degree, his quixotic lawsuit against Twitter, between the months of March and October, the man's very being is consumed by managing a baseball team. It's why he can seem so insufferable to opposing fans, it's why he makes managing a baseball game appear to be as complicated and nerve-destroying as disabling a nuclear bomb, it's why he is so tightly wound during those nine innings that you're afraid he's going to burst into flame. It's why I love having him as my Cardinals' manager: From March until October, he is so obsessive and focused on what he can control — or what he believes he can control — that the other months, he is lost. It's why you see scenes like this; the man simply has no idea what to do himself when he's not running a baseball team. This is not abnormal; the ant farm that is Major League Baseball is designed to keep the outside world as far away as possible. But this is exactly why Tony La Russa is attending Glenn Beck's rally tomorrow in Washington. He simply doesn't know. Glenn Beck is just some guy who's on television that he and Albert Pujols met in the dugout one time.
Along with a number of staff members, coaches and players, La Russa met two months ago in the Cardinals clubhouse with Beck and fellow Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly. Pujols autographed a bat for Beck and the two struck a relationship that facilitated Saturday's appearance.
Pujols and La Russa — two peas in an obsessive pod, a pod that contains nothing but pine tar and protective cups — surely haven't thought much about Beck. They have no idea he's a glorified drive-time shock jock who is less batshit right-wing loony than he is a calculating showman who has mastered the promotion of his personal brand. He's just that nice guy on television — Beck, by most accounts, is incredibly charming in person — who invited the two of them to come speak about "faith" and "values" at an event next time they're in DC. After that, it's highly doubtful either thought too much more about it; there's game tape to watch, and dozens of situational pitching changes to be made. They don't know who Glenn Beck is. They work in professional athletics: They don't have the time or the inclination to care.
For the record, this is not to say La Russa and Pujols are not Republicans; I have no idea what their politics are, and part of me wonders if even they know. Pujols and La Russa were on opposite sides of the Arizona immigration law, but I doubt they've ever discussed it with one another or put much thought into it in the first place; the dreary business of discussing politics is for people who don't get to run around and play baseball all day. And, further, contrary to popular opinion, there is not, in fact, anything inherently wrong with being a Republican, or a Democrat. (It's amazing how often this gets lost.) Athletes who speak up on traditionally "liberal" issues are often lauded for Being Brave Enough To Take A Stand, but those who say they vote Republican are chastised for being sellouts. This is one of the few things Michael Jordan was actually correct about: Republicans buy shoes too, obviously. If you think Michael Jordan, or Albert Pujols, or Tony La Russa, or Etan Thomas, legitimately has something valuable to contribute to any debate, you have more faith in their desire to put in diligent research on any topic other than the upcoming road trip than I do. Like most humans, athletes have knee-jerk reactions to political issues that spring almost entirely from their own self-interest. There is nothing wrong with this. If you start requiring everyone who cheers for your favorite team has the same political values as you do, you're missing the whole point of sport. Taking anything an athlete, or celebrity, or anyone other than someone who has put serious study into the issue at hand and is open-minded enough to take a look at every angle and put forth a subtle, complex viewpoint that hopefully leads to a sane resolution (that is to say, "no politicians either") ... it is folly. You are asking more of them than you should.
Of course, this is Glenn Beck we're talking about, and the problem with Glenn Beck is that his political ethos is little more than "what can I say that will play to your worst fears and paranoia, and how can I profit off that?" (Unbalanced psychotics buy shoes too!) A celebrity appearance at a rally for Glenn Beck does not mean that you are a Republican, or that you want to deport everyone with a mustache, or that you want to see President Obama's birth certificate, or that you think The End Days Are Upon Us: It means you're not paying attention to what's going on. It means the nice man whose bat you signed, the nice man who told you about "principles" and "core values" and "unity" — the very same archaic, empty buzzword pablum that coaches and managers have been using to "inspire" their teams for decades — asked you to come talk, and hey, we're in town. It means you are unaware of the choppiness of the waters you just mindlessly wandered into. (It's why, as the backlash to La Russa's and Pujols' appearances increases, it wouldn't surprise me if they ultimately ended up finding a way to be otherwise occupied tomorrow afternoon.) Glenn Beck is a divisive person not because he is a Republican (or a Libertarian, or a Common Sensian, or whatever new Orwellian designation he's given himself this week); he is a divisive person because his very existence, the way that he makes his money, is founded upon being divisive. He is here, and bigger, because you simply cannot ignore him. I can guarantee you neither La Russa or Pujols know that. They have just seen him on TV.
That is not to excuse them: Frankly, I'd rather them have put in the time and effort to go into Beck's worldview and subsequently embrace it, rather than just sleepwalk into traffic like this. (That is to say: I always think it's better to be stupid than lazy.) But more than anything else: I'd rather them spend more time analyzing game tape. There's a season going on. If you're going to block out the world, at least do it right and, you know, win. And shut up about everything else.