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La Russa Won’t Bat McGwire Leadoff

September 25, 1998

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ How badly does Tony La Russa want Mark McGwire to win the home run derby?

Not bad enough that he’d consider moving him to the leadoff slot to get him a few extra at-bats in the final weekend. McGwire and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs entered the final three games tied for the major-league record with 65 homers, and La Russa and McGwire were willing to let the chips fall where they may.

``If you had a crystal ball and you told me that would make a difference, I’d do it,″ the St. Louis Cardinals’ manager said.

But he didn’t think McGwire would buy it.

``If he asked me to, I’d do it,″ La Russa said after McGwire went 0-for-4 Thursday night against the Montreal Expos. ``I don’t think he’ll ask.″

McGwire, who was batting third as usual Friday night, didn’t, and wouldn’t.

``Absolutely not,″ McGwire said. ``This is not an individual sport, this is a team sport. Why play it any differently?″

He wouldn’t want to do it even if Sosa decided to try batting leadoff.

``I don’t think that’ll happen,″ McGwire said. ``He’s fighting for something else other than the home run thing.

``I’d like to be in his shoes, going into the last three games trying to get to the playoffs. He’s in a great position.″

For a player putting together Hall of Fame numbers, McGwire never has appeared to be obsessed with them. He skipped the final game of his 1987 rookie season to be at the hospital for the birth of his son, Matthew, settling for a rookie-record 49 homers rather than go for 50.

During the home run derby, he’s also never wavered from his stance that he didn’t care who won.

``I think I know Mark as well as anybody, and I think he would be upset with me if we started pulling some stunts,″ La Russa said. ``It’s been legitimate from Day 1.″

That’s not entirely true. A few months ago, La Russa moved the pitcher to eighth in the batting order to put another hitter in position to help McGwire and the Cardinals’ other RBI men, Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan.

He’s persisted with this ploy although none of the other 29 teams have picked up on the idea, and likes it so much he may use it all next season.

``It isn’t to get McGwire homers, it’s to improve our chance to win,″ La Russa said. ``Any time you put the bat in his hands or Ray’s or Brian’s is good.″

On the other hand, La Russa also is big on the integrity of the game. He said the Cardinals would not have protested the fan interference call by umpire Bob Davidson last Sunday in Milwaukee that may have robbed McGwire of a 66th homer except that he scored anyway after getting a double and the game results would not have changed.

There’s precedent for making a move to boost statistics. Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson moved Cecil Fielder to leadoff for the final weekend of the 1990 season to give Fielder a chance to hit 50 homers.

Fielder hit two on the final day and back then he was only the 11th player in major-league history to top 50.

``If he did it, that’s something,″ La Russa said. ``That’s one of the guys I admire the most.″

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